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EnablingHighQualityTeachingandLearningforLargeClasses

KirtiGargandVasudevaVarma
InternationalInstituteofInformationTechnology,Hyderabad(IIITH)
HyderabadIndia
{Kirti,vv}@iiit.ac.in

Abstract
Providing high quality learning environment is always a challenge. This challenge
increasesmanifoldforlargeclassesduetopragmaticconsiderationsofacademicand
administrative nature. Large classrooms also provide an opportunity to enrich the
learningenvironmentandmakeitmorevibrantbutitrequirescarefuldesigntoutilize
the opportunity while managing the complexity. This paper discusses administrative,
pedagogicalandassessmentrelatedchallengesthataffectthequalityoflearningand
teaching, thus requiring a welldesigned large learning environment to manage the
complexity andmaintainquality.Further,wewilldiscussstrategiesandpractices to
managethesechallenges.Thesearegroundedinsoundlearningtheoriesandsomehave
been implemented and validated in our software engineering classrooms. These
strategiescanactasguidelinestodesignandcustomizethelearningenvironments,thus
helpingtheeducatorswhofindlargeclasseschallenging.

Keywords
Largeclassrooms,computerscienceeducation,studentlearning,administrativeissues,
personalizedlearning

1 Introduction and Background


Every faculty aims at teaching effectively irrespective of class size. Unfortunately,
impartingqualityeducationisachallengeandthischallengeisincreasedmanifoldfor
largeclasses.Largeclassesmayposetwokindsofproblems,namely:administrativeand
pedagogical.

The challenges lies not in increased grading workload, rather in incorporating and
implementingteachingandlearningbestpracticessuchasactivelearning,personalized
learninginordertoensurethatlearninggoalsareachievedsuccessfully.Teachingand
administrative approaches that have been successful in small classes may become
incompatiblewithlargeclassroomsandrequiresignificantchange.Somepedagogical
approachesmayremainthesame,butintroduceneweradministrativedifficulties.
Beforewediveintothedetails,wedefinealargeclass.Thereisnofixednumberthatcan
make aclass large.A class is consideredlargedependingontheprescribedstudent
teacherratioandfacultypreferences.Thisratiointurndependsoninstructionalapproach
andlearningobjectives.InIndia,25:1ratioistheidealstudenttofacultyratioprescribed
forsciencecoursesatanUGlevel[11]. Forengineeringcourses,theprescribedideal
ratio is 15:1, to be maintained for practice/lab work, but with flexibility of 60:1 for
lectures[9].Butsuchnormscanrarelybefollowedowingtopracticalconsiderations.
Therearevariousreasonsthatleadtolargeclasses.Lackofexperiencedfacultyand
infrastructurearethemostcommonfactorsresultinginlargeclassrooms.Popularityof
certaincoursesorprogramsaddstothechallenge.Theclasssizesmaynotbelimitedtoa
manageable40or60andmightevencross200.Largeenrollmentsareverycommonin
firstlevelcompulsorycoursesinpopularprogramslikecomputerscience.However,the
situationeaseswithintroductionofelectivesoradvancecoursessinceenrollmentinthese
coursesiscomparativelylow.
Economy ofscaleis anotherfactor observedmainly inprivate institutes.Inorderto
generaterevenuethatwilleventuallypayformoreresourcesandstaff,institutesincrease
studentintake.Theintakeisregulatedbyauthorities,whoprescribelowerboundsonthe
infrastructure. But the pedagogical changes are usually not prescribed by such
regulations,areconsideredmicroissuesanditsassumedthattheinstitute/facultywill
handlethem.
Apart from the presence of large number of students, large classrooms have certain
characteristic features. Large classrooms are usually diverse in nature. Students with
different prior knowledge, learning styles, capabilities and interests come together to
learnacommontopic.Theremaybeextremesofstudentsforeachpossiblevariation.
Learningprinciplessuggestthatagoodfacultywillaccommodatediversityinclasswhile
helpingstudentsbuildnewknowledgeonthepriorknowledge.Thispriorknowledge
mayincludeideasandmisconceptionsaboutrealworld.Managingthisaspectoflarge
classroomsisanotherissuethatrequiresmajorpedagogicalchangesaswellasposes
challengesbeforethefaculty.Thereisnoconclusiveevidencefromresearchtotellthat
largeclassroomsalwaysnegativelyaffectastudentslearning.Somestudiessuggestthat
largerclassescannegativelyaffectastudentlearning.Thisnegativeeffectisseenon
motivationandattitudeofstudentsandfaculty.Thereisalsoaproblemofperception,
thatthoughstudentsmayhavelearnedthematerial,theclassroomexperiencemaynotbe
assatisfyingasitcouldhavebeeninsmallerclasses.

