Almost all NCSC students have some significant competition with their class commitments—  work schedules, raising a family, enrolled in high school (with all its extracurricular commitments) etc. As such, students are much more sensitive to inefficient use of live classtime that does not move the learning needle. As one anonymous NCSC student survey comment illustrates:

“There was absolutely no point to our required weekly live class as the instructor just read Powerpoints to us — why in the world couldn’t they just put the powerpoint in Canvas and let us read it on our own and give us back our… evenings?!”

Students’ discontent with ineffective classtime usage will show up in different ways — simply not showing up to class, and or offering low or no engagement or doing poor or minimal work or even dropping or Failing the class. Beyond the student view, the college has an urgent need to maximize opportunities for retention and student success.

So taken together, we need to do thinking and planing on how to intentionally design a live class that gives maximum learning bang for the buck.


Everybody–both Faculty & students–have responsibilities in maximizing the learning efficiency of a live class session. This needs to be articulated day one and expectations made clear on both sides, which can also set the climate of the class.

A clear framework to do this is Jonathan Finklestein’s framing of the challenge in his book Learning in Real Time (2006) as a “Synchronous Compact”Synchronous COmpact illustration

This can even be the basis for a Learning Contract for conduct that is signed by both the instructor and each student day 1 and then referenced/ reminded throughout the term as needed.


1-Making Clear Class Meeting time/day/place
This is pretty straight-forward unless you are doing a live online hybrid. Even then, especially in the first few weeks, emphasizing this and the need to plan for it as well as costs/ penalties to missing class, can pay many dividends.

2-Thoughtfully Sequence Learning Activities to Prep Students
When we consider  the live classtime we have to think big in terms of the whole sequence of what activities students are to do OUTSIDE of class to prep and or followup from IN-CLASS live activities. Dee Fink’s “castle top” diagram can be a helpful template to use to help visualize what steps we are mapping out to reach a given instructional goal:

Figure 7 The Castle Top Template for Creating an Instructional Strategy
Fink states that what we need to aim for is:

“…a set of learning activities, arranged in a particular sequence so that the energy for learning increases and accumulates as students go through the sequence.  This usually requires, among other things, that you set up some activities that:
(a) get students ready or prepared for later work,

(b) give them opportunities to practice—with prompt feedback—doing whatever it is you want them to learn to do,
(c) assess the quality of their performance, and
(d) allow them to reflect on their learning. ”
-Fink, L. Dee, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, page 27

3-Design live class activities that are relevant, engaging and meaningfully advance student learning
“…teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation.
-Bajak, “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds” (Science May 12, 2014)
Standing in front of class and doing a passive, one size fits all dramatic reading of 75 powerpoint slides does not meet the diverse needs of 21st century learners. For live classes to move the learning needle, we need to develop Rich Active Learning Activities that offer students opportunities to use, apply and refine understanding.
“As you try to add an experiential component to the learning experience, look for ‘Rich Learning Experiences.’ Certain learning experiences are ‘rich’ because they allow students to acquire several kinds of significant learning simultaneously. [As well as hit multiple learning objectives at once!]  What are some ways this can be done? The list below identifies in-class and out-of-class activities:”
In Class Outside of Class table

-Fink, L. Dee, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, pages 16-19
As active, rich learning activities & accompanying individual and group reflection debriefing cycles take time, acquiring baseline understanding/ introduction to material [done in pre-21st Century times by brute lecturing] can be shifting to outside of class via electronic means. See “Ways & means to make the leap to the 21st century & move lecture to the side” [coming soon].

4-Revise/ adjust things as needed to be effective
Use end of class 2-minute papers, or Canvas Surveys to get feedback from your students to see how it is going and suggestions to even further improve the learning bang for the buck. Making the paper or surveys anonymous will get you  more feedback. Incorporating reasonable suggestions can also help student motivation to show you do value their input.


Will this all take time? Yes. Will it all work perfectly the first time? Probably not.

But the longest journey begins with that first step.

As a college, as higher ed and as a society, if we EVER had the luxury of being able to stand still and live in the past, that is long gone.

Students, society and ourselves no longer have the time to not be intentionally and systemically wringing the most learning we can out of precious live class time. It is a journey that will offer many rewards for your students and yourself.


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