SJSU Faculty on Large Class Teaching

Sharing a Wealth of Experience

Below, several SJSU faculty members offer their insights about teaching classes in a large-lecture format.  We invited them to describe their experiences, including challenges they have encountered and solutions they have created. Peruse their answers and you will no doubt recognize a wide range of approaches and strategies.

 

photo of Rick Kepple

Rick Kepple, School of Management

Course Information
Course Number: BUS3-10
Course Title: Discovering Business
Number of Students in a Single Class: 40-83(FA12). 120 (SP13), 240 (FA13), 120 (SP14). 120 (FA14), 240 (SP15)
Sharing from Rick

 photo of Monika Kress

Monika Kress, Dept of Physics

Course Information
Course Number: PHYC50
Course Title: Calculus-based Mechanics
Number of Students in a Single Class:: Over 200 for each section
Sharing from Monika

 Photo of Mary Poffenroth

Mary Poffenroth, Dept of Biological Sciences

Course Information
Course Number: BIOL21
Course Title: Humans and the Global Environment Writing Project
Number of Students in a Single Class: Around 400 students
Sharing from Mary

 Emily Slusser

Emily Slusser, Dept of Child & Adolescent Development

Course Information
Course Number: ChAD 60
Course Title: Child Development (Required for Major, & GE Area E)
Number of Students in a Single Class:120
Sharing from Emily

 Photo of Muffie Waterman

 Muffie Waterman, Dept of Child & Adolescent Development

Course Information
Course Number: ChAD 60
Course Title: Child Development (Required for Major, & GE Area E)
Number of Students in a Single Class: 120 students
Sharing from Muffie

 

 

 

 

 Sharing from the Faculty Members

photo of Rick Kepple

Rick Kepple, School of Management

Course Information
Course Number: BUS3-10
Course Title: Discovering Business
Number of Students in a Single Class: 40-83(FA12). 120 (SP13), 240 (FA13), 120 (SP14). 120 (FA14), 240 (SP15)

 

Challenges & things I worried about at the outset...

  • Maintaining the small-class level of instructor-to-student interaction, to facilitate learning and to keep 240 students in Morris Daley 101 Auditorium from sleeping or just playing on their PDA's during class.
  • Maintaining and possibly improving learning outcomes, in comparison to smaller-sized classes.
  • Finding ways to do team-based activities and projects in class, given the physical limitations of the auditorium seating and the lack of available work-surfaces other than students' laps.
  • Creating ways to assess student progress.
  • Preventing massive cheating during multiple-choice exams in class.
  • Dealing with technological glitches, including the internet going down at inopportune times (in class, or while students were completing timed assignments at home).
  • Concern that students' inexperience in technology would limit their success (they thought coming into SJSU that they "knew technology").

Solutions & small things I do that makes a big difference...

  • I use a "inverted/hybrid" pedagogical model to deliver content:  I take about 75% of my would-be lecture material and post it on-line prior to class. That way, students get much more time to deepen their learning/understanding of the basic material during class.
  • My students figure out how to work together, within the fixed-seating-no common workspace environment
  • I use team-based, student-initiated learning processes in class to teach to teams of self-directing students working as a group instead of one student at a time.
  • I devote a proportion of time in class to checking in with students individually, during team exercises/projects (mid-semester one-on-one team checkpoint meetings with instructor).
  • Developing a process-oriented "mass customization" strategy for all assignments and projects to enable scaling, which makes grading more efficient.
  • I play music in class during the team assignment time.  I've found that the "Thievery Corporation" channel on Pandora worked best: tonal (not words-based), hip beat that students related to, generally same volume level for all "genius" selections by Pandora.
  • And I practice MBWA: Management By Walking Around: used this common business technique to help mentor groups during in-class team assignment times.
  • I use many of the features of Canvas to monitor student progress, to ensure that students come to class prepared to engage in the day's activities, and to facilitate communication.

Additional "pluses" for my students:

  • They learn one of the "Implicit Objectives" of the course - the definition of "On-time".
  • They learn to manage their on-line readings, assignments and quizzes using their own time schedule.
  • They receive nearly instantaneous feedback on quiz results.

Presentation: Supporting large lecture classes using a hybrid pedagogy [pdf]

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photo of Monika Kress

Monica Kress, Dept of Physics

Course Information
Course Number: PHYC50
Course Title: Calculus-based Mechanics
Number of Students in a Single Class: 2 sections of lecture each with >200 students. There are also labs with enrollment of 20, taught by lecturers and grad students. The Physics department used to teach at least 8 sections of this class with enrollments of 45-50. Now we teach 2 with >200 apiece.

Challenges and Solutions

This course is a pre-requisite for almost all of the upper division courses in engineering and science. It is considered a "major support" course. I think of it as good preparation for the high expectations and demands of their upper division major courses. The challenge to the class, large format or not, is convincing the students that the subject matter really is important, and they really do need to invest much more time in it than they need to invest in their other courses.

"In large format, the challenge is to get them to
actively engage their minds during lecture, and not just 'take it all in,'
as one student (who did not have a notebook) put it."

During lectures, I become a game-show host. I walk around the lecture hall with my microphone and ask the students their name and major, and ask why they want to major in that. I have them explain how they are solving the problem that I put on the screen, even if they're not done yet. If they get the answer, I announce to the class that their future job competitors have already solved the problem (a little pressure goes a long way!!).