Many first level courses tend to keep the learning objectives limited to knowledge,
understandingandapplication.Typicallytraditionallecturesarethepedagogicalmeans
forthesame.Buttraditionallecturesrequireamajormakeoverinlargeclassroomsto
maintain same effectiveness. The situation gets even more complex in courses that
includehigherorderthinkingskillssuchasanalysis,synthesisandevaluationorcomplex
problemsolving.Traditionallecturesarenotconsideredsuitableforthepurposeanditis
requiredthatthefacultymodifiesthemconsiderablytointroduceelementssuchasof
activelearningorusealternatepedagogiesaltogether.Largeclassesareingeneralnot
considered suitable whenthelearningobjectives include thesehigherordercognitive
skills[1].
Typical administrative issues in large classes are related to magnitude of grading,
maintaining discipline, record keeping including attendance, controlling plagiarism,
managingcoordinationandcommunicationinalargegroupofTeachingAssistants(TAs)
ifanyetc.
Thelearningissuesweconsiderincludethefollowing:choosingtheoptimalpedagogical
approachinaccordancewithlearninggoals,ensuringthatstudentsachieveaminimal
levelofcompetency(achieveatleastsomelearninggoalstoaprescribedcompetency),
avoiding impersonalized learning, dealing with uninterested students, invoking
discussionsinclass,designingmeaningfulyetmanageableassessmentsetc.
Pleasenotethattheadministrativeandlearningissuesandevenvariousadministrative
issuesarenotmutuallyexclusive.Therearedependenciesandtradeoffs.Forexample,a
substantialsetofTAsmayberequiredtomanagethehugeamountofgrading.This
introducestheneedofTAmanagementi.e.workdivision,selectingknowledgeableTA,
devisingreliablegradingcriteria,documentsharingetc. Similarly,whenanalternate
pedagogicalapproachsuchasProjectBasedLearning(PrBL)isused,moresupportstaff
mayberequiredtohelpstudentsinexecutingprojects.Carefuldesignofprojectsand
relatedassessmentsaretheissuesthatrequirefacultysattentionnow.

Thesimplestandmostintuitivesolutiontomanagelargeclasseswillbetoconvertthem
into smaller ones, but this is also the idealistic solution and does not consider the
pragmaticconstraintssuchaslackofsufficientresourcesespeciallyfaculty.Facultywith
relevantindustryexperienceishardtokindandkeep.Evenifsuchfacultyisavailable,
theymaynotbeeffectiveasteachers.Thusthisraremixofpracticalknowledgeand
effective teaching is much desired, but not easily found. Even if such a faculty is
available,andtheclassissplitforenhancingtheteachingeffectiveness,deliveryofsame
contentmaytakesometollonfacultydespitemarginalincreaseinpreparationtime.The
facultymayhavetosacrificeofotherdutieslikeresearch.
Increasingtheresourcessomehowwilladdressonlypartialproblem,theadministrative
one.Dynamicsofalargeclassaredifferent.Learningandteachingtheoriesusefulina
smallclassmaybenolongerapplicable.Largeclassesrequirepedagogicalmodifications
toensurethatlearningobjectives areachieved andquality oflearningismaintained.
Managementoflargeclassesrequiresmorepreparation,morestructure,moreformalized
proceduresandmorerulesthansmallclasses.
Thuslargeclassesaretobemanagedthroughcarefuldesignofthelearningenvironment
thatincludescontent,pedagogyandassessment,boundedbyaframeworkofstructure,
andguidedbywelldefinedmanagerialandtechnicalprocesses.
Pleasenotethatwedonotconsiderlargeclassesasliabilities.Theyhaveahugelearning
potential.Theyareanopportunitytobringverydiverseviewstotheclassroom,hence
enhancingthelearningwhenappropriatepedagogicalmodelsoflearningsuchasactive,
reflective andcollaborative learning areused.Large numberofstudents means large
scaleprojectscanbedoneunderauthenticsettings,whichisnotonlymorerealistic,but
helps student to learn and practice soft skills and hence holistic learning. Large
classroomsposeuniquechallengesforthefacultyandinturnprovideopportunitiesfor
honingtheirteachingskills.
Inthis paper,wewillfirstdiscusstheadministrative andlearning relatedissues and
challengesindetail.Wevalidatetheissuesbasedonasmallinformalsurveywehave
conducted.Wepresentadministrators,facultyandastudentsviewonvariousissues.
Thenwewillpresentstrategiesthathavebeenfoundtobeeffectiveinaddressingthese
issuesandchallenges.WewilldiscussasmallcasestudyofaSoftwareEngineering
course,wheresomeofthesetechniqueswereemployedandfoundeffective.
We are hopeful that this discussion may provide useful ideas to the teachers facing
similarissues.Thesearemostlythebestpracticesandrequirecarefulconsiderationof
resources,learningobjectivesandstudentbackground.

