Teaching a large class poses many challenges, both virtually and physically. A large class enrollment can lead to student disengagement and alienation. This can erode students’ sense of responsibility and enjoyment of the course. Furthermore, large class sizes can pose logistical issues for instructors.
While the following recommendations can be used in any class size, their use should be considered in larger class.
When class size increases students may be less likely to participate. This could be due to the students’ perception of the faculty authority, perceptions of the instructor, and/or fears of peer judgment.
In larger class, especially lower division course, students may feel uncomfortable discussing or challenging the instructors. This can hinder the aquation and understanding of how knowledge is created and evolved, and lead students to passively bank the knowledge presented by the instructor.
Moving away from this may be hard in larger classes but below are some 10 to 20-minute exercises that may increase student participation and active learning.
Think-Pair-Share: In this exercise the instructor poses a question or problem to the whole class. The students are then given time to Think individually about the question or problem. After the students have had time to think they then Pair up with one or two other students to discuss each other’s responses. Finally, each pair can Share their pooled response with the rest of the class.
This encourages student engagement as the student feels greater responsibility of knowledge creation when paired with a classmate and as the student shares their primary ideas with a smaller group they may have less anxiety when talking.
In a virtual environment this same action can be accomplished with breakout rooms.
Minute Paper: In this exercise at the end of a class segment students are given three to five minutes to write the main point of the segment, any thoughts about it, and any questions remaining. For the students the paper allows the students to reflect on the current class segment, formulate questions, and better consider what information they do or do not understand about the segment. For instructors the collected minute paper can help them assess the knowledge of the class and if needed review common misunderstandings or topics.
Muddiest Point Paper: A modified version of the minute paper, students are just asked to talk about the point that is most unclear to them.
Polling Questions: In this exercise the instructor uses a polling tool to ask the students questions about the subjects that were just covered. Here the instructor could ask quick multiple-choice question(s) to gage, in real time, if students understand the content. If there is a large number of students that answer in a manner that shows confusion the instructor can then review the topic and re-ask the question. The polling can also stimulate discussions about topics.
In large classes student instructor interaction can be limited. This limitation can make students feel less comfortable in participating in class discussions. Bellow are some tips to increase student/faculty interactions.
Learning and Use Students Names: In large classes students names may harder to use. Some professors find that it helps to have card with students’ names and images. The instructor can then use the cards to call on students with their name.
These cards can be created by the students on the first week of classes. This way students can provide their proper name, if deferent then their roll name; their pronouns; and even a fun fact about them.
In a virtual environment it is still important to make sure you are using the students correct name. Professors should not rely on the name provided my virtual tool as this name may be incorrect.
Include Low Stakes Rapport Activity’s: Along with the normal class assignments instructors can provide low stake activities that would allow both the instructor and student to learn about each other. These activities can be connected to the weekly topic or be completely external. When doing these it is important that the instructor also participates.
Work to be Responsive to Students: Replying to students’ questions in a timely and helpful manner will increase the students connection. These communications will allow the students to better understand feedback, increase comfort in communicating in class, and reduce the perception of an alienated instructor.
Office hours: Having a clear location and office hours allows students to feel more comfortable in communicating with an instructor. When thinking about your office hours think of what times your students may be available (adult learners may not be free Tuesdays at 10 am) and what mode you would like (online or in person). Similarly wile an “as needed” office hours may be helpful for some students, having some fixed hours may help students who may not be comfortable initiate communication or wishing to better know availability before communicating.
Furthermore, required office hours could increase student comfort with the instructor. Begging the term with a 5-10-minute low stakes office visit may allow the instructor to better know the students.
Bookings is a useful tool in setting up office hours, this tool can allow both virtual and in person scheduling.
In larger classes the fear of peer judgment found normally in any class setting can be magnified. To help reduce these fears it is imperative that an instructor crates an environment of trust and respect. Bellow are some tools to asset in creating these environments.
Small Group Interaction: these interactions create a sense of connection between the students in the class. See some of the methods above to create small group interactions.
Anonymous Responses. Allowing students to respond to questions through anonymous means can proved space for the student to ask questions or share without worry of their peers.
Balance Student Voices: work to create an environment where a handful of students dominate the conversation. Do this by protecting quitter students from interruptions and moderating dissections and deescalate, without alienating, controversial or heated class discussions.
With larger classes grading can become time consuming for the instructor. When thinking about grading it is imported to balance providing quality feedback to the students and instructor time constraints.
Incorporating more formative assessments into the class can provide students and instructors the feedback needed without overburdening each.
Using discussions-focused activities can allow students to practice skills and demonstrate comprehension. Instructors can choose not to grade these or provided verbal or written feed back during the discussion. The Moodle forum activity can create asynchronous discussions for both faculty and students to interact.
Polling activities, such as Poll Everywhere can also engage students and provide automated feedback. Again, these activities can provide assessment without being incorporated into a student’s grade.
To reduce grading fatigue instructors can set up assignments to be turned in as a group. Not only can this reduce instructor’s grading load but can increases student-student interaction and lead to better communication skills.
When setting up group assignments be mindful to promote active contributions by:
For smaller assignments consider different grading scales, such as pass/fail or a reduced point scale.
Using a Rubric
Moodle can allow you to grade an assignment using a Rubric. In doing this you can quickly grade an assignment while simultaneously providing feedback as to what the student may or may not have in their assignment.
Comments can be time consuming and, in some cases, repetitive for an assignment. Considered changing some of your comments into small codes or acronyms, then providing a key to the comments on your Moodle site or syllabus. These codes or acronyms should be used only for repetitive comments and should not replace longer comments for an assignment.
Having assignments that are automatically graded by a system can reduce your grading load. In Moodle the quiz activity can be designed as fully or a partially automated, with many of the question types allowing for automatic grading. There are some limitations when questions require students to type. When using these types of questions be mindful of the spelling and tense of the words. Furthermore, the long answer question type will never be graded automatically by the system.
Outside of Moodle the publisher of your text may have a tool that can automatically grade assignments.
In a larger class the possibility of cheating is increased. This possibility connected with the larger grading load for the professors makes it hard to identify cheating.
Before going forward, it is important when dealing with cheating, that you are upfront and clear about your expectations of the students. In many cases it is not the black and white issues of cheating that can lead to an honor code violation, but the gray area between the two binaries. Bellow are some questions you might want to consider when creating an assignment.
Please review the University-wide Academic Standards, and, when appropriate the policy’s for the specific schools.
Randomize exams: One of the more traditional way to reduce cheating is the creation of multiple versions of an exam for the class. In live classes this can be done with different printed out copies with a different sequence of the questions, different questions covering similar concept, or mixing up the answers for the same question.
When online you can use Moodle’s Random question from Question bank to build you quizzes and exams. This will randomly add a question from the question bank for each student. Using this feature will randomize the locations of questions and, depending on the number of questions, produce different tests for the students.
Switch Up Exams: Not only should you randomize exams within the course you should change the exams up each term. This will reduce the possibility of students sharing exams from past terms. It is also advised that you do not rotate exams between terms or years as some organization or students maintain past exams.
Provide clear instructions: Provide clear information on the citation style and needs for the assignment and the level of citation needed for the assignment. Include citation information in the syllabus about the style you expect the students to use. This information can provide clear guidance for students that may not have use the citation style before or who have questions about the style.
As class size increase the logistical issues associated with managing the class also increase.
With larger classes a visual attendance taking may be impractical. To manage this, you can use a small low-stakes in class assignment to take attendance. This can be done through a daily Poll Everywhere, a Moodle quiz, or a quick five-minute write.
In a virtual setting Teams offers an attendance feature. The instructor can manually take the attendance during the class or, when the class is done, Teams will produce the attendance sheet for the instructor. On this sheet the students name and when they have logged in and out is shown. Using this, you can see how long a student has stayed in the class or if they may have connection issues.
Students interested about the course or worried about their grades will email you with their questions. With a large class this can lead to a mailbox full of emails, many of them with the same questions. Below are some methods that can help manage the emails.
For your own wellbeing it is important to set boundaries, this is the same with answering emails. These boundaries do not work though, when they are not relayed to others. Your syllabus is the best location to relay your email policy to the students. Here you can state how often you will respond or check your emails. A line saying “Please give me 24 hours to respond to your email during the week, on weekends this can be further delayed,” “I will read and respond to Emails in the morning and evening,” or “Emails sent before class may be addressed in class.” These rules can help minimize rapid-fire emails from students. Setting these boundaries would also help before large assignments are due, when an paper or exam is schedule you may want to remind students about your email policy and when you many stop answering questions about the upcoming assignment.
Along with setting boundaries on when you answer your emails, you may want to set an expectation as to the contents of an email. Asking students to write clearly and concisely their issues may limit verbose messages. This can be done through setting limits on how many lines or characters an email should have. In setting this limit you are hoping to help students get to the point of their emails, you should not ignore or dismiss emails longer then the requested limit.
Finally, creating folders for each of your classes and routing rules can help declutter your inbox. When setting this up it is helpful to inform students how best to format their email. On your syllabus stating that email subject lines should start with the course code and section number. Doing this you can then create a routing rule using the course code and section. Another way to help is to create a mailto link on your Moodle course. This link can be designed to include a procreated subject line with the course code and number. Bellow is an example of the code you to use, change out the green text with your own information.
When working with a large class it is helpful to create a signup sheet for office hours. This will allow you to better manage your time and reduce the number of students waiting. This can be done electronically using Microsoft Bookings. Working with your university email system Microsoft Bookings can be used to schedule both in person and online meetings.
The University of Redlands provides assistance with multiple tools mentioned in this page to assist with larger classrooms. You can set up a consultation with a member of Instructional Technology Services to discuss strategies mentioned here or others. You can also follow the links bellow to review guilds on many of the tools mentioned.
Microsoft Bookings -Tool for scheduling office hours both online and in person
Microsoft Teams - Virtual classroom tool to meet synchronously.
Moodle – Learning Management System for assignments and asynchronous interactions
Poll Everywhere – Asynchronous and synchronous polling application
Padlet – Application that allows formal and informal posting.
WebEx - Virtual classroom tool to meet synchronously.
Content adapted from:
Wilsman, A. (2013). Teaching Large Classes. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 3/25/2021 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-large-classes/.