Organising large classes
For most of us, teaching more than 200 students is a considerable challenge. However many at the University are dealing with classes of over 700 students, and some classes number in the thousands. Managing such a large number of students can be a very stressful experience, particularly for those who are new to coordinating large classes. It will help a great deal during the semester if you have organised and prepared well ahead of time.
See Teaching preparation for a list of administration and pre-teaching tasks, which are also applicable when teaching large classes.
“Preparing to Teach a Large College Course” is an excerpt from the book Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis. It offers excellent tips on organising, preparing and structuring lectures, as well as advice on managing a large class.
For some helpful tips on planning for your large class, including a video to give you ideas for your first lecture, see the Business School’s page on teaching large classes.
Large classes require an approach to learning and teaching that can be quite different to methods that you might use in a smaller class.
Your eLearning website can be one of your greatest allies in managing your large class, so make sure that you understand all its functions and what you can do with them. See Blended learning for information on eLearning sites.
When you are designing your unit of study, it will help to keep these things in mind:
- Organise active learning methods that work in a large class situation. Even the largest lecture can be interactive. Most good lecturers encourage audience participation – from individual volunteers to a show of hands eliciting views or responses to multiple choice questionnaires (MCQs); demonstrations of experiments, short buzz group tasks, etc. The lecture shouldn’t be an entirely passive affair. See Active learning.
- Your cohort is likely to have very diverse background skills and experiences so plan your classes to incorporate multiple learning modes to address different skill levels and approaches to learning. See Diversity in L&T for some more information on this.
- Consider ways in which you and your tutors can create collaborative learning environments. Once again, our Active learning page provides resources to help you.
- You will need to find ways to motivate and engage a large group of students such as using student response keypads (or ‘clickers’ as they are known colloquially) in classes, and encouraging active discussion boards on your eLearning site. Try to give students consistent feedback on their performance relative to the expected standard. See Feedback during semester for more information about this.
Most large classes are conducted for first year students. Consequently, it is likely that many of your students will need to begin to develop the graduate attributes that will help them to progress in their studies and feel satisfied with their learning experience, and that will eventually equip them for their future careers or postgraduate studies.
Such attributes include:
- Academic writing and presentation skills
- Self-directed study and research skills
- Time management
- Group, team and leadership skills
In your unit of study outline, list the graduate attributes you intend to focus on, and say how your unit specifically addresses each one.
See Academic skills development for more information on developing graduate attributes in your first year students.
Learning in large classes can make many students feel alienated or isolated – but you can plan learning activities that reduce this effect.
- When you have a large number of students, it is a good idea to use available information such as enrolment statistics or online surveys to find out what you can about the cohort. This can help you to think about how your teaching sits with their other areas of study and how you can plan to best engage their interest. One example: the Business School generates a “Knowing your students” report from available enrolment statistics. This can give the coordinator information about the students’ backgrounds, the degrees they are undertaking and the other subjects they are doing. For more information .
- When planning learning activities, consider strategies that help students connect to each other. This will enable students to develop a sense of being involved in a learning community. One approach is to encourage active use of the eLearning discussion board. See Learning community for more ideas.
- When you have large lectures, creating smaller tutorials with constant tutors for each tutorial group dramatically reduces alienation. Every student’s tutor should be the first person they approach about many things related to the unit. It is important that tutors let students know when they are available for consultations or how to contact them with questions.
It may be difficult in large classes to ensure that students have read their UoS outline and understand all the requirements for completing the course.
- For this reason it can help to clearly explain what you expect of students and what is required to complete the unit, at a number of points throughout the semester.
- Ask your sessional staff to reiterate these expectations at relevant times, for example, when the students are preparing to submit assessment tasks.
- See also Staff/student responsibilities.
Many venues at the University are equipped with technologies that can help you to create more engaging lectures. These include dual projection, interactive pen displays, and student response keypads (or ‘clickers’). You will find more information about the technologies available to you on ICT’s equipment & installations page.
If you want to use the student response keypads, you will need to arrange them prior to each lecture. See the Student response keypads section in our page on Technical support for an explanation on how to do this.
If you want to record or podcast your lectures check that your venue has facilities such as Lectopia or Camtasia. Visit the ICT-Audiovisual page for more details.
When you are teaching large classes you will also have a team of tutors, sometimes 30 or more, who you will need to prepare and manage throughout the semester.
Keep in mind that large tutorial sizes (25-30 students) make it difficult for the tutor to get to know individual students, and to support their progress. Try to keep your tutorials as small as possible – this will depend, of course, on the resources available and the sessional staff budget in your department.
Preparing the team
There are issues you will need to consider when managing your sessional staff, to ensure equity for both students and staff across a large class.
- Give extremely clear guidelines to tutors to ensure that students in all tutorial groups receive the same quality learning experience. This can relate to the tutor selection process – what criteria do you use to choose your sessional staff? And how are they evaluated at the end of each semester? However, it can also relate to how well you communicate your expectations with them and support them in their role.
- Ensure that all students are marked according to a common grading standard. How is your marking to be organised? Use your markers’ meetings to ensure marking standards. Early in the marking process, share examples of student submissions that each member of the team has assessed at each grade level, and encourage or insist on second marking of at least 10% of assessment tasks. Think about dividing up the marking by task or question, rather than by tutorial group. Inconsistent marking is a very common student concern.
- Aim to build a community among your tutors. This can happen on both a formal and informal level. Encourage them to pool resources, share good teaching practices, and discuss both the challenges and joys of their teaching experiences. One way to do this is to organise regular meetings, or to set up a private discussion space on your elearning site.
- Present your sessional staff with a practical guide to refer to throughout the semester. This will save you time answering common questions, and so on. It also helps to give them more of a sense of being prepared and in control of situations that are bound to arise, particularly if they are new to tutoring. See the information on Pratical Guides for tutors below.
- Encourage peer review and observation for new and experienced tutors. See Evaluating your teaching for more information.
When you have large teams of tutors, some of whom may be inexperienced, consider developing a tutors’ handbook that explains:
- their duties as tutors
- administration issues such as how payment is organised
- how to deal with student and classroom management issues
- how to run tutorials
- the unit’s assessment requirements, etc.
A practical guide for tutors prepared by Catriona Elder in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is an excellent example of how to compile a tutors’ handbook.
A comprehensive tutor training handbook produced by the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) includes teaching pointers, reflective learning sheets, hypothetical scenarios to prepare tutors for class issues, and other useful resources for tutors. It is based on materials from the Faculty of Science tutor and demonstrator development program.
For more information see Preparing sessional staff.