“Large courses” are defined differently on different campuses as the concept of “large” tends to be relative to the campus. However, the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) defines large as courses with 75 or more students. Although these courses can make it difficult for every student to participate in the way that a small discussion section might allow, there are still many opportunities and strategies to help faculty provide an inclusive classroom environment.
First, within the broader context of faculty language and classroom climate, the CRLT has provided great resources. We expect that you already recognize that inclusive teaching is effective teaching. However, if you would like literature to support this further, we recommend these resources from CRLT.
Strategies to improve your large classroom environment
A great metacognitive strategy for faculty to begin improving their classroom environment is to take inventory of their current teaching strategies. Using this inventory can provide a two-fold benefit: 1) it confirms effective strategies that you may already be using in your classroom; and 2) it provides cues of (simple) strategies that you could use that you had not considered previously. Although not all of the inventory items included will be practical for a large classroom (e.g. learning students’ names in a class of 200), other strategies will likely be very effective for making your improving your classroom inclusivity (e.g. communicate high expectations and your belief that all students can succeed.)
What if your large class includes the support of GSI’s?
If your large course includes graduate student instructors, then it is important that you have a proactive approach with your teaching team to promote inclusive teaching. CRLT has provided a great checklist for working collaboratively (and inclusively) with your GSI’s. It is important to model an inclusive environment with your GSI’s in order to be sure that your entire teaching team endorses the
Should you adopt technology to help engage your large classroom?
Depending on the course content, large courses can provide an opportunity for many voices to be “heard” and for implicit bias to be revealed and discussed. One method for allowing many voices is to incorporate technology for capturing anonymous student responses in real time. Historically, this has been done with “clickers”, but many different platforms exist for capturing and revealing this real time feedback (e.g. Top Hat or iClickers). In addition, the use of combined platforms for real time feedback and capturing the classroom content can be helpful for students that want to review the material after class. One such platform is Echo360 which allows students to respond from a smartphone, tablet or laptop and reveal multiple choice or short answers in real time while also capturing the entire lecture for playback by students at a later time. This (and other) platforms can also be live-streamed to allow students outside of the classroom (or an entirely remote online course) to meet synchronously and be recorded for asynchronous viewing.
Resources for faculty teaching large courses
If you are teaching a course like organic chemistry, then discussion facilitation might not be a major concern regarding your likely classroom discussions. However, in many courses there will be an opportunity to teach students about different perspectives. Although not specific to large courses, facilitating classroom discussion is very important when you have a large enrollment and a likely inability to hear from all students during the class lecture. Below are several resources that are helpful for improving classroom discussions:
Broad overview for improving an instructors’ understanding of privilege and how it impacts the class climate. This is especially important for leading class discussions in a large classroom.
Facilitating through “perfectly logical explanations” and other strategies to challenge a dominant narrative that could inhibit student participation. Similarly, it is important to know how to respond to common dialogue blockers.
It can pay dividends to prompt (and teach) students to ask questions that promote learning. There is evidence that this can improve long-term retention of concepts as well improve students’ overall confidence in asking questions in the future.