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The Interactive Lecture

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Research shows that learning happens only superficially when learners are asked to just listen, watch, read or copy a new piece of information. However, when they are explicitly asked to relate new information to what they already know, deep learning occurs, which learners will be able to harness in new situations.


The posting below looks at some ways to make lectures more interactive and effective in terms of student learning. It is from the booklet 4 Scenarios for Online Teaching and Professional Development, by Jean-François Parmentier and Quentin Vicens. (See author details at the end of the posting.)  The full booklet can be found at:  Questions should be directed to


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning

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The Interactive Lecture


NOTE: This booklet was specifically written to address issues arising upon the COVID-19 pandemic. The text was originally written in French, before being translated into English by the authors. It contains excerpts from the book entitled Enseigner dans le supérieur Méthodologie et Pédagogies Actives (Parmentier & Vicens, Dunod, 2019), upon agreement with the publisher, and made available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

It's 2:05 pm and her 200 students are now connected to the videoconference: Dominique shares her screen and starts her class. Before introducing the topic of the day, she planned two questions about the previous course. She displays her first MCQ. The students, now accustomed to it, log on to iQuiz to vote.

Less than a minute later, more than 180 students have voted. Dominique then announces that she will close the poll and she displays the results. 80% made the right choice, which is pretty good! She briefly explains the correct answer and then moves on to her second quiz, which goes well too. She then begins her lecture on the day's topic.  After speaking for 15 minutes, Dominique is done presenting the first concept. This is a good time to get her students to reflect a bit. Dominique has a question for that very purpose. A minute and a half later, the results of the vote are displayed: 40% correct answers. She was expecting it and this is the perfect moment to launch small group discussions. She informs her students before splitting them into groups of 4, thanks to the "Breakout rooms" option. Each group then has their own private video for discussion. Dominique drops in on some of the groups to listen to the conversations. She writes down ideas for the explanations she will later provide.

Another two minutes and Dominique takes over the whole class again. She asks everyone to vote individually. Now it's much better: 70% of the answers were correct, the discussions were productive! Dominique explains the solution and points out the reasoning errors she heard. She continues with another question, which reveals 80% correct answers. No need to debate, she concludes and resumes her lecture. She will start this process again within 20 minutes, after having presented the second concept.

General principle

Alternating between information transfer and learning through reflection and discussion.

Why and how does it work?

Research shows that learning happens only superficially when learners are asked to just listen, watch, read or copy a new piece of information. However, when they are explicitly asked to relate new information to what they already know, deep learning occurs, which learners will be able to harness in new situations. Getting learners to vote on questions related to the concepts of a course or training, and possibly to have them debate among themselves, enhances their learning. The feedback also allows the teacher/trainer to readjust his or her lecture to target remaining issues or misconceptions.

To be effective, this method relies on good questions, an alignment between questions and learning objectives, as well as on quality moderation by the teacher/trainer. Debates work best when learners have had the opportunity to reflect individually on the question beforehand and when they are conducted in small groups (and not publicly in front of everyone).

Your turn!

Key points:

▸ Focus on the key points when you prepare your presentation.

▸ For each core concept, design (or choose, e.g., from a database) one or more multiple choice question(s) (Box 1), which will intersperse your lecture about this concept.

▸ Pause your presentation to ask learners to vote (Box 2). 

▸ Depending on the outcome of the vote, decide whether you continue with peer instruction (Box 3).

If you still have time:

▸ At the beginning of your presentation, add a few multiple-choice questions about the concept covered in the previous presentation.

▸ Import all the questions asked during the presentation into your learning management system (LMS) to allow learners to review them between classes.

▸ At the end of your presentation, include open-ended questions in your LMS that ask learners to reflect on the points they feel are most important and unclear (using for example a Minute Paper). Reading 30% of the answers is enough to get insights on how to adjust the preparation of the next interactive presentation.


Box 1 | Writing a good MCQ

A good multiple-choice question gives you valuable information about your learners' level of understanding. You are then better able to target their difficulties in your explanations. By making learners think about the concepts you are teaching, the quality of their learning will improve.

Make sure that your MCQ:

▸ Targets an important aspect of your course —only one at a time— which is usually hard for learners to grasp at first. If you can’t think of a question to ask, present a rationale, even a simple one, and ask learners to choose the right conclusion from a set of potentially accurate conclusions.

▸ Matches at least one learning objective.

▸ Asks learners to apply or analyze, rather than to only memorize.

▸ Is real-world based.

▸ Is jargon-free.

▸ Suggests possible answers that are consistent in their wording: no answer stands out from the others, and each one gives the impression of having been written by learners.

