- Define expectations clearly, from the first day of class.
- Reduce anonymity. Form personal relationships with students.
- Encourage active learning.
- Assess teaching and class behavior. Consult students, peers, and your notes.
1. Define Expectations Clearly
Review the syllabus in detail on the first day of class. Understanding the syllabus is too important to their success in the course to risk their missing a point. What are they expected to know and be able to do by the end of the course? What assessments will they face? Take this opportunity to tell them. List Learning Outcomes and Assessments prominently in the syllabus and elaborate each—on day one.
Clarity and detail reduce uncertainty about appropriate large-classroom behavior. Here are your expectations with respect to attendance, lateness, chatter, etiquette, etc. Point out details about projects, tests, quizzes, homework, grading issues, etc.
Expectations and ground rules detailed in the course syllabus (and referred back to as necessary) smooth the progress of a successful teacher-student collaboration. Students appreciate your viewing them as adults. Help them understand that they must actively participate as partners in the teaching and learning process.
2. Reduce Anonymity
Civility increases when students create personal relationships with the instructor and with fellow students. An easy first step toward building personal relationships is learning students’ names.
Another ice breaker is an in-class background questionnaire asking students to list their home town, campus residence, major, reason for taking the course, extracurricular interests, birth order, number of siblings, etc. Collect and tally the responses. You might use the information gathered to form groups for in-class exercises. Use information on students’ personal interests or experiences in classroom examples to draw their interest.
Encourage students to come for office hours, but holding office hours in your office can be problematic when teaching 400 students. Before exams, when 100 students wait in line, the prospect is nightmarish. If turnout is usually strong, and especially before exams, consider moving office hours to an unscheduled classroom. If no blackboard or projection is necessary, meetings could be held outdoors. Students have laptops and continuous network connection, so RPILMS discussion boards offer another option. RPILMS discussions have the advantage of persistence, so students who could not make it to office hours, but have a similar question, can find their answers another time. You might distill a topically organized FAQ section from previous semesters’ online discussions for permanent display in LMS.
3. Encourage Active Learning
In order to increase attention to the lecture, break up the time with brief active learning tasks. Even in very large classes active learning is possible. A short in-class assignment (no more than 5 minutes) will improve student learning.
Teaching strategies to be used in large and small classes:
- Minute paper
- Formative quizzes
- Associational brainstorming
- Evocative visuals or textual passages
To use active learning efficiently in large classes:
- Use only short and specific tasks (e.g., List the most important points we discussed so far; List as many concepts as you can from the new ones learned in this lecture), and always post clearly written directions on the board. Spoken directions can be confusing or not uniformly audible.
- Encourage participation by requiring hand-outs or other responses be turned in.
- Maintain order by limiting time and the number of members in a group.
4. Assess Teaching and Class Behavior
Course evaluations from large classes generally list concerns about lecturing behavior such as talking too rapidly, too slowly, too softly; writing too fast, or blocking the blackboard; talking down, being unhelpful, employing confusing words on exams, and employing confusing grading practices.
Unfortunately, formal course evaluations reach faculty only after the semester has ended. By then it is too late to change anything. Instructors need real time feedback on the flow of the course. An informal course evaluation administered fairly early in the semester gives a sense of how the course is going—and does so while enough time remains to make necessary changes.
Questions should fit in three major groups:
- What do students like most about the course and teaching?
- What they would they like to see changed or improved?
- What would make the course a better learning experience? (Suggestions for improvement)
The course instructor can formulate the questions but, for best results, mid-course evaluations should be administered by a neutral outsider.
Another modality (especially for very large classes) is to use Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) conducted by a specialist or a seasoned fellow professor who has training and tact and does not teach this cohort.
Self-evaluation is also facilitated by peer consulting. Working in a supportive, confidential, and nonjudgmental manner, a trusted peer could make an invaluable contribution through observing your classroom, and reviewing your syllabus.