It is common for undergraduate courses, particularly introductory courses, to have a large number of students. Some introductory courses can have as many as 150-300 students in them. Combine this with the fact that it is common for the people with the least amount of teaching experience whether a graduate assistant or new non-tenured professor. This leads to a question of how to handle teaching so many students at one time.
In this post, we will look at some common challenges to teaching a large at the tertiary level. In particular, we will look at the following.
- Addressing student engagement
- Grading assignments
Once a class reaches a certain size, it becomes difficult to engage students with discussion and one-on-one interaction. This leaves a teacher with the most commonly used tool for university teaching, which is lecturing. However, most students find lecturing to be utterly boring and even some teachers find it boring.
Lecturing can be useful but it must be broken up into “chunks.” What this means is that perhaps you lecture for 8-10 minutes then have the students do something such as discuss a concept with their neighbor and then continue lecturing 8-10 minutes. The reason for 8-10 minutes is that is about how long a TV show runs until a commercial. This implies that 8-10 minutes is about how long someone can pay attention.
The during a break in the lecturing, students can teach a neighbor how/explain a concept to a neighbor, they can write a summary of what they just learned, or they can simply discuss what they learn. What happens during this time is up to the teacher but it should provide a way to continue to examine what is being learned without having to sit and only listen to the lecturer.
Grading assignments can be a nightmare in a large class. This is particularly true if the assessment has open-ended questions. The problem with open-ended questions is that they cannot be automated and mark by a computer.
If you must have open-ended questions that require humans to grade them here are some suggestions.
- If the assessment is formative or a stepping stone in a project selective marking may be an option. Selective marking involves only grade some papers through sampling and then inferring that other students made the same mistakes. You can then reteach the common mistakes to the whole class while saving a large amount of time.
- Working with your teaching assistants you can have each assistant mark a section of an exam. This helps to spread the work around and prevent students from complaining about one TA who’s grading they dislike.
- Peer review is another form of formative feedback that can work in large classes.
As mentioned earlier, for assessments that involve one answer, such as in lower level math classes, there are many automated options that are probably already available at your school such as scan tron sheets or online examinations.
Cheating can also be a problem for examines. However, thorough preparation and developing an assignment that is based on what is taught can greatly reduce cheating. Randomizing the exams and seating can help as well. For plagiarism there are many resources available online
Common logistical problem includes communication which can be through email or office hours. If a class has over 100 or even 200 students. The demands for personal help can quickly become overwhelming. This can be avoided by establishing clear lines of communication and how you will response.
Hopefully, there is some sort of way for you to communicate with all the students simultaneously such as through a forum or some other way. In this way, you can share the answer to a good question with everyone rather than individually several times.
Office hours can be adjusted by having them in groups rather than one-on-one. This allows the teacher to help several students at once rather than individually. Another idea is to have online office hours. Again you can meet several students at once but with the added convenience of not having to be in the same physical location.
Large classes are a lot of work and can be demanding for even experienced teachers. However, with some basic adjustments it is possible to shoulder this load with care.