The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

If we want to motivate the learning of international students we need to be realistic. This starts by questioning the frequently quoted figures of 15–20 minutes for students’ attention spans. From our experience, the attention spans of students are at best 7–10 minutes, and when planning learning and teaching we need to reflect on this to motivate international students. Initially, paying attention and remaining motivated through a lecture or tutorial can be a struggle for many international students. We can tell students that we empathise with them.

We also need to be realistic in terms of the time we have to prepare and the time each element of a lecture and tutorial takes. We often anticipate that we can prepare faster, and that we can cover more than what is realistically possible. The result is that we rush the content and feel frustrated.

We plan learning sessions using a table that helps us organise the linked elements in a lecture or tutorial; learning outcomes (what we expect students to start developing an understanding of) => content (what we are going to present to address the learning outcomes) => methods (how we are going to present to address the learning outcomes: are we going to talk? to ask a question? to present a problem? to propose an activity? to show a resource?) => multisensory resources (how are we going to illustrate this aspect? using a newspaper/ a photo/ a film, etc.) => assessment (what and how are we going to assess?) => very importantly, time! (how long will this content take us to present?).

The session plan helps us decide when to introduce short activities that are not meant as distractions but as opportunities for all students to interact, learn and focus on the lecture.

This is the format that we use (rows can be added as needed):

Length        Date
Learning outcomes
Audiovisual/ multisensory resources
Personal reflections

So, for example, the first rows of a lecture starting at 9:00 can look like this:

Learning outcomes
Audiovisual/ multisensory resources
9:00- 9:05
Support recall of context
Summary in slide shows
9:05- 9:15
Students to share poster contents

Such a format also allows us space to write notes or reflections on how we feel the lecture was received with particular emphasis on the participation of international students. We discuss reflecting in our practice in section 17.

Top Tip

Printing the session plan in coloured paper makes it easy to find amongst other printed materials during the lecture or tutorial and we can write notes about students’ interaction and quickly assess how we are doing in terms of time. If the resources are unavailable, we can still give the session with reference to the plan.

Being realistic about time in our session plan saves us from rushing to finish. In a 50-minute lecture, after the time to organise the materials and equipment at the beginning, the time to run the activities, and the time at the end of the session to clarify any points, leaves 35 minutes to present content.

If we design a session that receives particularly affirmative feedback from international students, we could offer to share it with other lecturers and teachers via the Economics Network.