Teaching a large-lecture course requires a higher level of practical and pedagogical organization than a small-lecture course, so it is crucial to prepare as much as possible before the first day of class. While CTL’s resource page on course design contains recommendations that apply to courses of any size, large lecture instruction presents several unique challenges.
The best practices for tackling the large-lecture experience outlined below are the result of the Engaging Students in Large Classes: High Tech and Low Tech Strategies learning community’s research and in-depth discussions. The general form of the community’s thoughts took shape in three main categories: preparing, teaching, and evaluating.
Develop your course and syllabus
Including everyone and encouraging active learning
Choose assessments that support learning goals
As the group thought through how they prepare, teach and evaluate large classes, they focused on the following general principles of developing a large lecture course:
- Design around brief, meaningful and concrete learning goals. You will need to communicate and work with them with many students.
- Develop a comprehensive syllabus and do not deviate from it. Every change you make after the syllabus is published is an opportunity for misunderstanding multiplied by 100+ students.
- Clearly communicate to TAs and students with premeditated messages. Building messages in advance gives you time to make sure they are clear and unambiguous.
- Humanize yourself and your subject matter to students. Large classes can create distance and division between students and teachers.
- Encourage active learning and productive struggle. Studies have shown that requiring students to be active participants in the creation of knowledge, rather than passive receivers, improves learning outcomes.
- Keep innovation simple and limited. The logistical complexity of implementing innovative teaching strategies in a large lecture is much greater than in a small class.
- Strive, plan and provide opportunities to include everyone. Large classes multiply the opportunities for people to be left out.
- Make sure your assessments support your learning goals. The more closely assessments track learning goals, the more easily students will understand their purpose.
Engaging Students in Large Classes: High Tech and Low Tech Strategies Learning Community
This learning community was convened winter quarter 2014 to consider the unique challenges of teaching large classes. Participants comprised a diverse collection of UW faculty and staff with a variety of experiences in large-lecture instruction. In addition, several instructors who had developed creative approaches to large classes were invited to discuss their innovations with the community.
- Colleen Craig, UW Seattle Chemistry
- Peter Wallis, UW-IT Learning Technologies and College of Education
- AJ Boydston, UW Seattle Chemistry
- Susan Brown, UW Bothell Writing & Poetics
- Sunhee Kim, UW Seattle College of Education
- Tamara Leonard, UW Seattle Jackson School of International Studies
- Sara Murray, UW Seattle Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Services
- Alexandra Nichifor, UW Seattle Mathematics
- Katy Pearce, UW Seattle Communication
- LaShawnDa Pittman, UW Seattle American Ethnic Studies
- Yen-Chu Weng, UW Seattle Program on the Environment
- Rachel Cichowski, UW Seattle Political Science
- Ben Marwick, UW Seattle Archaeology
- Matt McGarrity, UW Seattle Communication
- Stefan Stoll, UW Seattle Chemistry