The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Green Guide Number 1: Teaching Large Classes, by Allan J. Gedalof was first published in 2004. This presentation summarizes the key points and provides some reflection on the guide.
Gedalof begins by asking why we have large classes. Programs are growing but funds are shrinking. Instructors have more students, but are expected to continue to foster the growth of individuals in the same way they do with much smaller class sizes. In order teach large classes effectively, teachers must desire to do well and have access to knowledgeable and reliable technical support.
What is large? For Gedalof, a large class is a combination of 3 things: 1: more students than you can connect with during class time; 2: more grading than you can manage; and 3: more names than you can learn. For Gedalof, this means a large class is anything more than 50 students.
Large classes present problems for both students and teachers and include both Physical & Psychological barriers.
For the Professors, these problems include being seen and being heard. Students face the opposite problem: hearing and seeing. Both teacher and student struggle to focus the blur and make a connection. Most of the strategies Gedalof suggests are about mediating the lack of connection.
Many of Gedalof’s suggestions are applicable to any class size, not just large classes. For example, it’s common to be nervous before a first class and expereince what he calls “First date anxiety.” (12) To help ease the nerves, you might practice with smaller group, be on the lookout for students in the crowd that respond with encouragement, or observe successful teachers of large classes. Preparing to enter the space with passion, intensity, energy are helpful not just for teaching large classes, but for any class.
Gedalof makes a few suggestions to help gauge student response and to see what sort of learning is actually taking place. He suggests looking through student notes after class, asking questions, giving tests or one he emphasizes later on – assigning students to small-group tutorials. He feels that these connections are one of the most important strategies for learning in a large class.
In a large class, there are options for providing info to students: Handouts are traditional, but the environmental and economical cost of photocopies grows quickly over a semester. Partial handouts with blank space for students to fill in are another tradition, as these keep students alert, waiting to fill in the missing bits. Here Gedalof’s work is dated – before home internet connections were common, because he suggests using a BBS or a computer lab where students can download materials to their own disks. Even if the specifics are out of date, the idea of providing online resources is valid. Students can make use of these at their own convenience and cost, printing what they need, and shifting that responsibility off the teacher.
Large class mean more students, which will likely mean more student problems. Be prepared with policies for late assignments, missed tests, and acceptable conditions for retakes and extensions. Communicate these policies at the beginning of the term and it wouldn’t hurt to create alternative assignments at the same time as the original. Personal crises will happen – you can count on it.
Whether the class is large or small, there are ways to begin, carry on, and end that help create a positive and effective learning environment. Set the tone with opening music as students enter the classroom. When it turns off, students know class is starting. Project something like an image, cartoon, or lesson outline to get students thinking about what’s ahead.
Keep in mind that physical barriers create psychological barriers. Try to break the barrier of the lectern by embracing the entire room. Try not to favour one side over the other. The ability move about the room comes with con