2 Issues and challenges


2.1

Learningrelatedissuesandchallenges

Ideallylearninginaclassshouldbeindependentofclasssize.Theissuesandchallenges
oflargeclassesareverysimilartothoseseeninsmallclassrooms,justthatthemagnitude
ofclassaffectsmagnitudeoftheproblem.Largeclassroomshavedifferentdynamicsthan

smallerones,hencegivingrisetomanynewerissuesandchallengesforthefaculty.We
will discuss the most important ones here. Many closely related issues have been
discussedtogetherforbetterunderstanding.
2.1.1

Ensuringeveryonegetstoknowthebasics

Facultyhastoensurethatallstudentsachievethelearningobjectivestosomeextent.
Theymayestablishcriteriassuchasminimumpasslevelsforeachlearninggoal.Butthe
diversityinclasscanmakeitadifficulttasktoensurethatanaveragestudentreachesthis
minimumpasslevel.Thismayrequirethatthefacultyinterestsunwillingstudenttobe
attentive and learn in class. Students may loose interest for many reasons including
monotonous,uninteractivelecturedelivery,natureofsubject,inabilitytohearthefaculty
orevengettingdistractedbyanoisypeer.

2.1.2

Managinginteractioninclassandoutsideclass

Interactiveclassroomsarenotonlyinteresting,butallowopportunitiesfordoubtclearing,
feedback and removal of misconceptions. These are very important for learning
effectiveness.Inclassinteractionisusuallyinformonaskingquestions,discussions,
studentsraisingdoubtsandseekingclarifications,answeringquizzesetc.
Facilitatingstudentinstructorinteractionisoneofthemostworrysomeaspectinlarge
classes[5,4,10].
A major difficulty in inclass interaction is evoking discussion in the class. In large
classes,manystudentsdonotaskquestionsduetolackofinterest,peerpressure,shyness
orthefearofbreakingtheflow.Manystudentsdonotparticipateindiscussions.Itis
difficult for the faculty to remember student names and call upon students, due to
impersonalizednatureoflargeclasses(seenextsection).
2.1.3

PersonalizationofLearning

Not knowing the students is not just limited to not knowing the names of students.
Familiarity with students creates a conducive learning environment. Familiarity with
students background, prior knowledge, learning styles helps the faculty to tailor the
teachingstyletofacilitatestudentslearning,whichisaneffectivelearningprinciple.In
absence of this familiarity, faculty cannot plan a customized interactive, engaging
session.Alldecisionsarebasedonsomegeneralfeaturesoftheclasslikethetopics
studiedinprevioussemester.Thislackofpersonalizationisanotherbothersomeissue
withlargeclassrooms[10,3].Facultycannotdecidethelevelatwhichlecturesshouldbe
pitched or pick right examples that may appeal to the crowd. Faculty cannot easily
identifythestudentatriskandprovideremedialmeasures.
2.1.4

