The Importance of Being Organized and Prepared
Students in large classes can be much less forgiving when mistakes are made and changing direction or correcting errors can be much more complicated in this sort of setting where the impact of a small mistake can be magnified.
- Plan the overall course and each class period very carefully, with great attention to logistical detail and back up plans in case something does not go quite according to the original plan.
- Plan lectures and activities carefully so that long pauses for getting organized or to collect thoughts are less likely to occur during class. Any lapse in the lecture or activities, even for a minute or two, can be enough to lose the attention of the class.
- Carefully construct the syllabus and include as much detail as possible with regard to expectations, student behavior, grading policy, assignment structure, exam dates, and other important information. Once distributed, the syllabus should be treated like a contract. Students rarely complain that a syllabus is too long, but they are likely to complain if it is too short. The class will go more smoothly is things are laid out clearly from the beginning.
- Make clear to students policies for how to communicate with the instructor. Communication with students is no small matter when hundreds of students are in the class and even a small percent of them need to communicate with the instructor each week.
- Check the technologies in the classroom before the first day of class and make sure the necessary equipment is in good working order. Allow for time to request additional technologies. On many campuses, meeting such requests might require significant response time.
Dissemination of Content and Materials to the Masses
Having a large number of students will generate some logistical issues related to matters that are typically not a concern in a smaller class. This is especially true for the dissemination of course content and materials.
- If hundreds of students need to pick up a handout on their way into the classroom, only having the handout in one location quickly leads to a bottleneck of frustrated students. Distribute handouts in multiple locations in the room, at multiple entrances, or on the website before class.
- Visuals must be clear, concise, and visible from all parts of the room. It is often wise to have a teaching assistant or colleague come to your class and sit in different parts of the room to help check to make sure everything is clear.
- To deliver the lecture and discussion portion of course content, chances are the instructor will rely upon a microphone and sound system. So instructors must make sure that the system is up to date, works well, and that they know how to use it properly. Often, instructors feel as though the technologies in the room, and problems with those technologies, are beyond their control and ultimately not their problem. However, students will hold the instructor accountable so instructors must behave accordingly. Often, problems with the sound system are the most frustrating to students and in some classrooms, the class must come to a halt if the microphone and sound system are not working.
Encouraging Student Participation
The instructor must work harder in a larger class setting to combat student passivity and encourage participation. It is more difficult to elicit student participation with the increased sense of anonymity that students experience in the larger class setting.
- The instructor should try to move around the room, particularly during interactive segments. Not only will this allow the instructor to listen in on student conversations about the activity but students are more likely to participate if they know the instructor can see them. A wireless microphone and mouse can allow instructors to wander around the room even while presenting lecture material and this simple proximity can often encourage students to pay closer attention.
- The instructor must be mindful of students who consistently sit in the back of large classrooms, or in balconies. Again, moving around the room can help ensure that all students are engaged and participating in the activities.
- The instructor should learn the names of at least some of the students in the class. One option is to make a seating chart; even if the instructor does not learn the names of every student, a seating chart means that the instructor can call on students by name.
- The instructor can give students specific incentives to participate. This need not require a huge amount of time from the instructor; for example, telling students that they will see a similar question on an exam requires no additional effort. If the instructor collects specific output from students, having students work in groups (such as in cooperative learning or using technology can also lighten the load of the instructor.
Technologies for Large Enrollment Courses
Over the past decade there has been a significant amount of advance in pedagogical technologies that instructors can use to enhance large enrollment courses. Adapting some of these technogolies can enhance interactive learning inside the classroom, improve the quality of traditional lecture segments, facilitate learning outside of the classroom, and reduce some of the workload burden imposed on the instructor.