Engineering and science are about problem solving. I try to make problem solving an integral part of every lecture. In the beginning of every lecture, I show videos of athletes and musicians doing their thing, and remind them that they have to be the problem-solving equivalent of that. You don't learn to play an instrument by watching someone else do it. You don't win the Superbowl by googling articles about football. You practice, practice and practice, and do your push-ups and scales. That's Physics 50, except with physics problems.

Another challenge is exams.  I try to make cheating nearly impossible. In physics, cheating usually takes the form of copying off their neighbor, or googling answers on the smart phone during exams. Both are hard to catch in the act, but really easy to make it impossible for them to do it in class. I make several versions of the test, and I never put a verbatim homework question on the test. I recycle some old problems, but I always make them "ungooglable" by changing the nouns and verbs a bit. It's important for the 99% of students who are honest that you take care to do that. Also I have my student assistant scan in every exam so that no one can change their answers and ask for points back, claiming an error in grading. When they do ask for points back, I put the onus on them. They need to re-work the entire problem, writing exactly what they did wrong, how to get the answer, scan it in and email it to me.

I try to make better use of labs.  Physics 50 has a lab component, which is mandatory. It meets for three hours each week. In the pre-large-lecture days, the lab only entailed taking some data, making some plots, and then writing up the report at home.

"I started making problem-solving an integral part of lab,
and having my lab instructors do much more than what had been
expected of them in the past.  As a result, the lab TA's got to know the students
much better than I ever could,  even when I taught the smaller lecture sections."

I had the TA's administer proficiency quizzes each week no the 6 core topics of Physics 50. This was to give the students some feedback before the exams, so they knew whether they were meeting the expectations of the course. This was very helpful.

 

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Photo of Mary Poffenroth

Mary Poffenroth, Biological Sciences

Course Information
Course Number: BIOL21
Course Title: Human Biology
Number of Students in a Single Class:435 students per semester; 1 section per semester

 

 

Challenges and Solutions

A challenge to teaching this class is the number of students having issues understanding the course technology being used or course procedures. I help to alleviate this problem by having an extremely detailed syllabus, creating tutorial videos on various topics such as finding scholarly articles and how to use Turnitin.com, as well as releasing twice weekly Canvas announcements to make sure everyone is kept on the same page.

Initially, I was worried that students would feel lost among the crowd. But, with the help of my lab student assistants, every Biology 21 student still receives one on one attention every week. I also block out time to see any students who wish to chat after class, in addition to standard office hours.

A small thing I do that makes a big difference - I take advantage of the Canvas "Announcements" feature. Posting announcements really helps me minimize having to respond to multiple emails about the same topic and empowers students to find their own answers.

 

Presentation: "I have how many students?" Effective Methods for Engaging (and Surviving) the Large and Mega Lecture Classroom [pdf]

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Emily Slusser

Emily Slusser, Dept of Child & Adolescent Development

Course Information
Course Number: ChAD 60
Course Title: Child Development (Required for Major, & GE Area E)
Number of Students in a Single Class: 120 students

 

 

Challenges and Solutions

I include many activities and assignments designed to introduce students to the basic principles of human development as well as provide students with the opportunity to reflect on their individual roles in society.

One assignment in particular, a 20 hour Service Learning experience in which students are asked to work with children and youth, has presented a few notable challenges as we transitioned from a transitional small course format (with approximately 30 students per section) into a large course format (with approximately 120 students per section). SJSU’s Center for Community Learning and Leadership has been particularly helpful in meeting these challenges. With their support, we have been able to maintain and expand our community partnerships so as to provide our 300+ students with ample opportunities to work with children of various ages in the San Jose area.

Additionally, new technological supports (including Canvas and online data collection tools, such as Google Forms) allow instructors to effectively and efficiently track community placements, record student hours, and share data with interested parties. Canvas’s collaborative learning tools have been particularly helpful, as they allow instructors to re-create the small, intimate discussion forums that are so valued in the traditional small course format. Our students use this opportunity often to share and discuss their real-world experiences with fellow classmates outside of class.  

In the end, campus support and simple technological tools have allowed a practice that is often restricted to small course formats to evolve into an equally valuable experience that can be shared amongst the hundreds of students enrolled in our ChAD 60 courses (as well as the children and families they serve). 

 

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Photo of Muffie Waterman

Muffie Waterman, Dept of Child & Adolescent Development

Course Information
Course Number: ChAD 60
Course Title: Child Development (Required for Major, & GE Area E)
Number of Students in a Single Class: 120 students

 

 

Challenges and Solutions

It’s important to me that my students talk about their thinking with each other so they can tie the new material to their current understanding.  A challenge with 120 students in an auditorium!

My students still talk to each other every day, I just manage it more:

  •    I have them turn to a shoulder mate, or talk in groups of four. 
  • I walk the aisles, checking in with groups, looking for stray students – maybe shy, maybe checked out – and I hook them into a group and ask fellow students to include them. The noise level is terrific! 
  • I use a loud sound to bring them all back, and I solicit a few comments from across the whole room.  Then I weave those comments in as we cover the material.  It provides fresh ideas every day, and helps students see their own and others’ perspectives.

I still connect with my students, but I find I have to be 'bigger' in my large classes:

  • I broadcast my energy more so that the students in the middle and back feel just as engaged as those in the front. 
  • And if you’re wondering about whether to use the room mic:  the answer from students is “Yes!”

 

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