Real Teaching. Real Learning. Real Classrooms
University of Arizona
Real Teaching. Real Learning. Real Classrooms
Volume 1, Issue 3
Five Challenges and Solutions When Teaching in Large Collaborative Classrooms
Overview Teaching in a collaborative learning space (CLS) can be both invigorating and challenging. Luckily, at the UA, we have many experienced faculty with a wealth of information to share. Dr. Dana Narter, Associate Professor of Practice in Psychology, Faculty Learning Community Facilitator, and recent presenter on Large Collaborative Classrooms at the Active Learning Conference has put together the following list of challenges and solutions for teaching in a Large CLS. Dana, along with other faculty, will be holding a teaching workshop on Sept. 20th from 3pm-4pm in Gittings 129b. 
You can’t do it alone
Regardless of whether or not your department provides you with graduate teaching assistants, you can still form a collaborative learning teaching team.
- I use a combination of graduate TAs and undergraduate preceptors who are earning preceptorship credit for their work. My preceptors are students who have taken the class from me the semester before and earned an A or sometimes a B in the course, and they have interviewed with me to be a preceptor. There is a Quick Start training program for your learning assistants that is offered the week before classes begin. My learning assistants complete this program and have found it to be quite useful.
Do you see what I see?
Make sure that whatever you are projecting from the computer or the document camera can be seen easily by everyone.
- When I first started teaching in the large CLS in the Science Library, I needed to make the font size at least 24 on my PowerPoint slides.
- When I started teaching in the large CLS in Gittings Gym, I tried to up the font size to at least 28 whenever possible. Having high contrast between the background color and the font color is also helpful for readability.
Do you hear what I hear?
In a large collaborative learning space it is important for the instructor and students to be heard by everyone in the class, so using a microphone is a must.
- Depending on the technology available in the classroom, I have used different types of microphone systems. I have used table microphones in which there is a microphone on each table, and students push a button to talk into the mic.
- There are phone apps like Crowd Mics in which students can use their phones as microphones.
- If you have several cordless mics, you might ask your learning assistants to hold on to them and bring them to students who are asking or answering questions.
- There are also the cube microphones which can be tossed across the room to the person who would like to speak.
Classroom management on steroids
I have noticed in classes using active and collaborative learning, that students are more engaged with the course content. They are also more engaged with each other which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. In addition to the learning benefits from collaborative learning, there are also social benefits.
But sometimes the socializing can get in the way of learning, and that’s when it becomes problematic.
- I ask my learning assistants to walk around the classroom to monitor the noise level and to determine if the talking is related to the course content or not.
- If the talking is excessive and interfering with other students’ learning, then the learning assistants will tell students to keep their voices down or to please stop talking.
- I find that I get in my zone when I’m teaching and sometimes don’t notice the noise level, but my learning assistants do a great job of monitoring this for me.
- If it seems to be noisy throughout the classroom, [LAs] might ask me to make a general announcement about it to the class.
- Sometimes as group members get more comfortable with one another, the noise level increases. That might be a good time to switch up your groups.
Holding students accountable
Especially in a large classroom, students need to know that they will be held accountable for working on what they are supposed to be working on in class. I do this in a number of different ways.
- Sometimes I will ask my learning assistants to randomly collect several groups’ whiteboards and I’ll project them using the document camera.
- Other times I’ll walk around and ask several table groups to answer questions. I might ask a clicker question or questions based on what they have just been working on in their groups.
- I have even used a “bingo ball” with balls in it that correspond to the table numbers in the classroom to randomly select tables to participate.
- I typically have in-class chapter clicker quizzes using which are listed in the syllabus and announced in class so students know when they will be happening.
- I also have used “pop quizzes” that are announced and usually over the activity or problem that the students were just working on in their groups. In fact, the quiz items are the same items that students were to be answering with their table group.
I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or comments please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be delighted to chat with you about teaching in large collaborative learning spaces. Happy teaching!
Resources for Further Exploration of Active & Collaborative Learning
UA Resources for Teaching & Learning
The Office of Instruction & Assessment has many resources for faculty and instructors:
The UA Learning Initiative focuses on supporting student learning through evidence based teaching and learning practices:
Collaborative Learning Spaces provide instructors and students with flexible ways to teach and learn:
Narter, D. (2019). Five challenges and solutions when teaching in a large collaborative classroom. Real Teaching. Real Learning. Real Classrooms. 1(3), 1-3