Proposal Title

Large university classes: A 100+ year-old problem

Session Type

Presentation

Room

P&A 34

Start Date

7-7-2017 1:40 PM

Keywords

large classes, enrollment, class size, historical analysis, participation rate, discipline, student survey, faculty survey

Primary Threads

Teaching and Learning Science

Abstract

We think that large university classes are a relatively recent problem, but the literature shows that it has existed for over 100 years. There is a growing body of research on class size and how it relates to student achievement however, the findings have been complex, difficult to interpret, and challenging to integrate. The primary complication is that the definition of a large class is fluid. It can vary with discipline, year level, format of class, and opinion. Because of the complexity, researchers often quantify it, somewhat arbitrarily, at greater than 100 students. One study defines a large class as one that necessitates a change of teaching methods, but also notes that pedagogical approach depends on the class size, creating a circular argument. Irrespective of the problem, we should be able to detect when a change of teaching method was implemented as a course grew. Today, course with enrollments close to 1000 students are common; courses that are often prerequisites for several programs of study. It is therefore becoming more critical to provide educators with valid, reliable, and instructive information on how to effectively teach a large class, and to enable administrators to evaluate and change their practices. In this session, we will discuss the results of a meta-analysis of large classes we performed to define the size of a large class, determine what has driven changes in class size other than costs, and to see if there is an optimal class size that balances competing administration and pedagogical needs.

Elements of Engagement

As instructors, we often complain about class size, using it as rationale for adopting evidence-based practice and we often disagree on how many students make up a large class. We also have a tendency to think that large classes are a relatively recent problem. During my presentation, I will use Kahoot to ask the audience to:

1) Predict the answers and results from our meta-analysis of the literature on large classes.

2) What are the largest and smallest classes you have taught?

3) How have you changed your teaching approach in large classes?

4) What size class did you teach last semester?

5) Has class size increased over your career?

6) When do you think a class becomes large?

The goal of these questions is to challenge preconceived ideas, to highlight our key results, and to stimulate discussion. My overall goal is to have instructors reflect on what it means to teach a large class.

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Jul 7th, 1:40 PM

Large university classes: A 100+ year-old problem

P&A 34

We think that large university classes are a relatively recent problem, but the literature shows that it has existed for over 100 years. There is a growing body of research on class size and how it relates to student achievement however, the findings have been complex, difficult to interpret, and challenging to integrate. The primary complication is that the definition of a large class is fluid. It can vary with discipline, year level, format of class, and opinion. Because of the complexity, researchers often quantify it, somewhat arbitrarily, at greater than 100 students. One study defines a large class as one that necessitates a change of teaching methods, but also notes that pedagogical approach depends on the class size, creating a circular argument. Irrespective of the problem, we should be able to detect when a change of teaching method was implemented as a course grew. Today, course with enrollments close to 1000 students are common; courses that are often prerequisites for several programs of study. It is therefore becoming more critical to provide educators with valid, reliable, and instructive information on how to effectively teach a large class, and to enable administrators to evaluate and change their practices. In this session, we will discuss the results of a meta-analysis of large classes we performed to define the size of a large class, determine what has driven changes in class size other than costs, and to see if there is an optimal class size that balances competing administration and pedagogical needs.