ChoiceofPedagogy

Choiceofoptimalpedagogyisafunctionofclasssize,thesubjectandthelargerfield,
classroomdynamics,facultyspersonalityandphysicalenvironmentofclassincludingits
layout [6]. Now as soon as we move towards larger classes, the number of student
change, we move to larger physical classrooms with mostly traditional lecture like
settings.Studentdynamicsmayalsochangeintheselargeclassrooms.Thusmanystudent

centeredlearningapproaches[2,6,8]arenotapplicabledirectly.Thestudentcenteredor
learner centered approaches requires students to become more active and more
responsiblefortheirlearningandhencemoreopentovariations.Groupwork,discussions
etc.becomeimportant.Theteachercentriclearningputstheonusofstudentlearningon
teacher,makingstudentmostlyapassiverecipientandthelearningenvironmentmore
formalandstructured[2, 6].Sincelargerclassroomsrequirestructureandformalism,
purestudentcenteredapproachessuchasproblembasedLearning(PBL),thoughdesired,
cannotbeusedinitspurestform.
Buteventhemostusedteachercenteredpedagogyofconventionallecturesmaynotbe
thebestpedagogicalchoiceforlargeclassrooms.Theseareoftenmonologues bythe
faculty where students are mostly passive listeners. Though lectures are the simplest
meansofteaching,theymaybeproblematicinteachinglargeclassesbecause[10]:

Itisdifficulttomaintainstudentattentionduetoprolongedinactivity

Moredifficultyinstimulatinghigherorderthinkingskillssuchassynthesisor
evaluationorproblemsolving

Reducedflexibilitywithinthecurriculum;Almostfixedcontentsandstructure

Notestaking,providinglecturenotes,rigorousperformancebasedexams,powerpoint
slidesdotheresolvetheissuessincetheyalldonotrequirethestudenttothinkactively
andengageinlearning[10].
Thustraditionallecturebasedapproachshouldbemodifiedtomakethemmoreengaging,
adopttechniquestosupportflexibilityofcurriculumandincorporatetechniquesthatcan
supportallcognitivelearninggoalstosomeextent.Thismayrequiretheintroductionof
activeandreflectivelearningandsomescopeforcollaborativelearning.Thecentralidea
istomakeclassroomsengaging,interactiveandcustomizableforbetterlearning.

2.1.5

Designingmeaningfulassessments

Alearningenvironmentisincompletewithoutappropriateassessments.Largeclassrooms
require effective yetmanageable assessments. Theassessments aretobedesignedin
accordancewithlearninggoals. Manyfacultyresortstocollaborativelearninginlarge
classrooms. But collaborative learning requires very meticulous and thoughtful
preparationofassessments.

2.2 Administration issues


Mostissuesassociated withlargeclassesareadministrativeinnature.Someofthese
result from choice of pedagogical approaches. The problems and issues frequently
reportedinboththeliteratureandobservedinlargeclassroomsare:
2.2.1

Organization

Lack ofproper planning and prepreparation often results in problematic classrooms.


Large classrooms require meticulous preparation of teaching material, procedures,
protocols,communicationetc.Alackofprepreparationoftenresultsonlessefficiency

andproductivitywherefacultyhastospendtimeindealingwiththesideeffectsoffailure
resultingfromlackofplanningaswellasensuingthatproblemsdonotreoccur.
2.2.2

DisciplineinClass

Managing large number of students with varied interest levels is not easy. Students
attending,lecturesinlargeclassroomshavethetendencytoloseinterestafterawhile.
Theymaystartmakingnoise,tricklinginslowly,orcominglate,disturbingotheretc.

2.2.3

ManagingtheVolumeofGrading

Gradingisthesinglemosttroublesomeaspectinlargeclasses. Choiceofassessment
methods,timetakenforassessment,operationalization,allgetaffectedduetopresenceof
largenumberofstudentsandlackofsufficientresourcestotacklethem.Someofthe
identifiedissuesinclude:

Excessivegradingload:Ittakestimeandresourcestogradeassessments.The
timealsoaffectsthepromptnessoffeedback,whichisveryessentialforstudents
infirstlevelcourses.Itisdifficulttoprovidefeedbackatasufficientlevelthat
canhelpstudentsimproveratherthanaquickremark.Gradingquicklybecomesa
mechanical task, feared by the grade(s) and not relied upon by the students.
Faculty may choose convenience over validity. Many faculty moves towards
objectivetypequestionsthatcanbegradedquicklybuttheycantbeusedfor
formativeassessmentofhigherordercognitiveskillsorevenapplicationskills,
unlessformedverycarefully.Morereliableandvalidchoicessuchasessaytype
questions,applicationorientedcasestudiesarenottheobviouschoice.

