Skip to main content

Using interactive content and online activities to accommodate diversity in a large first year class


As in many universities, class sizes have increased more quickly than teaching and learning resources. A related challenge is the increasing diversity of the student body in terms of socio-economic background, learning styles, English language ability and preparedness. This paper explores ways in which traditional face-to-face teaching methods (such as lectures and tutorials) can be combined with online teaching and learning activities in a “blended” learning approach to improve teaching and learning and to accommodate student diversity. Using a large first year Economics class as a case study, data were collected on student perceptions of the use of blended learning. A statistical model was used on a sample of 50 students to determine which online activities were most beneficial in improving student performance. The majority of students agreed that replacing one lecture a week with online activities and resources improved their learning, although about 20 % of the class would have preferred more lecturing and fewer online resources. Statistical finding showed that more active online resources, such as multiple choice and graphing questions, were most beneficial in improving student performance, but that more passive lecture capture was also useful in modelling the discourse of the discipline.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  • Bennett, S., & Lockyer, L. (2004). Becoming an online teacher: Adapting to a changed environment for teaching and learning in higher education. Educ Media Int, 41(3), 231–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ben-Shakar, G., & Sinai, Y. (1991). Gender differences in multiple-choice tests: The role of differential guessing tendencies. Journal of Educational Measurement, 28(1), 23–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research and Development, 18(1), 57–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bonk, C., Graham, C., & Cross, J. (2006). The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs. San Francisco: Wiley and Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boughey, C., & McKenna, S. (2011). A meta analysis of teaching and learning at public universities in South Africa. Center for Higher Education: Pretoria.

  • Cotterall, S. (1995). Developing a course strategy for learner autonomy. ELT Journal, 49(3), 219–227.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Craig, A. (2001). Education and the question about understanding: what’s next: Curriculum 2005, 21, 2005? South African Journal of Higher Education, 15(1), 25–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Daniel, J. (1998). Mega-universities and knowledge media: Technology strategies for higher education. London: Kogan Page Limited.

    Google Scholar 

  • Exeter, D., Ameratunga, S., Ratima, M., Morton, S., Dickson, M., Hsu, D., et al. (2010). Student engagement in very large classes: The teachers’ perspective. Studies in Higher Education, 35(7), 761–775.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • George-Walker, L., & Keeffe, M. (2010). Self-determined blended learning: A case study of blended learning design. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(1), 1–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gibbs, G. (1992). Control and independence. In G. Gibbs & A. Jenkins (Eds.), Teaching large classes in higher education. London: Kogan Page.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gujerati, D. (1999). Essentials of econometrics. Boston: Irwin, McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gunn, C., & Harper, M. (2007). Using E-learning to transform large class teaching in Bullen, M. and Janes, D. (eds.) Making the transition to E-learning: Strategies and Issues. Ideas, IGI Global.

  • Krathwohl, D. (2002). A revision of bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leathwood, C. (2006). Gender, equity and the discourse of the independent learner in higher education. Higher Education, 56, 611–633.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lumsden, K., & Scott, A. (1987). The economics student reexamined: Male-female differences in comprehension (pp. 365–375). Fall: Research in Economic Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCombs, B., & Whisler, J. (1989). The role of affective variables in autonomous learning. Educational Psychologist, 24(3), 277–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meyers, N., & Nulty, D. (2002). Assessment and student engagement. Learning Communities and Assessment Cultures Conference organised by the EARLI special interest group of assessment and evaluation, University of Northumbria, 28–30 August 2002. Accessed 1 Feb 2013.

  • Mostert, M., & Snowball, J. (2013). Where angels fear to tread: Online peer-assessment in a large first-year class. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(6).

  • Mulryan-Kyne, C. (2010). Teaching large classes at college and university level: challenges and opportunities. Teaching in Higher Education, 15(2), 175–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rhodes University Digest of Statistics (2011). Digest of Statistics, Version 15. Rhodes University Accessed 25 Jan 2013.

  • Scott, I., Yeld, N., & Hendry, J. (2007). Higher education monitor: A case for improving teaching and learning in South African higher education. Pretoria: Council on Higher Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • Siegfried, J., & Fels, R. (1979). Research on teaching college economics: A survey. Journal of Economic Literature, 17, 923–969.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snowball, J., & Boughey, C. (2012). Using theory to interrogate analyses of student performance. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 49(2), 195–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snowball, J., & Mostert, M. (2010). Introducing a learning management system in a large first year class: Impact on lecturers and students. South African Journal of Higher Education, 24(5), 818–845.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snowball, J., & Sayigh, E. (2007). Using the tutorial system to improve the quality of feedback to students in large class teaching. South African Journal of Higher Education, 21(2), 321–333.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steenkamp, E., Viveirs, W., & Naude, W. (2007). The structure and content of the undergraduate economics curricula offered by South African Universities. Paper presented at the 2007 Economic Society of South Africa conference,Viviers&Naude_structure%20currucilum.pdf Accessed 28 Feb 2012.

  • Ward, A., & Jenkins, A. (1992). The problems of learning and teaching in large classes, in Gibbs, G. and Jenkins, A. (eds.) Teaching Large Classes in Higher Education Kogan Page, London.

  • White, S., & Sykes, A. (2012). Evaluation of a blended learning approach used in an anatomy and physiology module for pre-registration healthcare students. eLmL 2012: The Fourth International Conference on Mobile, Hybrid and On-line Learning. Accessed 20 Jan 2013.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. D. Snowball.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Snowball, J.D. Using interactive content and online activities to accommodate diversity in a large first year class. High Educ 67, 823–838 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: