| Number. 30
© CDTL 2003
the Maximum out of Large Classes
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
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
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,
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.
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].
(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.