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I am struggling to work out how good my presentation of material is in lectures I'm currently doing. I've done many lectures in the past, and I've typically received good feedback. I'm now teaching subjects I haven't taught in the past.

Usually I can look at the audience and ascertain that they are (mostly) engaged. At the moment I'm not getting that however. People are looking at their devices, look sullen, or appear to be more interested in talking with one another than the contents of the lecture. Nobody asks any questions (though I've repeatedly encouraged them to do so). I've left a form online (anonymous) for people to ask questions (or leave comments) and nobody has used it.

Maybe the material is just really easy to understand? I'm somewhat limited to what extent I can even change the scope of the course, even if I wanted to. But trying to ascertain what is too easy or difficult is nontrivial anyway, and I'm aware that the audience is mixed. I'm concerned about rushing through material and finding out later that people didn't adequately understand what was being taught. The appreciation that people may potentially not like the content of the lectures has made me somewhat nervous during lectures - it makes it more difficult to speak clearly, coherently, and certainly articulately. This almost certainly impacts on the quality of the lecture, and so is a vicious circle.

What can I do to try and gauge how well I'm currently doing, without finding that people simply complain when the course is over (or alternatively heap praise, which, though I believe is highly unlikely, would mean that I'm currently experiencing much unneeded stress? ) It's left me feeling more than slightly despondent - to put in hours and hours of work only to feel that people would rather not hear me speak at all: and probably get the same sort of rating regardless of the amount of work on my part. For what it's worth turnout is mixed (50-65% on average, which is about typically for most courses), but students are likely to be in the area anyway (having other courses to attend) so they'd probably have to make an active decision not to turn up if they really wanted to avoid this particular course.

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Two levels of answer here.

First, in terms of finding ways to gauge how well you're currently lecturing, can you ask a friend or colleague who is particularly engaging to come observe you and give you really honest feedback? Can you gather feedback during classtime itself - pass out index cards, pass around a sheet, set up a poll students can do from their phones etc.? Can you do some kind of "beginning of session/end of session" paired assessment where you have students answer questions (again, using something they can do with their phones/computers like PollEverywhere, PollDaddy, Flisti, etc.) to see if students have learned something over the course of the lecture?

Second, and this is where my last suggestion is trending, what ways can you make the lecture less one-way lecture-y? How can you get students involved in doing something other than sitting and staring? Even if you're super dynamic and interesting, the chances that your average student is going to be fascinated by what you have to say aren't high - passive listening doesn't rank high on most people's list of engaging things. Ask a question and have the students talk with one another first. Poll the class. Set up activities for them to do. Have several mini-lectures or parts of the lecture broken up by using the information in some fashion. Present a controversy and have different parts of the room/lecture hall take different sides. Argue each side of a given question and see which is more compelling. Use a shared Google Doc in which you and the students create a study guide together.

I don't know what educational system you're working in, but in mine students have often been trained for years of compulsory education to be passive consumers of information. They don't ask questions or leave comments or engage of their own initiative because for over a decade they've been taught to check boxes and pass tests. They need support and direction to learn in less passive ways, and it takes time.

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