Teaching Large Classes: Practical Advice

Decorative: A black-and-white image of a large, full lecture hall with an instructor presenting from the well


"Teaching Large Classes" (web page; doc) offers practical strategies for engaging a number of the "challenges, both in and out of the classroom ... associated with teaching a large class."

A. Overview

Topics covered include the following:

  • "Promoting Student Engagement"
  • "Handling Student Grades"
  • "Working with Teaching Assistants"
  • "Dealing with Cheating"
  • "Managing Logistical Issues"
  • "Integrating Technology"

B. Specific Material Covered (Each topic is developed more fully in the text.)

1. "Promoting Student Engagement"

  • "What causes students not to participate?"
    • "Perception of faculty authority"
    • "Perceptions of the instructor"
    • "Fears of peer judgment"
  • "Faculty authority: Combatting perceptions of the instructor as a fount of knowledge"
    • "Think-pair-share"
    • "Minute paper"
    • "Muddiest point paper"
    • "Clicker questions"
  • "Instructor demeanour"
    • "Learn student names."
    • "Establish a rapport."
    • "Be patient and affirmative with students in and out of class."
    • "Develop strategies to encourage students to use office hours."
  • "Peer judgment"

2. "Handling Student Grades" (See "Grading Student Work."

  • "Grading in Large Classes: Common Problems"
    • "[D]on't ... have so many graded assignments that we ... [have] incessant grading."
    • "[D]o [have] enough assessments ... [for] a fair grading system for our students and ourselves."
  • "Rethinking Formative Assessments" ("that do not add significantly to our workload")
    • "Discussion-oriented activities ... enable students to practice course-related skills and demonstrate comprehension of material, while not requiring formal grading."
    • "[P]olling technologies like 'clickers' [or Mentimeter, Socrative, etc.] ... engage students while giving students a sense of how they're doing in the course and giving instructors an opportunity to assess student-learning."
    • "These types of feedback-providing activities are especially valuable in classes in which the first graded assignments are not returned to students for several weeks."
  • "The Value of Group Projects and Papers"
    • "In a class of 200, organizing our class into 50 groups of four students to work on weekly homework assignments or papers reduces our grading load by 75% while still giving students a chance to practice their skills and receive feedback."
  • "Light Grading on Short Assignments"
    • "[M]aintain a simple grading system for short assignment s."
    • "[G]rade papers on a three-to-five point scale, with specific pieces of information required for each point."
    • "A check/check-minus.check-plus system also makes our job quicker and easier while providing feedback."
    • "[W]e need not grade everything on a 100-point scale with copious comments."
  • "The Value of Grading Rubrics"
    • "[A] detailed grading rubric ... can streamline the grading process and reduce the need for extensive written comments."
    • "Rubrics can also obviate problems of consistency when we're dealing with more than one TA grader."
  • "Paper Comments"
  • "Robo-Graded Homework"
    • "It can also be valuable to take advantage of autmated online homework services."
    • "[C]onsider these systems when choosing a textbook."

3. "Working with Teaching Assistants"

  • "Grading"
    • "Have regular grading meetings!"
    • "Use grading rubrics."
    • "Divide up grading sections."
  • "Handling Grade Complaints"
    • "Have a formalized system in place."
    • "Require complaints to be written out and submitted."
    • "Institute a 24-hour rule."
  • "Managing TAs Who Lead Discussions, Lab Sessions, and Review Sessions"
    • "Know your TAs."
    • "Hold regular meetings."

4. "Dealing with Cheating"

  • "Be upfront with our expectations."
    • "[H]ave a conversation with students about our expectations."
    • "[Put] those expectations in writing on the syllabus or handout sheet, so that students have something to which they can frequently refer."
    • "[D]edicate early class time to ... a tutorial on cheating and plagiarism."
    • Introduce the AWARE modules on academic integrity as well as "Student Code of Conduct Policies."
    • Explicitly clarify the following early:
    • "What are our expectations for 'open book' exams?"
    • "If students are allowed to work on homework assignments in pairs or groups, are they allowed to hand in comparable or identical assignments?"
    • "How do we want students to cite sources in their papers?  Is a Works Cited [or equivalent] page required?"
  • "Dealing with cheating on exams."
    • "Procto[r] effectively."
    • "Randomize the [tests, test questions, test responses, etc.]."
    • "Randomize the seating."
    • "Switch up our exams each semester."
  • "Dealing with cheating on papers."
    • "Provide students with clear instructions."
    • Provide examples of quality student work that meets expectations.
    • Have students produce their work in assessed stages, e.g. research (annotated bibliography), outline, draft, etc. 
  • "So we caught a student cheating. Now what?"

5. "Managing Logistical Issues"

  • "Taking Class Attendance"
    • "[An] attendance sheet [can be] passed around the room, but this is often a headache with the sheet being lost or students signing in for one another."
    • "[T]ake attendance through the use of clickers" [or Socrative or similar tool].
    • "Brief in-class assignments or quizzes can also be valuable in taking attendance."
    • "[R]equire that students answer a class day-related prompt on a notecard at the end of class, sign it, and hand it in before leaving. This notecard can be graded or not."
    • "[G]iv[e] pop quizzes periodically."
  • "Managing Student E-mail"
    • "Be upfront about how often we will check and answer student emails."
    • "Consider placing limits on student email."
    • "Establish rules about the kinds of questions we will respond to via e-mail."
    • "Avoid the pre-exam e-mail deluge." 
  • "Managing Office Hours"
    • "Create an office hour sign-up sheet."
    • "Encourage students to utilize their TAs."
    • "Lay some ground rules."
    • "Re-conceptualize our office hours."
    • "Consider holding online office hours."

6. "Integrating Technology"

  • D2L/mycourselink
    • "[D]istribute course content like readings and syllabi."
    • "[K]eep track of student grades."
    • "[C]onduct office hours online through its virtual classroom function."
    • "Integrat[e] an online discussion board into the classroom experience."
    • "[P]os[e] online discussion questions before lessons to get students thinking about the material before class, or as[k] students to respond to discussion questions after class to demonstrate their synthesis of the material."
  • Twitter
  • Clickers
    • Other in-class response systems that work well: Socrative, Kahoot! [game-ish], Mentimeter, etc.
    • "[P]ose a question, ask students to consult their classroom neighbor, ask them to submit their answer as a pair, and then ask some students to share out their responses."
    • This kind of engagement "embolden[s] students to participate."
    • It "get[s] everyone involved and not just the students who are willing to speak out loud." 
  • VoiceThread.com
    • "With VoiceThread, we can post an image, document, or video online and have our students comment on it."
    • "Students can add a video comment, audio comment, or a text comment to whatever we or our students post."
    • "What results is often a rich, multimedia conversation between instructors and students."
  • Online learning and assessment tools
    • See "Handling Student Grades" above.

C. See also

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