- The main thing that comes to mind is to always keep the scale in mind. Otherwise it can become totally overwhelming!
- Take time to plan the semester ahead of time. What are the learning outcomes and goals for the course, think about universal design as you build the content structure, assignment structure and grading structure. I usually solicit feedback from past instructors, graduate students and even a few trusted students about ways to improve the course for students.
- Keep things simple and transparent. This goes for course planning, assessments and communication! Sometimes having too much is really just too much and overwhelming.
- Where is your classroom, relative to your office? And what do you need to carry to class? Walking 100 multiple-page exams across campus, or carrying a heavy laptop and all its accouterments, is a strain on the back and arms. Can your AIs or UTAs help you carry things on those days?
- Get feedback from colleagues and join CITL events to continue to learn and get new ideas!
- Be OVERLY organized at the beginning and be explicit about how it is organized with the students.
- When possible, coordinate the class so that each section covers the same concepts at the same time. This will allow you to provide students with access to all the office hours from anyone in the course, since they will have the same questions at that point.
Incorporate flexibility into your course
- Develop your course to include a certain amount of flexibility, but no more (e.g., have more quizzes than necessary and allow all students to drop 1-2 [saves you having to make up quizzes for students with legit reasons], have #X extra credit points already built in throughout the semester that you can point to when students want extra credit at the end)
Tip: Use assignment groups in Canvas so that you can enable rules such as dropping the lowest score. This Canvas guide shows you how to do so.
- I strongly recommend making accommodations automatic, so that you do not need to approve them on a case-by-case basis. I drop at least one of every assignment category, including exams. (I make the final exam count for two – this way their final grade will reflect being tested on every topic.) I also provide videos of every lecture, in case a student needs to miss and doesn’t have a friend in the class to get notes from. This goes back to the idea that not every student knows they have the right to ask. For example, a student showed up to a final last semester while his wife was in labor. Fortunately I knew she was due around then, so I asked him about baby news before the exam started. He never asked me if he could take the final on a different day! I sent him away (I’ve never seen anyone run out of a lecture hall so fast) and gave him an incomplete that stayed until he was ready to take the final. The point is, some students will ask for accommodations for a splinter, and others will not even bring up the fact that their spouse is in active labor, so it’s best to just give it to everyone.
- Make sure at least one instructor provides asynchronous materials such as videos for students who can’t attend that week. If you are coordinated enough, a video from one section can cover all sections.
Practice good time management
- Time moves very quickly compared to a smaller class meeting. As the number of students in your class grows, it takes longer to pass out papers & worksheets, there are more questions to answer, and there are more commotions and distractions to take away everyone’s attention. When organizing the class time for each day, you may need to build in more “buffers” so that you can accomplish everything on your list.
Be efficient in your communications
- Save your email responses & announcements. You rarely get a question/situation/excuse just once and it’s helpful to know what you said last time (or perhaps even copy/paste).
- Classroom communication and setting of expectations in any context: make everything crystal clear! If everyone in the class requires a clarifying email, it can get out of hand quickly. Another motivation for keeping everything crystal clear is the knowledge that not every student asks for clarification, and I especially worry about students from historically excluded populations who don’t know that it’s their right to ask.
- …you want your students to feel like you’re accessible and approachable, so you have to figure out how to send that message without giving them all of your time (in a way that is unsustainable for you). InScribe and setting student hours at convenient times can help with that. Also, setting aside a specific time each day to respond to emails can help. I also find that including videos of myself on the weekly module overview pages for example helps with this.
Tip: Use online question and answer platforms that allow students to help one
another any time day or night. Students can ask questions, including anonymously, and help to answer one another’s questions. Instructors can endorse questions, but don’t have to be the first to answer the questions. This can cut down on a lot of email for you. At IU we have 2 tools available to help your students and they both integrate into Canvas: InScribe (free) and Piazza (has a fee and must be ordered through the IU eTexts program).