▸ Incorporates errors learners commonly make as tempting false answers.

▸ Includes an assessment of the learner’s confidence level, to avoid uninterpretable 50/50 scores for binary multiple-choice questions. For example: a) True, and I'm sure, b) True, but I'm not very sure, c) False, but I'm not very sure, and so on. 

▸ Sometimes comprises several possible correct answers, or no correct answers at all. For example, offer defensible answer choices. This type of MCQ works well when the main objective is for learners to be able to argue for a particular position, based on presented concepts.

▸ Has been tested by past learners or colleagues.


Box 2 | Using a polling device

Many video conferencing tools (e.g., BigBlueButton and Zoom for businesses) give the opportunity to make participants vote during a presentation. In addition, universities also develop their own tools to that end, such as iQuiz and 2Reply in France. Having learners vote on a question related to lecture content allows them to actively understand by processing what is presented. About 80% of learners participate in such polls, which is far more than when they are asked questions "on the fly". So, how should you properly use these tools?


Pick the most suitable time for polling:

▸ At the beginning of a session: to arouse curiosity or to check prerequisites.

▸ During a session: to focus attention on a particular point or to apply a concept.

▸ At the end of a session: to evaluate what has been learned.


Manage the poll:

▸ Display the question without reading it, letting learners think about the question for themselves.

▸ Give enough time to answer, usually 1 to 2 minutes (if that seems too short, split your question in two).

▸ When over 75% of learners have voted, tell them the following: "You have 15 seconds left to vote".

▸ After 15 seconds, close the poll and display the histogram with their answers.

▸ Indicate which answer is correct, and why it is correct. Also explain why the other answers are not. Emphasize that choosing the right answer is not enough: what matters is the reasoning that leads to the correct answer!

▸ Ask if any learners would like additional explanations.


Box 3 | Peer instruction

Peer instruction consists in letting learners discuss in small groups after having individually chosen their answer to an MCQ, before having them vote again individually. 5 minutes are sufficient for discussion & votes.


The activity begins like an individual vote (see Sheet 2). But if the percentage of correct answers falls between 30 and 70%, invite learners to discuss their answers (see image below).





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To manage the discussion:

▸ Divide the learners into groups of 3–4 persons in private virtual rooms (Box 5)

▸ Ask learners to discuss their answer and to reach a consensus with the members of their room.

▸ Join a few rooms to check that your instructions are clear and to restart discussions if necessary.

▸ After 2 minutes of discussion, have learners come back to the whole class and ask them to vote again, whether or not they reached a consensus.

▸ Conclude by comparing the histograms from the two votes and by explaining the answers. 

The first time you set up peer instruction, be very clear about what is going to happen and what you expect from the learners when they are in small groups. Transitioning the entire class into small groups is very surprising the first time.




Writing MCQ and polling learners

Beatty, I. D., Gerace, W. J., Leonard, W. J., & Dufresne, R. J. (2006). Designing Effective Questions for Classroom Response System Teaching. American Journal of Physics, 74 (1), 31‑39.


Caldwell, J. E. (2007). Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 6 (1), 9-20.


Hunsu, N. J., Adesope, O., & Bayly, D. J. (2016). A Meta-analysis of the Effects of Audience Response Systems (clicker-based technologies) on Cognition and Affect. Computers & Education, 94, 102-119.


Kay, R. H., & LeSage, A. (2009). Examining the Benefits and Challenges of Using Audience Response Systems: A Review of the Literature. Computers & Education, 53 (3), 819-827.


Mayer, R. E., Stull, A., DeLeeuw, ​K., Almeroth, K., Bruce Bimber, Chun, D., Bulger, M., Campbell, J., Knight, A., & Zhang, H. (2009). Clickers in College Classrooms: Fostering Learning with Questioning Methods in Large Lecture Classes. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34 (1), 51-57.


Peer instruction

Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions. Science, 323 (5910).


Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Krauter, K., & Knight, J. K. (2011). Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-Class Concept Questions. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10 (1), 55-63.


Vickrey, T., Rosploch, K., Rahmanian, R., Pilarz, M., & Stains, M. (2015). Research-Based Implementation of Peer Instruction: A Literature Review. CBE Life Sciences Education, 14 (1).



About the authors


Jean-François Parmentier is an educational researcher at the top-ranking French engineering school in Electrical Engineering, Electronics, Computer Science, Hydraulics and Telecommunications (INP-ENSEEIHT), in Toulouse, France. He is a member of the French Research Institute for Science Education.


Quentin Vicens is assistant research professor at the University of Colorado, Denver. He has 15 years of experience in faculty development focused on active learning, in the US but also in France a