Teaching large classes

Enrolment & timetable changes   Resources about teaching large classes   Providing support to large cohorts
Managing sessional staff        

Managing large classes during the semester

Large classrooms have their own particular management issues. It pays to be well prepared, so see Organising large classes for some tips. However, there are some issues that can be dealt with only at certain times, often after teaching begins.

Enrolment issues & requests for timetable changes in large classes

Teaching large classes

When you have a large number of students to manage it can be very complex to keep track of changes in enrolment and requests for timetable changes.

  • Make sure the staff who are advising students before semester have up-to-date information. Communicate well with colleagues advising on UAC information and enrolment days, and in faculty and shool Offices.
  • Make it clear to students when the classes start by sending an introductory email, either using the timetabling email system or the email facility in your eLearning site. In this way, you can direct them to key information on the eLearning site. For this reason, try to ensure that the site is available the week before semester starts. Although students will have access to this information as soon as the site is available, you may find many do not look at the details, or could have difficulty finding the information. Thus an email (and a follow-up online announcement) serves as a reminder. In this way there will be no excuses for missing the first week due to vagueness over starting dates.
  • Expect that in the first few weeks you will need to allocate time for administering enrolment issues. Some students will enroll and then change courses and thus may arrive in the second or even third week, having to make up for missed classes. Consider placing the early assessments after Week Two or Three; otherwise late enrolments will completely miss out on these tasks. Keep a supply of appropriate faculty forms handy, such as those needed for waiving pre-requisites (if appropriate).
  • Inevitably some students will want to rearrange their timetables. Establish clear rules and guidelines for the procedures they need to follow, and clearly articulate these to students through the unit of study (UoS) outline, your eLearning site, and/or group emails at the beginning of the semester. Educating students as to how they can change their timetables themselves is a priority, to avoid being swamped by requests – a link to the timetabling site where they can do this, plus instructions, will save many a queue outside your office.
  • Consider using a database rather than spreadsheets to manage information on large groups. Dale Hancock in the School of Molecular Bioscience suggests using a database like FileMaker rather than spreadsheet software like Excel.

Managing sessional staff

Managing your sessional staff will be made easier by preparing comprehensive guides or handbooks. See Practical gudes for tutors in our section Organising large classes.

This is particularly important if you are dealing with inexperienced staff.

If you have a large team of sessional staff members from diverse teaching backgrounds, you will need to ensure that everyone is aware of:

Teaching large classes
  • your teaching standards and expectations,
  • the UoS learning requirements that the tutorials or demonstrations are expected to fulfill,
  • standardised marking procedures and the need for consistency in their application.

Remember that your regular meetings with sessional staff play an important role in reiterating these teaching expectations. Use meetings to discuss the upcoming tutorials and to debrief on the previous week's tutorial. This allows newer tutors to become aware of the standard required and gives them the opportunity to discuss challenges they are facing.

If getting together face-to-face is not possible, use synchronous or asynchronous discussion to create a virtual meeting place.

Resources to assist with teaching large classes

Providing support to large numbers of students

Large class sizes present a challenge when it comes to providing support for individual students.

Issues may include:

  • overcoming alienation between students & staff,
  • students fresh from high school, having to acclimatise to large lecture classes,
  • assisting students who don't know the ropes and don’t know who to ask,
  • dealing with students who are unhappy about large tutorial sizes.

Make sure that your UoS outline (or a link to a .pdf copy) is available on your eLearning site, and that it details important support information students need to know. Let your students know what information can be found there. In a course of 700+ students you will save time and admin nightmares if you let them know clearly how they can help themselves, before they come to you or a tutor for help.

Make it clear to your students during lectures and via emails that you are available to discuss issues with them individually (and let them know your consultation times). Try to reply to emails within 24 hours if at all possible.

However, in very large classes it is important that the students consider their tutor as first port of call. Tutors would then refer them to you if the issue requires it. In very large classes the coordinator is there for pressing and complicated issues concerning disability support, quality control, appeals, etc. and will not have the time to deal with enquiries about information which is already in the unit outline.

Your sessional staff may be your major source of information about the progress of individual students when you are coordinating a unit for large numbers of students. Encourage them to identify students with difficulties as early as possible so that you can take action or give advice to tutors on how to assist them.

Large tutorial sizes (of 25+ students) make it difficult for the tutor to get to know students. In your meetings with sessional staff you may need to discuss ways to overcome this.

Your student cohort may have very different levels of prior knowledge and skills. One approach to dealing with this is to use a variety of learning activities; in this way you can target the differing learning approaches of a diverse group.

Gather feedback from your students on their learning experience during semester, and let the students know what actions you plan to take in response. There are several methods that you can use with large classes.

  • Organise student focus groups where a small group of up to 15 students represent the class and can discuss issues and challenges that are faced by the group within the unit of study. See the ITL for more information on focus group interviews.
  • Encourage your school to organise a ‘Staff – Student Liaison Committee’ and use this forum to show students you take feedback seriously.
  • Your eLearning site allows you to create quick and easy surveys using multiple choice and open-ended comments which can provide you with a wealth of feedback data. During semester you can also use online feedback forums. Make sure these are carefully moderated, and that you respond promptly to issues raised.

Create effective ways to communicate with a large cohort, that don’t take too much of your time. Use the Discussion board and Announcement facilities on your eLearning site and place links to these on the front page of the site. You can set up a thread on your Discussion board specifically for administration questions, or questions about assessment tasks, and thus save yourself multiple emails about the same issue.