Number. 30 © CDTL 2003
Getting the Maximum out of Large Classes
Chandrama Acharya
Former Research Assistant, CDTL

It has been commonly accepted that a small class size is perfect for facilitating student learning, and increased class size means decreased student learning and satisfaction (Wulff, et al., 1987). Yet at most universities, introductory courses or classes sometimes have enrolments of several hundred students. Consequently, the large-class setting tends to be more impersonal and lecture-centred, minimises student participation and provides little opportunity for active learning; teachers also note that in large-class settings, students are often poorly motivated, decline to participate in class, and lack maturity.

Despite such drawbacks, students can play a large part in transforming the large-class setting into a successful learning environment. The following are some suggestions on how you can make your learning experiences more meaningful and enjoyable.

  • Be courteous: A survey conducted by Rebecca Litke (1995) on students of California State University revealed that students involved in group interaction are often distracted by the sounds of classmates arriving late, the passing of notes, reading newspapers during class, etc. So be punctual and arrive on time for class. Also, remember to practise courtesy towards your classmates.

  • Note taking: Although taking notes in class does contribute to the learning process, it is also disadvantageous to write frantically and not listen. Some advisable methods of note taking are as follows:

    • At the beginning of the semester, form small groups and assign a member from each group to take notes during each class. At the end of each lecture, the note taker shares his/her notes within each group and among the groups. Such a strategy allows group members to compare notes and respective individuals to pay more attention during class to topics that they have difficulty with.

    • Many teachers at NUS upload their lecture outlines on the course web pages before the class. Browse through the course website and then come to class. You can then be more selective in note taking, as you already know what the key concepts are.

  • Class interaction: Your participation in a large class (as well as for the whole course) can be enhanced through three kinds of interaction: student-to-teacher, student-to-student, and student-to-material.

    • Student-to-teacher: Other than speaking up in class, you can also communicate with your lecturer by paying visits to his/her office during office hours, writing emails, or writing responses in the course Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) discussion forum [c.f. O’Grady (2001) for tips on how to use the IVLE effectively].

    • Student-to-student: During large classes, lecturers may ask students to discuss issues or brainstorm in small informal groups (e.g. ‘talk to your neighbour’ or ‘think-pair-share’ exercises). Take part in such activities or initiate your own small-group discussion within and without the class. During lab sessions, help one another when the professor is busy with others.

    • Student-to-material: Interact successfully with reading materials by completing the assigned readings, reaction papers, workouts, case studies and class activities. When working in small groups, keep written compilation/minutes of your discussions which will come in useful during revision.

References

Litke, R.A. (1995). ‘Learning Lessons from Students: What They Like Most and Least about Large Classes’. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 6(2): 113–129.

O’Grady, G.K. (2001–2003). ‘Maximising Learning on the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE)’. Successful Learning, Issue No. 5 [online].
http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/success/sl5.htm (last accessed: 13 May 2003).

Wulff, D.H.; Nyquist, J.D.; & Abbott, R.D. (1987). ‘Students’ Perceptions of Large Classes’. In Weimer, M.G. (Ed.), New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 32: Teaching Large Classes Well. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 17–30.

 
 
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