- There are about a million ways to write a question, but when you’re teaching a large class, you want to take into consideration how long it will take to grade, and what kind of expertise a grader needs (in other words, can it be fairly and effectively graded by a first-year graduate student, or does it require you). This tends to result in writing more straightforward questions that are easily amenable to rubrics.
- Consider writing multiple versions of a question or offering multiple ways to assess learning. This minimizes academic misconduct and also promotes classroom and content accessibility.
- I love displaying an image, photograph, welcome message, or something similar as students walk into class each day. It is a gentle reminder about the day’s class topic, and you might even get a few students talking about the day’s content before class starts – that’s a win!
- Realize that no matter how amazing you are, in a large class you simply cannot keep everyone’s attention all of the time. No amount of rules on technology or bans on outside reading or anything else will ensure you 100 percent of your students’ attention, either. And that’s okay. Acknowledge it and get back to the fun stuff — your class activities!
- Give students an opportunity to review materials (i.e., notes, big ideas, practice problems) during the class session – even a 1-2 minute opportunity to pause and reflect will draw more engagement than trying to fill every moment of the class with lecture. These reflection opportunities often lead to thoughtful questions from students (you could also think of this as a “muddiest point” exercise)
- Use think- pair (or triad)-share as a way to engage students in small groups with each other, give them a heads up you’re going to cold call on some of the groups to report what they’ve discussed so that everyone is on notice you might call on them. You might even want to use a laser pointer when cold calling to have a bit more fun with it and to signal to the students that, yes, you can reach everyone in your large classroom.
It takes a village…
- Make the course and learning overall a team effort. This should be led by the course instructor, but should also include the teaching team (grad student AIs, UTAs/UTINs if used) and the students. I try to make the classroom environment a safe place to ask questions and learn. I emphasize that at some point everyone will need to be okay with saying, “I guess I haven’t learned that yet”, but then the next goal after identifying this is to make the effort to get help and put in the time and work to learn!
- Have a communication channel for all instructors / teaching assistants in large coordinated courses. I have used Discord, Slack, and Group Me. This enables them to quickly ask questions and get answers that are standardized without clogging up email.
- Meet as a group to discuss the course and what each faculty member and teaching assistant will be responsible for.
- Communicate and delegate with your teaching staff. TAs will for the most part do a good job if one explains one’s teaching philosophy to them and the expectations from the class. Moreover, there is a lot of logistics involved in a large class, so creating a structure inside your teaching stuff like a lead TA. It is helpful if one is lucky enough to have the same class and staff for multiple semesters, which I know is not possible sometimes. Previous students who did well in the class make great TAs.
- Create smaller groups of students and assigning a UTA (we call them UI-undergraduate intern) to each group as a mentor works very well. They utilize the office hours much better and have someone to go to if they need help. This is only if they have the luxury of good UTA support we have. This involves a very thorough training of UTA’s and also as Saul mentioned having a lead UTA or AI (graduate assistant) to help with the training of the mentors. This is all possible with multi course close coordination that J was talking about as we can pool our resources together.
- Finally having UTA and AI’s socialize and create a sense of community among them helps a lot. I put a lot of time into creating a sense of community for my teaching team.
- If one has good UTA and AI’s it makes life so much easier.
See the attached slides for suggestions from Joe Packowski about course design, communication methods, technologies and how he empowers his students.
Reflection_Tips for instructors of large classes_Joe Packowski
Lastly, try to find ways to stay motivated and energized. Here is a final tip from one of our instructors:
Look for the amazing students. They’ll help keep your spirits up when you’re overcome with the always vocal unhappy students. 🙂
Please contact us if you have any questions, or if you want help incorporating these practices into your classes.
Thank you to the following instructors who contributed to this topic: Polly Husmann (Medicine), Deb Snaddon (Chemistry), Laura Brown (Chemistry), Cody Kirkpatrick (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences), J Duncan (Informatics), Saúl Blanco (Informatics), Katie Metz (Accounting), Shabnam Kavousian (Informatics), Trish Kerlé (Business), Joe Packowski (Business).