The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Individualized Learning in a Large Class

Featured Instructor: 

Mark Andersland, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering


Use immediate feedback and individualized instruction to improve student learning and motivation. 


  • Improve student problem solving
  • Increase student engagement
  • Improve student academic efficacy


Mark Andersland redesigned his large lecture engineering course to include active learning, student-centered instruction, frequent formative assessments, and immediate feedback, which yields increased student engagement and learning. 


Large Lecture: Details & Examples

As part of the Large Lecture Transformation Project, Professor Andersland transformed his required Electrical Circuits engineering class with support from OTLT Center for Teaching staff member Jane Russell.  Whereas previously, class time was spent in content delivery and problem solving practice occurred outside of class, the transformed course includes an innovative use of technology that allows students to engage with the material in class with support from the professor.  Now students prepare before class for the day’s topic by watching short online lectures and tutorials and working through introductory practice problems.  At the beginning of class, Professor Andersland delivers a brief mini-lecture to hone students’ understandings.  For the remainder of the class, students apply the day’s concepts by working graded problems delivered by an online homework platform.  The platform provides immediate feedback, and students are allowed three chances to solve the problem correctly in order to earn the points. Recognizing that novice engineers often make predictable errors or stumble over the same disciplinary bottlenecks, Professor Andersland has programmed hints for each exercise into the online platform to help students accurately solve and understand the problems. 

Because each student encounters problems that invoke the same concept with slightly different numbers, students work with each other to explore process rather than simply sharing answers.  Professor Andersland’s course ensures that students reach the peak of their potential level of development by working through problems in-class, with the guidance of the instructor, teaching assistants, and peers.

Working with the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology, Professor Andersland has engaged in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), systematically studying and reflecting on the changes he has made to his course and sharing the results with others.  Early research findings suggest that students are better prepared, more engaged, score higher on assessments, and report more positive perceptions of the helpfulness of the course.

Extraordinary Teaching Project
The Extraordinary Teaching Project showcases the rich array of pedagogies and teaching philosophies University of Iowa instructors incorporate into their teaching.

Large Lecture: Best Practices

An active-learning space (like TILE) can help facilitate collaborative learning, but is not strictly necessary.  Other iterations of Professor Andersland’s course have taken place in a fixed-seating lecture hall.  While active learning is more difficult in these spaces, it is still possible through strategies such as situating TAs sporadically around the room to help with immediate feedback. 

Professor Andersland encourages students to view their initial mistakes as part of their learning, creating an error-positive climate that helps students to gain mastery of course concepts. 

It may not be necessary to create online lectures from scratch.  A wealth of materials, including short, online lectures and homework platforms may already be available from professors on other campuses and from textbook publishers. Professor Andersland adapted a homework platform to provide material for his in-class assignments. 

Low-stakes formative assessment is crucial for allowing both the professor and the students to monitor learning.  While the online homework platform Professor Andersland uses offers many advantages, low-tech strategies such as minute papers and IF-AT quiz forms can serve similar purposes. 

Recognizing the places where students repeatedly struggle can allow the instructor to design crucial in-class learning experiences that help students to move beyond disciplinary bottlenecks.

Redesigning a course for active learning may require an investment in time.  A consultation from the Center for Teaching can help identify the support available to you. 

Extraordinary Teaching Project
The Extraordinary Teaching Project showcases the rich array of pedagogies and teaching philosophies University of Iowa instructors incorporate into their teaching.

Large Lecture: Related Content & Further Reading

Related Content:

Designing and Facilitating Group Work -- Explore the pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning and get advice on setting up groups, designing effective assignments, grading, promoting student buy-in for group work, and more.  

Social Media and Technology in the Classroom -- Expand your students’ learning environment through blogs, podcasts, gamification, and social media.  

Further Reading:

Mark Andersland’s course was the cover story of Iowa Engineer No. 2 (2016).,-2016-No-2/index.html#1 

Russell, J., & Andersland, M. “Student-centered active learning effect on student motivation and achievement” AAC&U Annual Conference, Boston, MA, November 2016.

Russell, J., Van Horne, S. & Andersland, M. “Impact of STEM Large Lecture Transformation: Fostering Student Critical thinking and Problem Solving” AAC&U Annual Conference, Seattle, WA, November 2015

Russell, J., & Andersland, M. “Effects of Learning Spaces on Student Performance and Interaction in a Flipped Circuits Course” NFALC Conference, Minneapolis, MN, August 2015.

Russell, J., Andersland, M., Van Horne, S., Gykonyo, J., & Sloan, L. Large lecture transformation: Improving problems solving through in-class practice in an electrical circuits course (submitted).

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd ed.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Fink, D.  (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences:  An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Pace, D., & Middendorf, J., Eds. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: Helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Center for Teaching
The Center for Teaching exists to support excellence in teaching and learning through institutes, workshops, programs and one-on-one consultation. We offer support and resources for any instructor, administrator or staff member involved in teaching and learning at the University of Iowa.