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Getting Started with Large Lectures

  1. How can you prepare for a large lecture course?
  2. How can you work with TAs effectively?
  3. Who are your students and what do they expect?
  4. What should you plan for the first day of class?

 

1) How can you prepare for a large lecture course?

Svinicki & McKeachie (2011) suggest starting to plan a course 3 months in advance. Heppner (2007) estimates that it takes “80 hours of preparation time for an absolutely minimal, barely professional job” (p. 17).

Here are some things to think about in the planning process to help ensure that the work you do is efficient, effective, and manageable:

Planning your Large Lecture Course

  • Define the course learning outcomes.
  • Set aside time in class to engage students in learning activities. Lecturing and note taking alone may encourage students to simply attain and remember content. Large lecture class activities are compiled in the teaching and learning in large lectures section.
  • Choose course content selectively. It is difficult to cover as much material in a large lecture course compared to a smaller class. Choose only the most salient points or topics and collect clear examples that can be used to illustrate those concepts or ideas.
  • Organize your course content into meaningful units throughout the semester. Davis (2009, p. 137) suggests a variety of ways to arrange course material, such as topically (e.g., divide material by how major theorists approach course content), or sequentially (e.g., divide material into major stages).
  • Large lecture courses guarantee a wide range of students. Incorporate diversity when designing your course and plan to use inclusive teaching strategies.

Writing your Syllabus

With a larger class, eliminating potential confusion over course expectations and policies can save you (and your TAs) hours of emails and office hour meetings. Many of these ideas for writing your syllabus come from Heppner (2007, p. 22-25).

  • Include as much information as possible about your course.
  • Have a few colleagues and TAs review your syllabus for clarity before finalizing your draft.  
  • When scheduling exams or assignment due dates, refrain from placing them near holidays. There will always be students who will not be able to make it either before or after due to travel restrictions.
  • Refrain from having a guest lecturer visit right after students receive grades or feedback. A number of students may not be receptive.
  • Once you have a reading assignment schedule, try not to deviate from this schedule in your class.
  • Attempt to anticipate student questions and proactively address them in the syllabus.
  • See our section on writing a syllabus for more general tips.

Reviewing your Resources

Start thinking about what resources you have and how to put them to good use to address your specific needs. You might consider the available technology, the number of TAs (grads or undergrads?), colleagues experienced in teaching large lecture courses who are available for you to consult with, and available texts, and/or materials for developing a course reading packet.

Lecture Space

  • Preview your lecture space.
  • Do you have or need a microphone?
  • Is there room for you to walk around during class? If not, section off a couple of rows to enable you to do so.
  • Stand in the back of the room and consider what students in the back row will be able to see such as your handwriting on the board.

Classroom Technology

  • Plan to use a projector. Preparing to organize and present content visually with technology such as PowerPoint is more important as class sizes grow. The use of visual technology accommodates various learning styles. Additionally, the use of visual organizers, such as agendas and transition slides, can help keep everyone in the room on track.
  • Plan to use an online course management system, such as Blackboard, where you can:
  • Have students turn in assignments online using Blackboard’s assignment tool. This is much more efficient than collecting them by hand or through email, and it leaves no room for losing or misplacing assignments.
  • Organize and post course-related material online for students to access themselves. This will save you from the time spent printing and distributing materials.
  • Store and keep track of students’ grades.
  • Provide an online discussion space for students to ask questions related to the course.

Campus Resources

TAs

For large lectures, TAs can help facilitate classroom activities and monitor student learning. They can also provide invaluable feedback on your teaching as well as assist in sharing grading tasks.

Manage your own Time

  • Establish a work plan for the semester. Try to free yourself from other commitments around busy times during the semester, such as around major assessments and when assignments are due. (Stanley & Porter, 2002).
  • Stagger assignment due dates.
  • Determine to what degree you have flexibility in your workload when negotiating a request to teach a large course.

2) How can you work with TAs effectively?

In a large enrollment course you may have a team of TAs. Think ahead about how they can contribute to your course. Before the semester starts:

  • Have a plan for the semester and communicate roles and expectations clearly.
  • If multiple TAs are teaching different sections, ensure that you have regular meetings and use tools and techniques, such as rubrics, to ensure grading consistency.
  • Ask TAs to join you in class to facilitate learning activities and to help answer questions.
  • See more on working effectively with TAs.

CTI Faculty Seminar Session Materials

CTI Collaborating Effectively with TAs pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)

3) Who are your students and what do they expect?

On the first day of class, ask students to write their names, a small bio and what their expectations are for the course on index cards. Keep these handy. Whenever you have an interaction with a student, refer to the cards to learn more about them. This can also be carried out outside of class by the use of a pre-course Qualtrics survey.

Your large enrollment class will be made up of a diverse group of students with a range of ages, nationalities, language backgrounds, motivations, interests and expectations, to name just a few characteristics. Incorporate diversity into your course design and use inclusive teaching strategies. You can also gather class demographic data in a pre-course Qualtrics survey.

Today’s students have their own unique generational characteristics. Teaching a class in the way that you might remember being taught might not always be the most effective approach. Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone if you planned solely on conveying information through lecturing. Trying one or two new teaching strategies to engage students each semester is encouraged.

CTI Faculty Seminar Session Materials

CTI Millennials pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)

4) What should you plan for the first day of class?

The first day of class will set the tone for the course. Students will also draw conclusions about you as a teacher (Rosenthal & Ambady, 1993). Experiencing some nervousness before addressing a large audience of students is normal. Become very comfortable with your material and know what you are going to say and do before the first day of class. Remind yourself of all the preparation you have done.

Beforehand:

  • Make sure the room is set up for your needs.
  • Have your technology (projector, internet connection, microphone, etc.) prepared the day before.
  • Touch base with audio-visual support for your room.
  • Have a back up plan in case any of the technology fails.
  • Take some time to practice delivering the lesson at least once or twice the day before (consider recording yourself or asking someone for feedback).
  • Think about how you will make your entrance on stage. To get everyone’s attention, try turning off the lights.
  • Prepare a large visual that displays the course name and number for students to see as they walk in.
  • Know administration policies and procedures such as add/drop, gaining permission to join the class, or other common administrative situations you may face on the first day. Be able to answer these questions quickly and precisely.


See our page on the first day of class to get ideas on how you will:

  • Break the ice.
  • Stimulate interest in your course.
  • Communicate course expectations.
  • Find out students’ knowledge base.

CTI Faculty Seminar Session Materials

CTI First Day of Class pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)
CTI Icebreakers pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)

References

Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Heppner, F. (2007). Teaching the large college class: A guidebook for instructors with multitudes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rosenthal, R & Ambady, N.  (1993).  Half a minute: Predicting teaching evaluations from thin slices of behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(3), 431-441.

Stanley, C.A. & Porter, M.E. (Eds.) (2002). Engaging large classes: strategies and techniques for college faculty. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W.J. (2011). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed). Wadsworth Publishing.
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