Teaching Large Classes
The larger a class is, the more useful foresight and good organization can become. Below are some selected tips, links, and information that can support your thinking through issues ahead of time.
If you are required to take attendance (or you just think it’s a good idea), the prospect of taking dozens (potentially hundreds) of names during a short class period can be daunting. Below is a link that lists many suggestions including the one garnered from Ken Faunce in WSU’s History Department before he started using clickers for attendance. Ken has assigned seats in his large classes and then TAs take attendance quietly using a seating chart while Ken lectures. Ken says there are two main benefits: first, the attendance records are as accurate (or perhaps more so) than passing around a sign-in sheet; and, second, the TAs come to know the students’ names and faces.
There are a couple of methods on the first day for creating a seating chart. If you have numbered seats in your class, you can simply hand out a table with each cell assigned a corresponding seat number. If you don’t have seat numbers, you can section the room and ask your TA(s) to help by marking out empty seats (if there are any) and shepherding the chart through the section.
You can try this method and in this PDF are several other ideas: Large Class FAQ: Attendance.
You may experience that more students want into your class than there are chairs. In this instance, some tips are useful.
- First, remember to make no promises to students about whether they will or will not get into the class. You will not be able to predict the many influences on enrollments in your class, so not making promises is a safe rule to follow.
- The next tip is to make sure you are up-to-date about your department’s policies on creating wait lists. Some departments may have very specific procedures (including whom students should contact to get on the list), which, among other things, saves you from having to create your own policies.
- In the case that you create your own wait list policy, some faculty members find it useful to create a “first come, first served” list. In this case, the faculty member keeps record in order of the email requests he or she received. Students who wait after class on the first day to be added would be encouraged to email the instructor to get on the list. While this method is not always fair, it does at least give a systematic approach to what can sometimes feel like chaos.
Whether your department has a policy or you are creating your own, it is a good idea to communicate to students on the first day of class what the process will be and when students should know by. Having the information in advance can avoid an awkward moment–although, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and checking information before committing yourself. The more transparent and communicative you can be, the more students will be likely to understand the process and work with you.
As you are creating your syllabus, you may choose to make some decisions about issues such as cell phones, laptop computers, late arrivals, and more. As stated above, you should check with your department to determine whether there are departmental policies–especially useful to know before a student complains and you discover that your policies are out of alignment with the department.
Your colleagues’ experiences are excellent sources that help you consider aspects (along with wording, exceptions, and more) for situations you may not have encountered yourself. Knocking on someone’s door and sharing policy information can often be most helpful because your colleagues share your context and can speak to their experiences with WSU and your department.
If you are creating your own policy, there are some issues to consider: one, how much do you care about the distraction or issue at hand? And, two, can you enforce a policy you create? If, for example, you feel laptops are simply untenable in your class, how will you enforce this policy?
The answer to this question becomes important because establishing consistency and follow-through with students increases your credibility with them. If you have a cell phone policy and are able to enforce that consistently in the first weeks, your chances for having a problem later in the semester are diminished. If on the other hand, you do not implement your policies in the beginning of the semester, it becomes increasingly difficult to carry them out later.
The links below provides some useful information about how to handle disruptive students. As usual, you should contact your department to find any policies they may have. Most often, your department is filled with colleagues who have had disruptive students and learned useful tips and information. Asking colleagues for support is a good idea–sometimes if you know a disruptive student is coming to your office, you can ask a colleague to leave his or her door open and be a witness to the conversation.
This article provides additional information to consider: How Far Does Your Policy Go When a Student Goes Too Far?
More valuable information is included through WSU’s Aware Network. The Aware Network is especially useful for students whom may need an intervention because of their behavior.
Being organized can be an essential element in your teaching. It can reduce your stress, limit student complaints, and save you time.
Here are three well-known and practical guides that many faculty and instructors have found useful:
- Heppner, F. (2007). Teaching Large College Classes: A Guidebook for Instructors with Multitudes
- McKeachie, W. J. and Sviniki, M. (2010). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (13th ed.)
- Stanley, C.A. and Porter, M.E. (2002). Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty