End classroom advertising for the sake of student engagement

"Would you be able to show the attached slide in your class and post the info on your course website?" For those of us who teach large classes, this is a common request. While teaching my intro micro course in fall 2018, I received 30 such emails; I counted. Several of the requests asked for 5 minutes of class time, others to show a video, others required that I attend orientation sessions prior to making my announcement. One request specified that I should show multiple slides on multiple dates and adhere to specific talking points for each date - all would be explained to me in an orientation session. Even more requests were made informally, just before class, asking for permission to yell announcements to one of the largest classrooms on campus, leave handouts at the back, or distribute the handouts while I teach.

Most of these requests represent important campus initiatives, such as co-op, the food bank, student-run associations and events, bone marrow clinics, programs offered at other institutions (that may or may not be partnered to the University of Waterloo). Taken individually, all of the initiatives will be relevant to a portion of the class. However, only one or two of them were directly relevant to microbiology. Regardless, I received more requests for announcements this term than actual classes available to make the announcements, especially in September and October when it was common to receive 2-3 requests before each class. In previous years, I judged the relevance and importance of each request, usually agreeing to show the slide and/or mention in Learn. I would format slides amidst the rush of lecture prep, show the slides amidst frantic pre-class preparations, and make a few comments before starting with clickers and course material. Wrestling with students' attentions as we "shift gears" from the announcements, I would then hurry through clickers to steal enough lecture time to stay on track and ensure student comprehension with appropriate pacing. Student evaluations suggested that fewer pre-class announcements would be helpful for dedicating more time to course-specific content. This year, I acted on this student advice by explaining: "Due an overwhelming number of such requests, I can no longer accommodate in-class or Learn advertising. It is best that you use [alternative Waterloo Science communication platform] for your announcement". Problem solved.

At least for Biol240, eliminating the myriad in-class announcements has had a liberating effect on the class. For each 50-minute lecture of Fundamentals of Microbiology, the class now devotes 100% of its time to microbiology. On behalf of those without a strong biology background, I can invest the time required to cover key concepts and mechanisms. I've added new clicker questions to extend that time of reflection. And what do I do before class starts? This is where the change may be most rewarding for students. Instead of announcements and events unrelated to microbiology, pre-class time is all about student engagement. With music playing in the background as students find their seats and I set up, the slide shown on the screens shows a collection of excerpts from emails and tweets that students sent me in the day or two previous. These emails are typically accompanied by student pictures of mushrooms, food covered with fungus, microbiology artwork, micro memes, and micro in the news. 

Once students realized that their emails might be shown in class, always with their permission, the number of communications from students increased beyond what I've seen before. In addition to more emails, Twitter engagement increased for the first time in years. Although preparing these "engagement slides" was time consuming for me, I think any progress made toward increasing student-prof interactions in two sections with ~450 students each is extremely valuable and worthwhile.

Overall, my peace of mind in preparing course lecture content has increased, classroom time regained, and student engagement within the context of microbiology expanded. Although I've made several clubs and colleagues unhappy with my decision to eliminate in-class advertising this past year, it's a sacrifice I am willing to make for the sake of learning and engagement in Fundamentals of Microbiology.

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