Plagiarism:Amajorissuewithassessmentinlargeclassesismonitoringcheating
andplagiarism.Detectingplagiarismusuallyrequiresresources.Again,carefully
designedassessmentsmayhelptoavoidplagiarismtosomeextent,butdesigning
appropriateassessmentsisachallengeinitselfirrespectiveofclasssize.

Reliabilityofgradingscheme:Reliablegradingschemasorgradingrubricsare
required.UsuallymanyTAsareemployedinalargeclassforgradingpurposes.It
is utmost important to have reliable grading schemas, so that grading can be
consistentacrossstudentsoracrossexams.

2.2.4

TakingAttendance

Thoughthisissuemayseemverytrivial,butitstakestollonthefacultyandstealsaway
thevaluableteachingtime.Attendanceisthetimewhenfacultycanknowallstudents.A
quickandhurriedattendancemaybuildaperceptionthatfacultyisattendanceismerelya
formality.Therearecasesofproxyattendances,againdifficulttodetectandhandlein
largeclasses.

2.2.5

SupportStaffandtutormanagement

Facultyhasbeenmanaginglargeclassroomsthroughhelpofsupportstaffssuchastutors,
lab assistants and student teaching assistants. Employing student teaching assistants
offers mutual advantage to both the students and the faculty. Employing teaching

assistantisawaytooffermonitorybenefitstostudentsandpreparingthemforfuture
teaching assignments. Often large numbers of assistants are utilized in large classes.
Managing thesesupportstaff alsobecomes anadministrative issue.They needto be
trained about course specific details, grading policies, consistent grading, following
course protocols, handling student queries etc. Work distribution, task assignment,
coordinationandcommunicationwiththesesupportstaffisabigadministrativetask.
Successofcoursesoftendependsonthiseffectiveutilizationofsupportstaff.
2.2.6

EstablishingCommunication

Studentfacultycommunicationcanbethesinglemosttimeandenergyconsumingaspect
ofalargecourse.Facultyoftentries toimplementanopendoorpolicy,andsuggest
studenttoemailormeetifneeded.Thevolumeofstudentenquiriesandinteractionsmay
soonbecomeamajorstrainontimeandresources,anddisturbtheschedulequiteeasily.
Similarly information dissemination about the courses, assignments, announcements,
examinationetc.shouldbedonecarefullysincethecostoferrormaybecomehigh.
Awelldefinedprotocolforcommunicationistobeestablished.Thisincludessettingup
broadcastchannels,officehourspolicy,emailcommunicationguidelinessuchassubject
lines and likely response time, protocols for material and document distribution,
establishingachainofcommandforcommunicationetc.

2.2.7

Givingandtakingfeedback

Thisexchangewithstudentsaswellassupportstaffisnecessaryforsuccessfulrunning
ofcourse.Thefeedbacktothefacultyhelpstotailorthecourseasperneedsandkeepan
eyeonunwanteddisturbances.Feedbacktothestudentsespeciallythefirstyearstudents
helpsthemtracktheirprogressatanearlystageinthecourseandensurethattheyget
maximumbenefitfromthecourse.Thisfeedbackcanbethroughassessments,orinlabor
tutorialsessions.
2.2.8

Organizingpracticalactivities

Projects,labsessions,tutorialsarethecommonelementsinmostengineeringcourses.
Organizing these activities is another administrative task to be accomplished. This
requiressynchronizationofthesetaskswiththecoursecontentsandclassinprogress.
Finding,assigning,assessingprojectsrequireslotsofefforts.Theissuesariseinfinding
ordesigninglargenumberofsimilarnaturedprojectswithalmostsimilarcognitiveload.

3 Results from an Informal Survey


Aninformalsurveyofstudents,CSfacultyandsenioradministrationatIIITHyderabad
highlightedmanyaspectsoflargeclasses.

