Initial Publication Date: October 19, 2017

Develop Activity Frameworks that Scale with Class Size

One of the attractions of teaching online is its potential bring large numbers of students previously unable to attend college for a variety of reasons. This strength also challenges faculty to provide quality instruction to potentially large numbers of students at the same time which has implications for the pedagogy and assessment strategies they employ.

Teaching Methods

There are a number of teaching methods that are easily adapted to classes of various sizes. Developing or adopting activities that make use of these techniques can help faculty be effective regardless of how many students they have. Check out these example teaching methods from the Pedagogy in Action library for additional ideas and information.

Think-Pair-ShareJigsawCooperative LearningPeer Review


Assessment strategies can also be scalable to serve multiple class sizes.

Rubrics that are well aligned with the learning goals and assessment will give students a clear sense of what an instructor wants and, in turn, make grading easier. Good, clear rubrics are especially necessary when using peer review in class as students need the guidelines in order to provide good consistent feedback. Including a rubric in advance for assignments will show students what kind of work you expect from them. PIA: Rubric Design »

Kathleen Harper, University of Montana-Missoula, uses this discussion rubric with her students for online discussions. It helps display her expectations for content as well as acceptable behavior within the online forum setting.

Additional assessments that are effective at various scales are having students produce annotated images of the content in question or only grading a random selection of the assignments that are handed in.

More ideas about teaching and assessing in large online classes can be adapted from face-to-face classes. On the Cutting Edge developed a suite of materials to teaching large classes that can provide inspiration.

Technological Solutions

Many learning management systems (LMS) have functionality that allows for automatic grading of multiple choice questions. To the degree that multiple choice is the appropriate assessment choice for the activity, making use of the automatic grading can dramatically cut time spent grading. This can be a valuable part of the suite of assessment strategies for online courses.

Timothy Bralower, Penn State University
"Automated grading works best if there are some no-stakes practice questions before the stakes questions begin. I have worksheets that the students complete before they enter the LMS to take the assignment. They are given feedback on the no-stakes questions then an opportunity to exit before the stakes questions begin."

Many times, when instructor feedback is necessary in discussion threads and comments there are recurring themes. Having a back of these "canned" responses ready to go can allow the instructor to quickly provided needed feedback, even when it is necessary to customize the response to the particular situation. Some LMS have this capability built in.

Adaptive, interactive digital lessons around simulations have the potential to immerse students in the content and provide embedded assessment of their progress. The tradeoffs are that they are more difficult to develop and require specialized platforms (such as Smart Sparrow). But there is increasing interest in this kind of technological solution. Such experiences can scale from very small to very large class sizes.