Teaching Large Classes

This has been a rough couple of weeks at the state and state related universities throughout Pennsylvania. The Governor has proposed a new budget that will cut 54% of the state’s funding to the state universities, like the one where I teach. The state related universities, like Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln are receiving cuts in the neighborhood of 50% assuming the budget goes through as proposed, which, at this point seems more likely than unlikely.

As of right now, much of the changes that will be taking place will require increased class sizes, the elimination of all new hires and of adjuncts (even for sabbatical or maternity leave replacement). The good news (as least for my students) is that the applied statistics class I teach is not increasing in size, but many other classes are, including a class that I teach in development.

As such, I have been spending my time seeking pedagogical techniques that help maximize student learning in larger classes. As I have two sections of 40 students every semester in statistics, I have realized that I implement techniques that help engage students without overwhelming me. Here are two of my favorites, plus some good references.

(1) I do not correct homework, and yet it is clear that students who complete their homework are more likely to get an A in the class, and students who do not complete ALL of their homework are more likely to not pass the class. I do provide students with answers, and for longer problems, I include the intermediate answers. This really seems to help motivate students to complete the homework, as it helps them to identify what they are doing right.

(2) Every pupil response — by having students respond with their hands or speaking an answer out loud, I have a very quick feeling of what students are understanding. It also helps keep students’ focused.

(3) As a Penn State grad, I can tell you, PSU is home of the super huge classes. It shouldn’t be shocking to find a great reference from PSU on how to teach large classes:  http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/Tools/Large/

(4) As I find additional resources I will add them here: http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/earlycareer/teaching/LargeClasses.html     or      http://teaching.uncc.edu/resources/best-practice-articles/large-classes/handbook-large-classes

(5) A link to a list of books:   http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/a-lifeline-for-those-teaching-large-classes/

Teach well!


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Filed under Engaging students, Pedagogy

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