3.1 Administrations View


Theadministrationisoftheviewthatthemainreasonbehindlargeclassesisshortageof
faculty.Institutesarenotleftwithmanyoptionstohandlethissituation.Noviceteachers
canbehired,buttheymayseriouslyimpactthequalityoflearningandtheacademic
cultureofaninstitute.Thelessereviloptionistoconductlargeclasses,whereasenior
faculty with experience in teaching and applications teaches the class with help of
supportstaffsuchasteachingassistants.Technologycanplayamajorroleinefficient
and effective conduct of such courses. This approach is feasible only for first level
courses,whicharefocusedonlowerlevelsofcognitivegoalssuchasunderstandingand
maybeapplication.Butthelargeclassesshouldbeanabsolutenoforadvancedcourses,
where the learning objectives may include higher order cognitive skills or problem
solving.Insuchcoursesquality canbemaintained insmallclassesandalldecisions
shouldbeleftonthefaculty,whileprovidingalladministrativesupport.

3.2 Facultys View


Seniorfacultywasinterviewedandfollowingpointswerehighlightedintheinterviews:

Mostissuesareadministrativeinnaturewithgradingbeingamajorissue

Mostfacultyconsiderslargeclassesasnecessaryevilandmostbelievethatmajor
issuesarerelatedtoadministrationandnotthepedagogy,especiallyinfirstlevel
courses.Butforadvancedcourses,largeclassesshouldbeaNO.

Faculty uses same methods in large or small classes to invoke discussions,


engagingstudentsandensuringthateveryonelearns.

Personalizedlearningisaconcernformostfaculty,thoughtheydonotrecognize
itbythename.Mostareconcernedaboutnotknowingstudentsinlargeclasses.

Aproblemsolvingapproachisacommonstrategytokeepclassesinteresting.
Workedoutandrealworldexamples,analogiesandcarefullydraftedassignments
aretoolstokeepstudentinterested,motivatethemandinvokediscussion.

EffectiveuseofTAshelpstomanagetheissues,especiallytheadministrative
ones.Buttheprerequisiteiscarefulselectionoftheseteachingassistantsalong
withcoordinationandcommunicationamongallinvolved.

There are some unresolved issues such as plagiarism that require deeper
discussion,changeinstudentoutlookandmeasures.

3.3 Students View


WerandomlypickedstudentsfromCSEcoursesandaskedfortheirviewsaboutlarge
classrooms.Theywerenotgivenanycuesandwereaskedtocandidlyairtheirviews.
Thisexercisevalidatedmostfearsofthefaculty,andindicatedthatlargeclassescan
becomeseriousproblemunlesshandledpromptlyandinastructuredmanner.
Inmyopinionlargeclasseshardlyhaveanyadvantages.
1.Withthepopulationofaclassextendingmorethan4050students,laterthe

classtendstoservemoreofattendancepurposeandlessoflearning.
2.Thestudents,thoughnotall,finditbittoughtoraisetheirdoubtsinfrontofthe
largecrowd.
3. It becomes a pretty impossible for the teacher to attend the doubts of all
studentsthusleadingtounavailabilityoftheteachertofew.
4.Asseenbyme,veryfewprofessors'frequencyofvoiceissuitableforthemikes,
otherwisemostlyeithertheprofessorisnotaudibleorcan'tbeclearlyheard.
5.Beyondthefirstfew(45)rows,thestudentslosetheirinterestinthetopic
coveredintheclassandresultinmorenoiseandhavethetendencytocause
disturbances.
6.AsthestudentstrengthistoomuchitisimpossibleforanyTAandeventhe
professortocheckplagiarism,thusleadingtononfulfillmentofthepurposeof
assignments. In case of no feedback provided and intimated about wrong
approach,studentsmightfollowthewrongapproach.Thustherebydegradesthe
qualityofthecourseasefficientandcorrectlearnabilityofallcan'tbeassured.
The only advantage in large classes I feel is the varied interests of students
studyingtogether,fewofwhommightgivesomedeepinsightsintheconcepts
involvedinthecourse,thusmakingthatknowledgeavailabletoall.(Howevera
classstrengthof40takescareofthisissue.)
AStudentfrom3rdyearB.Tech(CS)
Another student said that teachers experience in managing large classes is more
importantthananyotherthing.Anexcerptfromhisinterview:
Withasmallclassroomandlessnumberofstudentsattendingalecture,the
mainfactorthatdeterminestheeffectivenessofteachingislevelofknowledgeof
the instructor, although other factors like studentteacher interaction and
continuousevaluationcan'tbeoverlooked,buttheirsignificanceincreaseswith
theincreaseinclassroomsize.Theeffectivenessofalectureinalargeclassroom
dependsontheinstructor'scommunicationabilitiestoalargeextent..
In the end, it all depends on the instructor's aptitude. In my opinion, a
distinguished instructor may not do significantly better than an arbitrary
instructorinasmallclassroom.Butforhandlinglargeclassrooms,Ifeelthis
requiressomeexperience.
2ndStudentfrom3rdyearB.Tech(CS)
Followingfeedbackshowstheimportanceofpersonalizationinclass
"Itsdefinitelyabitmoredemandingtoattendlargerclasses.Especiallyifthe
topicbeingtaughtisnotofparticularinterest.Iftheclassissmaller,wesomehow
managetohavebetterfocus,whicheventuallymayevenresultingaininginterest
insomepartofthesubject.Butinalargeclass,smalldistractionsaroundyou
tendtoweighheavyonthemind.
Also,lessprobabilityofbeingcaughtaddsfueltofire.Ontheotherhand,evenif
Ihaveaninterestintheclass,thelessamountofeyecontactwiththeprofessor,

