Teaching Large Classes: Tools and Strategies
You have finished your Ph.D. and landed your first academic job. Scanning the fine print, you realize the introductory class you have been assigned to teach is being held in an auditorium. A really big auditorium. Panic begins to set in…. In this handy and practical book, Elisa Carbone offers a wealth of sound advice on how to deal with a large class, from the first day to end-of-semester evaluations. Full of examples taken from many different disciplines, Teaching Large Classes will be an ideal companion for any teacher facing the challenge of the large introductory class.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Starting Out Right
- Chapter 1: Starting the Semester: The First Class
- First Impressions
- The Syllabus
- Breaking the Ice
- First-Class Anxiety
- Chapter 2: Personalizing the Large Class
- Act as if the Class Were Small
- Learn Student Names
- Personalize Feedback
- Invite Input from Students
- Be Available
Part II: Presenting the Material
- Chapter 3: Lecturing 101: Getting Your Students to Listen
- Help Students Create Connections
- Maintain Your Credibility—Don't Lose Your Listeners Through Self-Deprecation
- Organize Effectively—Help Your Students Follow Your Train of Thought
- Use Extemporaneous Oral Style—Help Your Students Understand What You're Saying
- Don't Let Your Words Cause Individuals in Your Classroom to Stop Listening
- Make the Most of Your Personal Communication Strengths
- Chapter 4: Lecturing 102: Using Stories and Examples
- Family Stories
- Stories from the Media
- Personal Experience
- Storytelling Tips
- Chapter 5: Using Demonstrations, Visual Aids, and Technology
- Demonstrations and Dramatic Devices
- Visual Aids
- Uses of Technology
- Videos—Professionally Produced
- The Net—Teaching Students to Use it
- The Net as a Teaching Tool during Class
- The Net as a Teaching Tool outside of Class
- Electronic Tutorials
- Presentation Software for Lectures
- Using E-Mail: Problems and Solutions
Part III: Getting Your Students Involved
- Chapter 6: Active Learning in a Large Class
- Running a Tight Ship (with a Crew of 100 or More)
- Planning: Be Prepared. Make the Task Clear to Students
- Ensuring Participation: Make Learning Objectives Clear and Require a Group Product
- Maintaining Order: Limits on Time and Group Size
- Participatory Lecture
- Student Demonstrations
- Departmental Support
- Chapter 7: Are There Any Questions?
- Helping Students Question the Material (and Life)
- Helping Students Feel Free to Ask Questions
- Asking Questions to Provoke Critical Thinking in Students
- Questions for Discussion and Participation
Part IV: Managing Your Large Class
- Chapter 8: Assessment and Feedback in Large Classes
- Course Planning for Meaningful Assessment
- Exam Logistics
- Frequent Feedback without Frequent Headaches
- Feedback from Students
- Chapter 9: Managing Student Behavior
- The Problems
- Underlying Problems and Solutions
- Different Strokes
- The Classroom: Sacred Temple of Learning
- In between
- More Solutions
- Arriving Late
- Leaving Early
- Commotion during the Final Minutes of Class
- Skipping Class
- Reading the Student Newspaper
- Final Thoughts
- Chapter 10: Working Effectively with Teaching Assistants (TAs)
- Producing “Good” TAs
- Before the Semester Begins: Focus on Expectations
- During the Semester: Focus on Skills for Students and TAs
- Teaching as a Team
- Communicate to Students: This Class is Taught by a Team
- The Task of Teaching: Working as a Team
- Unity of the Group: The Care and Feeding (Literally) of TAs
- After the Semester is Over: Focus on Improvement
Survival Skills for Scholars[Page ii]
Managing Editor: Peter Labella
Survival Skills for Scholars provides you, the professor or advanced graduate student working in a college or university setting, with practical suggestions for making the most of your academic career. These brief, readable guides will help you with skills that you are required to master as a college professor but may have never been taught in graduate school. Using hands-on, jargon-free advice and examples, forms, lists, and suggestions for additional resources, experts on different aspects of academic life give invaluable tips on managing the day-to-day tasks of academia—effectively and efficiently.
