Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Large Lecture Classes

As I may have mentioned earlier, pretty soon I will be teaching one of those very large lecture hall classes, with no help. I haven't done this before, and I wonder if any of the Smokers with experience with this sort of thing had any tips. What are the pitfalls, and what are the secrets of success?

Thanks, y'all. I hope you're making the most of the last few weeks of summer. Or the first few weeks of the semester, as the case may be.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

(1) Be entertaining!
(2) Use the online course management system to give quizzes and keep track of grades!!

You really want to reduce the number of pieces of paper you hand out and take up. It's a nightmare to keep track of all that with a large lecture class of 200. It's what makes the job really, really a pain. I am almost convinced that the 3 hours a week not lecturing isn't worth the extra grading and course management issues.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

It's very tempting to teach only to the eager and engaged students in the front rows. Don't forget that you have to teach to the whole room.

Anonymous said...

This is going to sound very new-agey, so I apologize for that.

Every teacher has an aura. One's aura is the extent to which one can engage students at a certain distance from that teacher. Some teachers' auras go a hundred feet, some only ten or fifteen. Pay attention to how far your aura extends -- it is crucial that you know this. If it doesn't cover the whole room, you will have to move away from the front of the room while lecturing. You may have to roam up the aisles, so that everyone in that classroom gets covered. Otherwise a chunk of the room will end up cold and lifeless.

Eric said...

When I taught a large section like that (120 students), I found that using Power Point slides really helped with the flow of the class. I hate Power Points, but it made the class much easier to teach.

I second the recommendation to use online course management services.

Make your tests minimally difficult to grade. I'm not saying ScanTron multiple choice, but minimize the essays, because you will not want to (and you're probably not getting paid enough to) grade that many long essays. I used a mix of very short essays, short answer, multiple choice, and term identifications.

Anonymous said...

Well I AM saying use Scantron multiple choice, and even T/F and Agree/Disagree (does the individual x agree or disagree with the following statement y?). If those exams are properly designed I see very close correlation with written forms of evaluation, and even improvement on them since it eliminates instructor bias (and not just what's eliminable by blinding papers--an instructor's mood can shift pretty radically from one grading session to another and affect assessment). Take this from an old hand who used to use only bluebooks (in the 80s)--Scantrons are really just as good IF properly designed.

wv: drifozzl, which is what I am

Anonymous said...

I haven't taught a course that large, but I second the use of scantrons or, even better, online tests that automatically calculate and record grades. I've used online multiple choice tests in smaller classes. It's a lot of work designing good questions. A "good question" for such a test, in my view, is one that requires application of or inference from information that was covered in class, not just recall. Having a computer grade tests for you is a joy. And when you scale it up to that many students, I think it would be worth it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments advocating powerpoint, scantrons, easy-to-grade T/F type tests, and even computer graded tests. They are all problematic instruments, but they have their uses and this is one of them. With 200 and no TA you can stay sane and still get a good measure of how well the students prepared (as noted above, _if_ the tests are well designed). I've run large classes like this and even with the dullest black and white bullet pointed powerpoint it's possible to have the class really come alive, and to turn a few students on to philosophy. Also, if you can avoid requiring attendance (and make powerpoints available online) that tends to create a better atmosphere in the lecture hall, with more motivated students showing up. I also mix in a few interactive things, which seems to extend the "aura" 11:14 referred to. For example, when introducing arguments I ask "has anyone seen a movie they really hated or loved lately?" Then I write the conclusion on the whiteboard: "C: Movie X sucked." Why did it suck? Students throughout the hall chime in. Then I write up premises. There's our first argument. Now we can attack it by attacking specific premises. It seems to wake everyone up.

PhilosoraptErs said...

As a student, I noticed that many of my classmates would get lost in the material and because of the large class size were worried about asking questions about the material.

I'm not sure how to solve this problem but perhaps shoot an email to student who are doing badly asking if they need help. Obviously it's the students responsibility to contact you so perhaps not. Just know that large classes can be intimidating especially for first year students.

Anonymous said...

I taught a 150-person lecture and led five 30-person discussion sections each week. In the second lecture, someone in the way back raised his hand and I called on him by name. Everyone was shocked that I knew his name, but it set the tone I wanted: you're not going to be anonymous even in the back of the large lecture hall. You could do something similar without even learning all the students' names; a little will go a long way.

Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

This is going to sound very new-agey, so I apologize for that.

Every teacher has an aura.

You should reformulate that using the idiom of 'action at a distance'. It'll sound less new-agey ;)

Anonymous said...

Move around. Pace your way up the stairs until you're lecturing from the back every now and then. This will make people think you're pretty rad.

Anonymous said...

Watch Michael Sandel's Justice class for inspiration, and so you can be assured that discussion really is possible, even in a class of that size.

If it's not too late in the game, think of getting clickers so everyone can participate. Also, clickers are nice because you can ask about basic comprehension, i.e. "Did what I just say make any sense?". It's hard for a student to raise her hand and say "no", but anonymously clicking is pretty easy.

Mr. Zero said...

Thanks for the suggestions, everybody. They have been very helpful. I really appreciate it, and I'm sure there are other large-lecture newbies (and veterans) who appreciate it, too.

Anonymous said...

In bigger classes, I am a big fan of cold-calling. It doesn't have to come across as mean at all. Just pick a random student once in a while and ask them a simple question, or ask whether he or she understands what's going on, and if the student doesn't understand, take this as an opportunity to give more explanation. You can even announce this in a friendly way, by saying: "It's hard for me to know sometimes if everyone is getting the material, and it's hard sometimes to formulate a question, so I am just going to check in with you guys by calling on you once in a while, so I can get a sense of your grasp of the material. No bad grades for wrong answers, of course."
I have done this many times before, and the students actually like it. You just need to be nice about it.