Teaching Large Classes

​Resources and Tips for Large-enrollment Classes

As the number of students in a class increases, so do the challenges in creating an effective learning environment.  The seminal Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) have become a template for high-quality college teaching, and a roadmap for creating interactive and engaging classroom experiences for large classes:

Encourage Contact between Students and Faculty

Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement.

You set the tone for the social experience of your course from the very first day. Be grateful and enthusiastic when you answer questions.

Develop Reciprocity and Collaboration among Students

Learning is enhanced when it is more of a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated.

The four components of TBL are permanent teams, readiness assurance, application activities, and peer evaluation.

Engage in Active Learning

Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to instructors, memorizing content, and spitting out answers.  Learning is not a spectator sport. 

In large classes, clickers or similar classroom reponse system can help activate learning by requiring students to reflect upon an issue and make decisions about it.

Give Prompt Feedback

Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. Knowing what you know and don't know is an essential step for learning. 

In a very large class, you can still require student writing by having students grade each other's papers. Students learn a great deal about "what makes a good paper" by grading some themselves.

Emphasize Time on Task

Practice times Focused Effort equals Learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty.

Find creative ways to link content material to students' experiences outside your classroom.

Communicate High Expectations

Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when instructors and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.

In large classes, one can begin creating a respectful environment by overtly declaring the importance of doing so, and describing what that looks like.

Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Students need opportunities to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily.

A few minutes coaching students on how to study can make a world of difference.