Volumes in This Series
- Improving Your Classroom Teaching
by Maryellen Weimer
- How to Work With the Media
by James Alan Fox & Jack Levin
- Developing a Consulting Practice
by Robert O. Metzger
- Tips for Improving Testing and Grading
by John C. Ory & Katherine E. Ryan
- Coping With Faculty Stress
by Walter H. Gmelch
- Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus
by Benjamin P. Bowser, Gale S. Auletta, & Terry Jones
- Effective Committee Service
by Neil J. Smelser
- Getting Tenure
by Marcia Lynn Whicker, Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, & Ruth Ann Strickland
- Improving Writing Skills: Memos, Letters, Reports, and Proposals
by Arthur Asa Berger
- Getting Your Book Published
by Christine S. Smedley, Mitchell Allen & Associates
- Successful Publishing in Scholarly Journals
by Bruce A. Thyer
- Teaching from a Multicultural Perspective
by Helen R. Roberts & Associates
- Planning a Successful Conference
by Cynthia Winter
- Dealing With Ethical Dilemmas on Campus
by Marcia Lynn Whicker & Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld
- Chairing an Academic Department
by Walter H. Gmelch &Val D. Miskin
- How to Make Effective Presentations
by Elizabeth P. Tierney
- Getting an Academic Job
by Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld & Marcia Lynn Wliicker
- Convention Survival Techniques: Practical Strategies for Getting the Most Out of Your Professional Association's Meetings
by Louis R. Franzini & Sue Rosenberg Zalk
- Teaching Large Classes: Tools and Strategies
by Elisa Carbone
Copyright © 1998 by Elisa Carbone.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
SAGE Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, California 91320
SAGE Publications Ltd.
6 Bonhill Street
London EC2A 4PU
SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
Greater Kailash I
New Delhi 110048 India
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Carbone, Elisa Lynn.
Teaching large classes : tools and strategies / by Elisa
p. cm. — (Survival skills for scholars ; v. 19)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7619-0974-5 (cloth : acid-free paper)
ISBN 0-7619-0975-3 (pbk. : acid-free paper)
1. College teaching—United States. 2. Class size—United States. 3. Lecture method in teaching. I. Title. II. Series.
LB2331 .C336 1998
98 99 00 01 02 03 04 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Acquiring Editor: Peter Labella
Editorial Assistant: Corrine Pierce
Production Editor: Michele Lingre
Editorial Assistant: Denise Santoyo
Designer/typeset ter: Danielle Dillahunt
Cover Designer: Candice Harman
Print Buyer Anna Chin
Liarge classes present a special challenge for institutions of higher education and those of us who teach in them—a particular challenge that is not present in K-12 classrooms, where the majority of teaching and learning challenges have been studied most deeply.
At a time when much has been discerned—and discussed—about the importance of active learning, student-centered teaching, and shared responsibility for the success of student-learning outcomes, large classes (in our definition, over 100 students) represent an anomaly. How can you personalize your teaching and make it more interactive when you have so many students to deal with? This question, asked many times—and repeatedly—by a growing number of college professors, poses the dilemma that this book attempts to ameliorate. By answering the question directly, and taking its referent seriously and realistically, the chapters in this book offer tangible assistance and potential relief.
Although it might be ideal to be able to change all the large classes into small ones, that's just not going to happen. The economic and traditional realities that control most decisions at colleges and universities won't allow it. The alternative is to support a serious attempt to improve the situation within the [Page x]realistic and comprehensive context of priorities that we face in higher education. That's how this project began.
The “Large Classes Project” arose out of a University of Maryland campuswide engagement with Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI, aka TQM, Total Quality Management). As part of a major commitment to use the processes of CQI to improve important aspects of the university environment, each campus vice president was asked to choose a significant issue to tackle through a dedicated CQI project designed to identify underlying problems and propose solutions. The Vice President for Academic Affairs selected the issue of large classes as the priority concern for this extraordinary initiative.
It's important that this topic was identified as a priority issue by the top level of our campus academic administration. By doing so, the institution officially recognized that the matter of improving large classes exists in a context—indeed in a kind of ecological system—consisting of theoretical frameworks for teaching and learning, administrative structures and customary procedures for decision making (Who teaches these classes? What criteria? What supports will be given?), limitations of physical facilities, and instructor skill and effectiveness levels. Consistent with this recognition, the CQI Large Classes Team was assembled with attention to the “cross-functional” nature of the problem to be addressed. Faculty from many disciplines; administrators from the domains of student services, facilities, and finance; and students from graduate and undergraduate levels were included in the team. Because the Center for Teaching Excellence, located in the office of the Dean for Undergraduate Studies, was a logical place to assume central leadership on this issue, I was asked to chair the team.
With the help of a professional facilitator who possessed expertise in CQI processes, the Large Classes Team established a schedule of weekly meetings and began to attack the problem by brainstorming what the underlying problems might be, what data we needed to inform our work, and how we could best respond to this daunting challenge on a university campus with hundreds of classes in the “large” category, 35,000 students, [Page xi]and 3,000 faculty members—most of whom had little if any education in the area of pedagogy. We succeeded in designing and implementing a very effective process, which included gathering systematic data from faculty who taught large classes, students who had experience in taking large classes, and some administrators who had access to additional relevant data. The team produced a number of data-based recommendations, and these recommendations reflected our strong sense that responsibility for improving large classes needed to be taken by the faculty who taught these classes, of course, but also by the departments, colleges, and central administrative offices whose decisions have such a great impact on these faculty. Recommendations included the need for self-studies of selection and reward system procedures (we found a tremendous variation here) used by departments and colleges in administering large classes, facilities rehabilitation, and an array of faculty development initiatives that could stimulate individual creative solutions within the discipline, build on some good examples and practices already present on campus, and support accessible and practical assistance for the many faculty and teaching assistants called upon to teach undergraduates in these large class environments. The Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) was asked to coordinate a number of these improvement efforts. Among the first recommendations we responded to was the creation of a Large Classes Handbook (written by Dr. Jennifer Robinson, then a member of the CTE staff), which was mailed to every faculty member identified as teaching a class of 100 students or more. This initial effort was well received and set the stage for more extensive activities.
With the support of Robert Hampton, Associate Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Studies, we were able to attract Elisa Carbone to join the CTE and serve as coordinator of the “Large Classes Project.” Elisa's experience in teaching and in other aspects of faculty development, with an emphasis on effective lecturing skills, provided just the right resources for this project, and her personal vitality and ability to communicate so [Page xii]well made her involvement a very happy piece of this endeavor. Elisa and I examined the scope of the large classes issue, diagrammed various possibilities, and analyzed what had been done and what might be most fruitful to do as a next step; and then Elisa came up with a stupendous idea, the Large Classes Newsletter, an idea that became the basis for the contents of this book. By combining research on the successful strategies, good ideas, and experienced insights of a variety of faculty; by visiting classes and observing effective techniques in action; and by sampling relevant professional literature in the field, Elisa could gather truly useful and original content to communicate to interested faculty. Indeed, that's what she has done, and we are delighted that readers from many other campuses now will be able to share some of the fine ideas that have emerged from this project.
Taken together, this compilation is a valuable asset. It is an individual creative achievement for Elisa Carbone and a contribution of a University of Maryland process that has effectively combined top-level support from Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Studies with institutional coordination by the Center for Teaching Excellence and Elisa's talent and hard work. The ideas and suggestions should relate well to all teachers and institutions seeking solutions for the tough problem of improving large classes and making learning in all environments a productive, enjoyable, and positive experience—both for their students and for themselves.—
I would like to thank:
Jim Greenberg, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, who got me started in the Large Classes Project and supported me every step of the way.
Robert Hampton, Associate Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Studies, for his leadership, commitment to the Project, and ongoing financial support.
Marianne Eismann, Assistant to the Dean, for her expert editing of my first drafts, and all of the faculty members who welcomed me into classrooms and offices to share their teaching expertise.[Page xiv]
Introduction[Page xv]Listening to the Experts
In the fall of 19951 was invited to work with Jim Greenberg on the “Large Classes Project” at the Center For Teaching Excellence (CTE) at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP). We had a small budget and a large goal: help our faculty to improve their teaching in large classes.
First, I had to be brought-up-to-date, because the work had begun the year before. I studied the results of student and faculty questionnaires and focus groups, read materials that had been developed, such as the Large Classes Handbook, visited classrooms where large classes were being taught, and met with Jim and several faculty members who had been involved in the previous discussions of this issue.
Next, Jim and I dove into brainstorming. We took out a large sheet of newsprint and several colored markers (essential equipment for deep thought) and started throwing around possibilities. We wanted something that would reach as many faculty as possible and be as effective as possible. Individual meetings with faculty often seemed to have the greatest impact on teaching improvement, but it would not be practical to meet with each large class instructor. So, whereas individual meetings wouldn't work as a way to reach everyone, we decided to keep them in mind because of their effectiveness. In addition, [Page xvi]the CTE already had an excellent seminar series under way and the feedback from these sessions had been quite positive. We could plan workshops aimed specifically toward large classes faculty, but we knew that only a fraction of the 300 of them would attend. Some faculty weren't asking for new teaching ideas, so we needed something to get them interested in a way that faculty workshops didn't always do. We decided to keep faculty seminars on our list of options, with the recognition that they would not be the total answer. We left that afternoon with a very colorful piece of newsprint, and no definitive decisions about what to do next.
New ideas tend to ripen with age. During the next several weeks a plan began to take shape. Individual meetings with faculty could be used to “pick their brains” for what was working well in their classrooms. This would show recognition and value for their good practices. This information then could be shared in a series of articles in a newsletter. Large classes faculty would receive, every month or so, ideas from their peers. Then, in the privacy of their own offices, they could make decisions about whether or not their own teaching practices could use a little infusion of new strategies from the newsletter. It would be like a faculty workshop by mail. The newsletter would be interesting (I even hired a cartoonist!), would reach everyone, and would show appreciation for the talent present at UMCP. The Large Classes Newsletter was born.
The information for the newsletter has been gleaned by listening to the experts. They are not necessarily the most published faculty, nor are they all nationally known leaders of seminars on large classes teaching. They are the instructors who, for years, have been teaching large classes, learning by trial and error, coming up with terrific ideas, and quietly using them semester after semester in their own classes. I added to their input some of the excellent information I found in the literature about each topic.
Here is how we got the newsletter started: First, we sent out a questionnaire and a plea for help. “We're planning a Large Classes Newsletter,” we said, “and we'd like to know who is [Page xvii]good at using active learning in large classes, who makes their classes personal, who has good ideas for the first class of the semester,” and so forth. There were 11 topics, and a space under each one for faculty to fill in their own name or the name of a colleague whom they knew to be successfully using some teaching idea. The topics were derived from the concerns we'd been hearing from both students and faculty in the brainstorming sessions and questionnaire research that preceded this stage of the project. From the list of topics and faculty responses, I compiled a list of names from which to begin the research.
For some topics, I invited faculty to attend a brainstorming session. Over grapes and cheese we discussed the issue. Ideas built on other ideas and I took notes on pitfalls and suggestions. For other topics, I visited classrooms and conducted face-to-face or phone interviews. As I went along, the original list of faculty to contact kept growing. I'd call someone about, say, lecturing tips. He or she would volunteer to let me visit the class, and also add that so-and-so had some great ideas about lecturing as well. Or I'd call to invite someone to the brainstorming session on classroom management. After agreeing to come, he or she would add, “I heard that Mady Segal's students don't come in late or leave early. Could you please find out how in the world she does that?” or “Someone told me Howard Smead from History has a fool-proof method of taking attendance in a large lecture hall. You should call him and find out how he does it.” And I'd have two more names on my list.
As the research continued, more topics were added. We sent out several more questionnaires asking for more names (there are different faculty teaching large classes each semester, and we didn't want to leave anyone out), and asking “What question would you like to ask other teachers of large classes?” and “What topic are you interested in that we haven't covered yet?”
The response has been excellent. We have letters to the editor, requests for copies of the newsletter from faculty who want to pass them on to their teaching assistants (TAs), letters from [Page xviii]faculty thanking me for reporting so well on their teaching practices, and always another volunteer saying “you can visit my class.” Faculty tell us it's helpful to see what others are doing, and that they appreciate the fact that specific strategies are presented. As one instructor wrote, “[The Newsletter] always has a tip or idea. When I try them, they work!”
Two and a half years of the newsletter, with information added when my editor at Sage, Peter Labella, felt it would be helpful, have become this book. I hope that it will be as valuable to you in your teaching of large classes as it has been to the faculty I've worked with to put it together.
About the Author[Page 97]
Elisa Carbone is the coordinator of the Large Classes Project for the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Maryland. As part of this project she publishes the Large Classes Newsletter for UM faculty and TAs. She is a member of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) and serves on the Diversity Commision for that organization. Since 1992 she has presented regularly at POD conferences.
Carbone is also a faculty member, freelance writer, and workshop leader. She teaches in the speech communication department at University of Maryland University College, where she has been nominated for the Excellence in Teaching Award. She is the author of five published and up-coming novels for young people. She conducts workshops nationwide on such instructional issues as active learning, lecturing skills and teaching large classes.