ADVANCING MY TEACHING
Teaching Large Classes
In a large class, it’s possible to have students work in pairs or small groups to discuss a topic or solve a problem. Tim Shaftel, KU School of Business, demonstrates using small group discussion in a large class in CTE’s video, “Opening the Classroom Door.” Other ways to involve students include in-class debates or interviews, or out-of-class study groups and online discussions.
Many faculty members hesitate to use writing assignments as part of a large lecture course. For formal papers, using rubrics is an effective way to ease the grading load; see Designing Writing Assignments. Not all assignments must be formal, graded papers, however. Bean (2001) suggests that teachers shouldn’t feel “compelled to read everything students write, which is equivalent, I would argue, to a piano teacher who listens to tapes of students’ home practice sessions … The trick is to read some of it, not all of it” (p. 99). Using short, informal writing activities such as reading logs or journals, practice essay exams, or elaborated thesis statements, will benefit students. For other ideas, contact the KU Writing Center (864-2399).
In large classes, giving exams presents unique challenges. In a class of 30 students, it takes just a few minutes to hand out exam sheets. In a class of 1,000 students, passing out exams can reduce testing time by ten minutes or more. See the information at the right for suggestions regarding exam logistics.
When you’re handing back graded papers, Lowman (1987) recommends asking GTAs (or student volunteers) to take stacks of alphabetized papers to different sections of the room. You can direct students to the section where their paper will be (e.g., last name A-F in the right front corner of the room).
Logistics for Testing in Large Classes
Prepare tests well in advance so you’ll have plenty of time to proofread and check for unclear wording. As Lynda Cleveland (2002) notes, “A typo discovered by one student escalates to an uproar in the mega-class. Likewise, wording that is unclear escalates to a fever pitch during the mega-class exam.”
Ask GTAs to take an exam before it’s given to students, so you can be sure students will have time to complete it within the allotted testing time.
Before the test, determine how you’ll distribute exams. Counting out papers for each row of students will consume five to ten minutes of exam time, or more if you don’t have GTA help. You may want to precount, package and label exams for the rows in your classroom (Cleveland 2002).
Bean, J.C. (2001). Engaging ideas. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cleveland, L.G. (2002). That’s not a large class; it’s a small town: How do I manage? In C.A. Stanley & M.E. Porter (Eds.) Engaging large classes (pp. 16-27). Bolton, MA: Anker.
Lowman, J. (1987). Giving students feeeback. In M. Weimer (Ed.), New directions for teaching and learning: Teaching large classes well (pp. 71-83). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
McKeachie, W.J. (2002). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers (11th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin.