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Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning Active Learning in Large Classes

Active Learning in Large Classes Keynote & Workshops

In February 2012, Diane O’Dowd delivered a keynote lecture and conducted a series of workshops at WSU with faculty, instructors, and TAs about active learning in large classes, teaching in STEM disciplines, mentoring TAs of large classes, and balancing a successful research career with effective and creative teaching. Below are PowerPoints and other resources related to her visit.


Learn Before Lecture: Making More Time for Active Learning in Class

Using before-class short assignments and online quizzes (due 3-4 hr before class) to 1) actively engage students and 2) increase student learning gains.

A useful strategy for any topic where students need factual knowledge to discuss a set of ideas or concepts. Learning the basic knowledge before lecture creates time in class for guided application or problem-solving using this knowledge.

Garage Demos: Why Use Physical Models to Illustrate Biological Processes?

Using low-tech, everyday objects to help students visualize, understand, remember. Dr. O’Dowd uses this technique for both biology majors and non-majors. Other disciplines (e.g., Physics) have a long tradition of demonstrating principles in class (e.g., pendulums, etc.).

TA Training: Learning to Teach and Balance the Academic Workload / Managing and Mentoring TAs of Large Classes

Logistics of large class instruction (including discussion sections) and training, mentoring, and duties of Teaching TAs and Administrative TAs.

Dr. O’Dowd and her TA training team work with multiple TAs who lead independent discussions. Her goal is discipline-specific TA training: TAs learn a variety of teaching techniques (focus on active learning) and try them out in the context of a specific class. O’Dowd’s approach also includes guidance in balancing the academic workload by establishing research goals, applying exercises to reflect on progress, and achieving professional aims.

About Diane O’Dowd

Dr. O’Dowd is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor neurobiologist who also teaches the large gateway biology course at UC Irvine. She has published on her teaching methods and their impact on student learning. She brings exceptional practical experience and resources for faculty teaching large lecture classes in research universities.

Dr. O’Dowd received her BS from Stanford University and her PhD from UC San Diego. At UC Irvine, she has received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching, the TA Development Award, and the Faculty Award for Extension Program. She is a National Academies Education Mentor in the Life Sciences.



Diane O'Dowd
Dr. O’Dowd

The HHMI-UCI Professor Program

At a large competitive research university like UCI, the typical entering biology student regards the core courses with little excitement and even some dread. For many students, introductory biology is a collection of esoteric facts that must be briefly committed to memory in preparation for a succession of exams designed to eliminate the weak and ill-prepared, so that the survivors can be admitted to medical school.

Research faculty teaching these introductory courses often approach the task with high anxiety, anticipating an experience that has little intellectual interest and a large administrative load, which may disrupt or significantly impede their research progress.

The goal of the program is to change the climate for both faculty and students. O’Dowd and other participants are developing tools and strategies for creating an environment in large classes that fosters intellectual excitement and a spirit of inquiry among students, while decreasing the administrative load for faculty. See O’Dowd’s Teaching Website for more information.