Preparing a 3 hour lecture for undergraduate students.

Many of my blog posts are just class assignments I felt pretty good about and want to share. This one is a discussion board response to the prompts in italics for my faculty role seminar class.

What suggestions do you have for effective lecture preparation (you can share your own experience if you want):

My first response would be “Don’t do it!” Lecturing is a very effective delivery method of content and some research shows students benefit from the lecture approach with higher achievement test scores in some settings (Schwerdt & Wuppermann, 2011). On the other hand, most proponents of adult learning theory will tell you that lecture in the “sage on the stage” model, is not as effective with the adult learner, especially if delivered in a 3 hour block as this discussion prompt requests (Lowe, 2011).  The adult learner is able to “pay attention” in about 20 minute blocks which presents challenges when, as we in nursing often have to do, there is a large amount of information that must be presented- as in this case, within 3 hours (Lowe, 2011).

So what is the solution and the advice to the novice educator? Your class is 3 hours and you have a big subject to address. Before you can even develop your power point or lecture outline, you need a lesson plan, which includes outcomes or objectives, along with assignments, reading, learning activities and evaluation all tied to the lesson outcomes or objectives. And before you do that, reflect on your own teaching philosophy, and your preferred teaching/learning theory for guidance (Palis & Quiros, 2014).

Palis and Quiros (2014) recommend you then perform a needs assessment, develop goals, brainstorm content and provide a structure for your presentation.

I suggest you review the content you need to present and do a quick mental needs assessment of exactly what the students need to “take home” from your lecture (this may be based on exam content, course outcomes, program needs, and for nursing, NCLEX competencies). Develop learning outcomes for the content (goals) and use those to guide the presentation. Also be willing to assign some prep work. There is an assumption here that this is not a “flipped” delivery class, so the prep work can be basic, some reading and perhaps an online quiz to validate their efforts. I prefer flipped classes (even teaching lab skills) for presenting information. However, much like my recent 3 hour “lecture” to my students on clinical calculations, there is some content that does not lend itself well to the flipped model. There is something about seeing the whites of the student’s eyes when you explain complex concepts to them to ensure their understanding.

Some say it is better to organize the content into three stages: introduction, the body, and the closing. How would this impact lecture delivery?

I will be honest, when I create a power-point lecture, I simply use my outcomes as my guide. I create slides with each competency or outcome as the title, then go back through my source materials (textbook, literature, web sites, etc) and bullet out the key points that I want to address. I may create multiple slides for those concepts from there. I try to keep the number of slides to a minimum, the words on each slide to a minimum and save the good stuff for my own notes. There is nothing wrong with focusing your lecture on a beginning, middle and end (Palis & Quiros, 2014). In keeping with adult learning theory, it should also be broken into smaller presentations of content, each interrupted with active, experiential and reflective activities to keep students engaged (Palis & Quiros, 2014).

What would be the reasonable number of hours to spend on preparing the 3hr lecture?

The time spent in this process can be extensive, depending on the level of knowledge the faculty possess of the content. If I am familiar with it, it requires little research to develop. If it were something I needed to learn more about, I would have to plan a couple hours to research and understand the topic more deeply before I could even present. For example, if I were to present on acid base balance, I’d need a refresher! If it were medication safety, I’d be done pretty quickly.

And if you have time, seek out the “fun stuff”- images, videos and relevant quotes (all cited) that can help the visual and auditory learner absorb material.

What steps would you suggest to help with writing the notes?

In this age of accessibility, the best practice is for your notes to actually be as close to a transcript as possible. While this lecture may not be recorded, having a transcript can future proof your work for a time when you might pre-record content for students. At the bare minimum, the slides should contain as few words as possible to get the point across or guide the presentation, and your notes may contain facts and figure that you must keep accurate. I will often include content that students must know (as it ties to evaluation, ie: “this will be on the test”) on the slides, even if they present cumbersome amounts of words, etc. But I try to not do that with too many slides.

Would it beneficial to plan ahead for observing the class for cues of confusion or for disruptive behaviors like use of cell phones?  

I find this an interesting question. I teach ADN and BSN students, but I see them all as adult learners and responsible for their own actions and time. If I am making a good faith effort to engage them in class- I often solicit responses, pose questions and ask for examples from the class, and they chose to be disengaged- they are responsible for their actions. I tend to not think I am so important that they must provide me their complete and total attention, they need to learn to self-regulate.  Often students have lap tops open or are using mobile devices on the internet, and I will bring them into the discussion by asking them to look something up or find the answer to a question using their resources.

Of course, college policies often dictate the use of mobile phones in class- making phone calls, of course is not acceptable. But again, my adult learners might have children, family and life going on while they are in my 3 hour class. If they need to take an urgent call, I expect them to keep the phone on silent or vibrate and duck out of the room quickly.

If students have side conversations, I call them out and try to address their questions. Often they are trying to understand concepts by asking peers- so I will have them share the question with the rest of the class. Otherwise, I take frequent opportunities to walk away from my computer and my notes- approach the students and sincerely solicit their level of understanding, especially with complex content, in a Socratic manner (Palis & Quiros, 2014).

I will say, however, you can not plan ahead for all things. Once I had a student begin to proselytize in class, talking about the bible and Jesus Christ. I at first had no idea how to respond. This was not related to the class content, (cardiac rhythms) and students appeared uncomfortable. I acknowledged the speaker and then asked, kindly, how his comments tied into the lecture. He simply said something along the lines that the “bible requires me to spread the word”, to which I said, “ok, How about if any students have questions for you or want to continue this conversation, they can approach you during the break?” and moved on. Then student himself was actually in the middle of a psychotic break, we later found out and that was the reason for the behavior.

What teaching aids would you suggest to encourage student engagement in classroom?

As I mentioned the ideal lecture is not 3 hours of talking at students, but rather small bite sized bits of concepts, interrupted by active learning activities. Clicker quizzes or surveys can both assess student understanding and also open up class discussion about the material. Small group case study activities can allow the students a break from listening to lecture and give them time to connect with peers and apply the learned concepts.

My own example

This week I presented 3 hours of content on clinical calculations using dimensional analysis. I have been giving this lecture for several years now and hardly reference notes any more. It goes through different scenarios of clinical calculation questions building from the most simple to the most complex. The slides themselves attempt to make a very visual demonstration of how to work these kinds of problems, using color coding. I throw in a few comics about math because students are often stressed and anxious about it, and I want to build their confidence.

I had been breaking up each level with a demonstration and decided instead (that morning) to mix it up and give the students the problems I used to work for them, and in small groups have them work through the problems and then check their work with their group members. I allowed time for discussion among the groups- for them to explain their process to their peers and try to understand each other’s approach. And also vent a little about talk about their feelings regarding math. I went from group to group and checked in during this time, answer questions and confirmed correct answers. I then presented the problem as I had worked it out and confirmed their understanding.

I also present “real life” examples that compared the clinical calculation process to everyday math (mph is the same as ml/hr for example) to try to alleviate the math anxiety many students have.

Throughout the lecture I try to make eye contact, be engaging, ask questions of the students and summarize each new concept before moving on to the next.  The power point was not the focus of the class; my continuous assessment of the students’ understanding guided my presentation. The slides served as anchors to keep things on track.


Lowe, W. (2011). Is the Sun Setting on Lecture-based Education? International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, 4(4), 7–9.

Palis, A. G., & Quiros, P. a. (2014). Adult learning principles and presentation pearls. Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology, 21(2), 114–22.

Schwerdt, G., & Wuppermann, A. C. (2011). Is traditional teaching really all that bad? A within-student between-subject approach. Economics of Education Review, 30(2), 365–379.



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