Classroom Interaction

Interaction in the Classroom: Interacting with students in the classroom

There are many ways to interact with students in the classroom, and, as an experienced educator, chances are good that you’re already using some form of interaction. To lecture for around an hour without pausing occasionally to pose questions or ask about areas of confusion would likely be a dull experience for both instructor and students.

Below you will find an overview on the topic of the interactive classroom and some ideas for injecting more interaction into your face-to-face session and what to do with classroom time when the lecture is removed completely and delivered online, as it is in the "flipped classroom." 

Active Learning

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

- Confucius

While the educational term Active Learning, typically interchangeable with Experiential Learning, may seem relatively new due to much recent publication and buzz around related technologies, the concept of learning by doing has been around for a long time. To grasp Active Learning, one need only imagine the opposite: passive learning. It is easy to call to mind the image of a large lecture hall, filled with students in various states of engagement, from the few trying to keep focused on the presentation to those doing something unrelated to the class, conversing, or even sleeping, and, at the front, the instructor delivering a lecture that he or she has given countless times before from that very podium, or one similar.

This is not to say that lectures are inherently bad. Lecture as a successful learning experience depends on the enthusiasm and presentation skills of the instructor, content that is written with the audience in mind and well-organized, and level of engagement and interaction. (For recommendations on improving presentation content and design, refer to Powerpoint Presentations.) If lecturing seems the most appropriate activity given the topic and objectives, keep in mind that engagement must be refreshed frequently throughout the lecture. Study findings have varied on the specific number, but all have concluded that a person can listen passively for only 7 to 15 minutes at a time. Thus, you should design your presentation to include some form of interaction or activity throughout. The need for good design and engagement applies both to lectures delivered in a traditional classroom and online. (Specific information on delivering content online is available at Content Delivery Online.) 


Interaction is a key component of active learning and student engagement. There are three types of interaction in the learning environment, and the best learning experiences incorporate all three:

  • Student interaction with the instructor
  • Student interaction with other students
  • Student interaction with content

The medical curriculum already contains several types of interactive sessions, including Problem-Based Learning (PBL), labs, and discussions. Sessions with smaller numbers of students make interaction fairly easy to implement, but how can meaningful interaction occur in a session of 100 students?

The key to active learning in a large class is first to recognize that quality interaction does not require the instructor to interact with each student individually. Instead, try structuring your session to include one or more of the following activities:

Demonstration or simulation of a concept or case - Watching something happen instead of simply hearing about it can be a powerful tool for learning. Even better, with the ever-expanding collection of open educational resources (OER) available on a variety of topics, online as video, audio, and other multimedia files that are free to use, it's easy to show instead of tell.

Individual reflection on a topic or problem - Individual student engagement with content through a short writing assignment or creation of a concept map or other visual representation of content is relatively easy to facilitate in a large classroom, but consider requiring each student to report out, whether through a discussion board or other social networking tool, to further the interaction.

Prompted discussion with a neighbor or a small group of neighbors - Group discussion has the benefit of increasing the feeling of community amongst students, but it can seem impossible in a large lecture hall. Directing students to break into 4-person squares working from the outside seats in can ease the pandemonium of allowing groups to form organically. Once again, groups can be required to report out via one member of each group posting online before the session is over. Wander the hall and drop in on conversations to add instructor interaction to the activity.

Self-assessment of knowledge through one or more practice questions - Well-written multiple-choice questions combined with audience response technology results in a quick and easy way to:

  • Check incoming student knowledge prior to a lecture and use the results to drive lecture content. 
  • Introduce a different activity type to regain student attention. 
  • Ascertain whether students have grasped a concept and what percentage of the class needs additional clarification. 
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice applying new knowledge 
  • Allow students to assess their own understanding of a concept and gauge how their progress relates to that of other students.

Technology for Classroom Interaction



Audience Response

Poll Everywhere

Discussion Forum

Discussion Forum at a Glance

Shared Whiteboard

Shared Whiteboard at a Glance
Big Blue Button Interface

Document Collaboration

TBD (new solutions for document collaboration

are being tested)

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