Instructor Insights

Engaging Students in a Large Lecture

In this section, Dr. Srivastava enumerates some of the instructional strategies employed in the course to make it accessible to a large room full of students who may be working through the material at completely different paces.

Interactive Questions

It definitely is a challenge to teach to such a large classroom. One of the really challenging aspects is when the students don’t even fit in the classroom and we have students in the overflow classroom. But with regard to the main classroom and the students in the lecture hall, one of the ways that we engage them is the traditional method of just asking a lot of questions and calling on the students to answer them.

Sometimes we pose questions and ask students to raise their hands to give us an answer, and sometimes we ask them to shout out their answers. Sometimes we use FAA practice exam questions, and the students raise their hands to indicate whether they think the answer is a, b, or c. Depending on how divided students are on the answer, we know whether we need to spend more time on the topic or not. For example, one of the questions that we asked them this year was a real question that I was asked on my own FAA exam: if you’re flying and there’s a glider, a blimp, and an aircraft refueling another aircraft, which has the right of way?

This was a really good question. It generated a lot of differences of opinion, with a good number of students guessing each of the three options. (I’ll leave that interesting question there without the answer. You’ll have to do the course to find out!)

The Role of Images and Graphics

"If a student wants to work through a more complex problem … we’ll discuss the problem with that student during the break and then present the answer back to the whole class."
— Tina Srivastava

One good thing about aviation in the US is that the FAA has done a great job making graphics available for every kind of aviation topic: the layout of airports, drag curves for various planes, the structure of a wing, what it looks like when the airflow is getting turbulent on the back of the wing because it’s pitched up too high. So we mine a lot of this public domain material from the FAA. The slide presentations to the students really help to set the stage. And if a student wants to work through a more complex problem—such as why an airplane performs worse if you use flaps when you’re in icy conditions—we’ll discuss the problem with that student during the break and then present the answer back to the whole class before beginning the next topic.

Using Props

We use many different methods to teach the material. Not only do we use traditional PowerPoint slides, audio recordings, and videos, we also use various props, such as a model plane that helps students visualize the different forces on an aircraft, how wind flows over the aircraft, and to describe all the control surfaces on an aircraft.

We use the chalkboard to illustrate various concepts with regard to aerodynamics and weight and balance calculations. And we have a device that can project an image of a document that you’re holding in front of you. We use that to project hand-held tablets that have both the Garmin software and the ForeFlight software to show how those types of tools can assist with flight planning and receiving weather data.

We also use physical books, such as a pilot’s operating handbook (POH), which describes a particular aircraft and contains tables that help pilots to calculate values such as the length of the runway that you need in order to take off and land safely under different conditions. And we flip to different pages of that book during the course of the teaching to show live how you would make these types of calculations. Likewise, we show students how to use a tool called an E6B, which is kind of like a complicated slide rule with different dials and sliders that you use to make calculations while flying. All of these different techniques and tools and props are useful in teaching the concepts and skills a pilot needs.

Lastly, we pass materials around the classroom, such as tablets loaded with different kinds of flight software, or sectional maps, a type of map used in aviation. In handing an object to the person sitting next to them, students naturally begin asking each other questions like “Oh, what’s this?” or “Where is this on the map?” And that encourages student interaction, which I think is very critical.

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