[EAS]The 15-minute Barrier

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Fri May 30 14:30:29 EDT 2003

Mail*Link¨ SMTP               The 15-minute Barrier

Some reminders from a Purdue engineering professor.  --PJK

Date: 5/30/03 7:11 AM
From: Rick Reis
"It might be disheartening to learn that even with a particularly 
entertaining professor, most students only pay attention for about
15  minutes at a time. "
	     "desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"

The posting below provides provides some good suggestions on how to 
keep your students interested and engaged throughout your entire 
class time. It is by By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz from the 
April, 2003 issues of ASEE Prism, Volume 12, Number 8. 
<http://www.asee.org/prism/>. Copyright © 2003 ASEE, all rights 
reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Do the Students Understand What They Are Learning?

			      Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

--------------------- 614 words --------------------------


By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz

Short lectures and lots of student participation will make your 
classes lively and keep your students engaged.

When you think about the time and effort it takes to prepare a 
lesson, it might be disheartening to learn that even with a 
particularly entertaining professor, most students only pay
attention  for about 15 minutes at a time. But don't lose heart;
lectures are  one of the best teaching tools we have. They can
motivate, transfer  information quickly, and provide overall
structure for a topic. They  also allow students to hear, see, and
interact with you-the expert.  So here are some suggestions for
keeping your students wide-eyed and  attentive during the entire

Focus on the audience. How much do they know? The lecture needs to
be  tailored to the group, whether it's first-year students,
seniors,  liberal arts majors, or practicing engineers. Develop the
content  accordingly and consider how you will interact with the
class.  Arriving five minutes early provides time to chat informally
with  students and may help to better assess the level of their

Think about the 15-minute limit when structuring the lecture. 
Mini-lectures separated by short breaks can be an effective way to 
go. The mini-lectures can follow a simple format of opener, main 
body, and summary. The opener should connect with what occurred 
previously and the summary should connect with the break or with the
next class period.

Make sure the breaks focus on learning. For example, give students a
few minutes to catch up on their notes. By comparing notes with
other  students, the interaction will increase the energy level in
the room  and they will be refreshed. Have small groups brainstorm,
solve  problems, or develop good questions to ask you.
Demonstrations also  make effective, learning-based breaks.

Students prefer an energetic but relaxed presentation style that 
includes time for questions, so be spontaneous-although you can 
certainly check your notes for details. Rookie professors commonly 
over-prepare and spend countless hours on their lessons. This can 
give a lecture a "canned" feeling. Lecture preparation is best done 
in a series of small doses. And whatever you do, never read to your 
class from the book.

The best presentation medium-whether it's traditional chalk board, 
overhead projector, or Powerpoint-depends on your situation. Writing
on boards and transparencies tends to be more spontaneous, but can
be difficult to see in large lecture halls, especially if the
professor has poor penmanship. Transparencies prepared in advance
and Powerpoint slides will be neater, but they contribute to that
dreaded "canned" feeling and usually make presentations go much too
fast. A combination may be the best way to go: Prepare the main
part of a  lecture with high-tech tools, but use boards for
information that can  be referred to throughout the lecture. Also,
if you provide students with partial lecture notes, they can learn
by filling in solutions to  examples and problems that you
intentionally leave blank.

Students are motivated by grades. And while it won't make you the 
most popular teacher, students will attend lectures and pay
attention if they know there will be a short quiz at the end of the
period. Be very specific about the topic, give an example during
your lesson, and be sure the quiz problem is straightforward. Since
students are just learning the material, problems that seem very
simple to you might be too challenging to them. A quiz every second
or third class keeps students' attention without wearing them or
you out.

You can learn to be an outstanding teacher by watching outstanding 
teachers in action and adapting some of their techniques to your 
style. Try these new techniques, and get some feedback so you can 
revise, refine, and try again.
Phillip Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the 
Clifton L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at 
Purdue University. Frank Oreovicz is an education communications 
specialist at Purdue's chemical engineering school. They can be 
reached by e-mail at <mailto:purdue at asee.org>purdue at asee.org.

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