Transforming Large Courses at BU: Innovating in the Lecture Hall

The Challenge of Large Lecture Courses

Large lecture courses, while necessary in a sizable university like ours, present a unique set of challenges. They often lack personalized attention and support for students, and the size and design of the space can make it difficult to implement active learning strategies. This one-size-fits-all approach can inadvertently marginalize students who come less prepared, whether due to differing educational backgrounds, learning preferences, or socioeconomic factors. 

Our data shows that students struggling in these courses, the majority of which are introductory STEM classes, are more likely to steer away from STEM fields, a trend that not only affects individual students but also diminishes the diversity and richness of the STEM community. This realization led to the launch of the pilot phase of an ambitious initiative, led by DL&I in partnership with faculty, aimed at reshaping how we teach large courses across disciplines at BU. Our goal is not just to address the disparities but to foster a more inclusive and effective learning environment through innovative teaching methods and technologies.

The Genesis and Growth of the Initiative

In the spring of 2023, we engaged faculty in a multi-month consultation process with experts from the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Educational Technologies group, identifying key challenges and developing targeted transformation strategies. This collaborative effort is supported by funding and resources from the Shipley Center for Digital Learning and Innovation. Six dynamic teams from chemistry, biology, statistics, economics, neuroscience, and communications stepped forward to join this endeavor.

Over the past months, these faculty teams have been deeply engaged in identifying pain points within their respective courses. Through intensive discussions and collaborative analysis, each team has crafted a unique transformation plan tailored to address specific course challenges and poised to leverage the strengths of each discipline.

A Multi-Fold Approach to Transformation

A common theme across several teams is the incorporation of active learning. From interactive projects to hands-on problem-solving sessions, these strategies are reshaping the traditional lecture format into a more dynamic and engaging learning experience. Some teams are implementing peer-to-peer feedback tools to build a stronger sense of community and collaborative learning within each course. Other faculty teams are preparing to experiment with adaptive learning designed to offer personalized support within the large class setting and enhance the learning experience for every student.

As we conclude the consultation phase, we stand at the cusp of implementing these transformation plans. This phase is fueled by the insights gained over the past months and the dedicated efforts of our faculty teams. While we step into this new chapter with optimism, we remain committed to evaluating and refining our strategies based on real-world outcomes and feedback.

Conclusion

The large course transformation initiative represents a significant milestone in our continuous pursuit of educational excellence at BU. We are not just changing how we teach; we are shaping the future of learning for all our students.

If you are interested in learning more and potentially participating in the pilot phase of the large course transformation initiative, feel free to contact me at dell@bu.edu.


About the Author:

Chris Dellarocas Headshot Associate Provost for Digital Learning & Innovation and Richard C. Shipley Professor of Information Systems Chris Dellarocas leads the advancement of activities and strategies that enhance academic innovation at Boston University. He collaborates with schools and colleges to ensure the alignment of digital strategies and the introduction of new pedagogies and technologies that further the University’s evolution as a leading 21st century global educational institution.