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Guest Post by Jennifer Gibbs & Jennifer Smith

Sharing the Lilly Experience: Recapping the 2015 Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

For 35 years, the annual Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching and Learning have offered a glimpse into cutting-edge evidence-based practices that enrich teaching and learning in higher education. With the generous support from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, we attended the May 2015 Lilly conference in Bethesda, MD to present two papers focused on applying brain-based learning principles. While there, we attended some amazing – and engaging – sessions. One recommended using video recording for purposes other than lecture; incorporating this suggestion, we are using Screencast-o-matic ( to supplement written comments on term papers with dual-screen videos (one showing the computer screen and the other displaying the webcam). Other uses for video technology include a video review of the syllabus contents, lessons in basic skills or course skills, topic reviews, and citation guidelines, among others. Another session encouraged developing students’ mental toughness (i.e., commitment, challenge, control, confidence). Others talked about exam wrappers – structured reflection activities – promoting the transition from a fixed to a growth mindset. Exam wrappers can be as simple as asking students three questions about their performance relative to the exam: (1) how did you prepare; (2) what errors did you make on the exam; and (3) how should you study for the next exam.

Our presentations focused on brain-based learning. The Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) literature indicates the brain needs five things to be prepared to learn: (1) nutrition; (2) hydration; (3) oxygen; (4) exercise; and (5) rest. Ignoring the assumption that instructors have little control over these, we designed one-minute activities touching on each element that can easily be incorporated into college classes.  Although our research is continuing, we are finding that our students’ exam scores are higher after using these one-minute activities in our classrooms.

Faculty workshop presentation_2015-10-27 to Penn State colleagues

Teaching Large Enrolled Courses

In May, 24 faculty completed a survey on teaching large enrolled courses. We wanted to learn about the challenges and successes they were experiencing, and prepare to offer professional development opportunities on topics of interest.

The range of course sizes was from 24 to 120, with an average of 66 students.

The primary means of teaching was lecture with PowerPoint (8), followed by lecture with multimedia other than/or in addition to PowerPoint (6). There was only one response for lecture only, one response for group work, and two responses for discussion. No one reported using inquiry or peer instruction as their primary means of teaching.

Similar challenges were shared:

  • Providing detailed grading and individual feedback
  • Engaging all students
  • Facilitating discussion
  • Managing the classroom
  • Recording attendance
  • Raising the students’ motivation to learn
  • Providing more direct contact with students
  • Overcoming language issues with ESL students
  • Dealing with varied academic preparation
  • Cheating on exams
  • Learning all students’ names
  • Organizing a large number of small groups, and effectively and efficiently facilitating the groups

Student challenges were also shared:

  • Feeling lost and anonymous
  • Feeling of anonymity leading to absences
  • Staying engaged from the back of the room
  • Feeling hesitant to ask questions in a large group

However, some faculty are experiencing successes in their large classes through the use of:

  • personal response systems (clickers),
  • group work,
  • collaboration and peer group workshops,
  • hands-on activities,
  • discussion to actively engage the students,
  • a variety of techniques to keep students engaged (mixing problem-solving, group work, demonstrations, and traditional lecture),
  • use of PowerPoint or PDF slides with a tablet and annotating the slides with a stylus,
  • an online homework and tutorial program linked to the textbook, and
  • the use of technology (ANGEL, Yammer, and padlet were mentioned).

Since a wide range of professional development topics were requested, we thought it might be helpful to bring together those scheduled to teach a large enrolled course this year with those who have experienced success in their large classes. We’ll use a web conference through Adobe Connect so faculty can attend from wherever they are located as summer winds down.

If you are interested in discussing the planning and teaching of a large enrolled course with experienced colleagues, please email me at by Monday, July 27th, and I’ll be back in touch to select an August date that works for most. We need both faculty who want to explore new pedagogical strategies AND experienced faculty who shared their successes in the survey.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you and collaborating on our planning for teaching large enrolled courses this year.