Lecture Courses

Lecture classes often prioritize content delivery. Research demonstrates that small tweaks to lectures, like pauses, time for questions, and small group discussions, can promote higher level learning and refresh student attention spans (Matheson 2008). Instructors can consider a variety of approaches to lectures that introduce more active and participatory components, thereby enhancing higher orders of thinking and learning during class.

With the transition to remote teaching and learning, Yale instructors have an opportunity to re-examine their pedagogical approaches in their lecture-based courses.


To plan for the 2020-21 academic year, a Lecture Task Force was formed from the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to provide guidance for teaching Yale lecture-based courses online. The guidance remains relevant for all periods of remote instruction. Below we highlight a sample of pedagogical strategies developed by the Poorvu Center and the FAS Lecture Task force to inspire creative solutions to teaching lectures remotely. You may also view the full list of recommendations in their course builders manual and course models and case studies

Choose a mode of instruction for lectures based on course goals and intended learning outcomes.

The first, and in some ways most fundamental, choice for instructors is to determine how to deliver content online. Within the realm of online lecture courses, there are two basic choices:

  • Pre-recorded lectures entail recording lectures in advance of the scheduled class time, posting them on Canvas using  Zoom or Panopto. The Instructor maintains property rights over recorded material. Accessibility requirements entail creating a caption, which students reported benefitting from anyway. Long lectures recorded at home will likely suffer from lower digital quality, lack of physical blackboards and on-site IT support, and very long file uploading times, compared to those recorded on campus. 

  • Simulcast lectures entail delivering lectures to students live via Zoom from a remote location, which may either be on campus or off campus. 

Consider a blend of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

  • Note that both pre-recorded and simulcast lectures potentially involve a mix of complementary synchronous and asynchronous elements, which ideally build upon each other rather than being redundant. Instructors can consider having these elements “due” throughout the week so as to keep students engaged in the online learning environment. For instance, having students view and comment on that week’s recorded lectures by Tuesday, attend synchronous discussion section on Wednesday, complete response paper and upload by Friday, comment on peer’s work by Sunday.

  • Synchronous activities may include question and answer sessions using Zoom polling or PollEverywhere, consultations with instructors and instructional assistants in one-on-one or small group tutorial settings, office hours, or break-out sessions in Zoom

  • Asynchronous activities may include viewing taped lectures (which can furthermore utilize quiz or polling tools including Panopto, PollEverywhere, PlayPosit within pre-recorded lectures to assess student learning and give students immediate feedback); doing assigned readings possibly with Perusall; completing problem sets and other homework; or participating in discussion using the Canvas discussion board or VoiceThread.

  • Two consistent and enduring findings from studies of online instruction and from the Yale College experience further shape what both formats of instruction involve: first, there should be some form of regular, direct, synchronous engagement with individual students embedded into the instruction format; second, lectures, whether synchronously or asynchronously produced and consumed, should be broken down into 10-to-25-minute segments, with some form of interactive exercise taking place between segments.

Check in regularly with students.

  • Students may struggle with staying engaged and accountable in the online environment. It is essential to keep channels of communications open for feedback both ways, and to check on students whom you have not heard from recently. 

  • Feedback from students: Encourage students to use regularly the anonymous feedback tool in Canvas to provide input on class dynamics. This allows instructors to receive continuous feedback and students to voice their concerns openly. If Ed Discussions is open to students, schedule a rotation of instructional team members (instructor and/or TFs) to monitor and reply to queries. 

  • Feedback to students: Identifying and clearly articulating how and when you will give students feedback on their academic performance is another way of checking in with them. Using regular, more low stakes approaches to feedback within lectures and discussions can both assess student learning and give students immediate feedback on their progress in the course. For more summative assessments, using a basic rubric/table may be helpful given the need to provide feedback digitally, and there are Canvas tools to assist in grading including Gradescope and Turnitin

  • Online attendance and engagement statistics: Even if attendance is not mandatory, in an environment where students will rarely come in physical contact with staff and faculty, the instructors will be the best sentinels of student engagement. Beyond explicit communication, Canvas analytics for student engagement with course materials, Zoom reports, and tracking views of recorded videos by each student provide direct evidence of student engagement, superior (albeit more intrusive) than in person. Consider asking TFs to systematically keep track of these data and to flag issues back, for possible referral to the cognizant Residential College Deans. The student’s college can be found in Canvas, under Photo Roster.

  • Lastly, please be aware of the range of student experiences so far in this pandemic. Students may have taken a leave. They may not have experienced any pre-pandemic college classes. Giving some extra time to orienting students to your class and the technologies that you are using will help to ensure that all students know how to engage in your course.

Additional Resources

Instructors can review the Poorvu Center’s Effective Lectures and Active Learning pages for further guidance on considerations for developing the content of their lectures. 

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