which is inevitable, makes it harder to appreciate thenuancesof the subject.


Also,Ifeelmostofthecourseshavinglargeclassestendtoforcetheprofessorsto
resorttoslides.ThusthereislessofwritingboardinvolvedwhichIfindmuch
moreusefultomethanslides.Onemorething,therearelessnumberofpractical
problems solved at individual level in a large class. Obviously, to mitigate
reducedpersonalattentionperstudent,theprofessortakingroundsoftheclass
doeshelpalotbutstillisn'tthesame.Overall,givenachoiceIwoulddefinitely
preferasmallerclass,butthen,whowouldn't."
3rdStudentfromB.Tech(CS)

4 Solutions Strategies
Aquickanalysisoftheissuesandchallengessuggeststhatlearningrelatedchallengesare
similartothoseobservedinsmallclassrooms.Theissuesarecloselyassociatedwitheach
other.Theadministrativeandlearningissuesarenotmutuallyexclusive.Modalitiesof
pedagogicalapproachessuitableforlargeclassesgiverisetomanyadministrativeissues
thatrequiremeticulousdesignofthelearningenvironment.Justchangingthepedagogy
willnotbeuseful;neitherwillbeanisolatedmanagementofadministrativeissues.
Inordertomaintainthequalityoflearning,bothtypesneedtobeaddressedeffectively
andefficiently.
Inthissectionwewilldiscussthestrategiesproventobeusefulinlargeclassrooms.For
each strategy, we will discuss the general idea and how it addresses one or more
challenges and issues identified earlier and then suggest current best practices or
implementationofthesestrategiesforlargeclassrooms.

4.1 Modified pedagogies


Conventional lectures are the most commonly used pedagogical approaches. But as
discussedabove,theyarenotveryusefulinthetraditionalformandrequiremodifications
to make the learning more active, reflective and collaborative. The idea is to move
towardsstudentcenteredapproachbutwiththecontrolandstructureofferedbyteacher
centered approaches. Note that modifications will require greater preparation, more
controlandhencemoreeffortandresourcesascomparedtoconventionallectures.The
organizationandadministrationshouldbewelldefinedandcleartostudentsandsupport
staff.Commonmodificationsthatcanbedoneare:

4.1.1

Lectureswithactivelearning

The students must be engaged in some activity that forces them to think about and
commentontheinformationpresentedinthelecture.Someofthecurrentpracticesare:

Breakinguptheconventionallecturewithquestionsanddiscussion

Solvingasmallpracticalproblemthatrequiresapplicationofconceptstaughtin
class

Quizonmaterialfrompreviousclass

Askingstudentstoconsolidatethelearningatendoftheclass

Inclassexercisesthatmayrequireworkinginpairs

Lecture with pauses, where the pauses are utilized by students to consolidate
thoughtsormakenotes

4.1.2

CollaborativeLearning

Mostlyexhibitedinformofgroupbasedlearning.Collaborativelearningbringsgreater
understandingalongwiththeaddedlearningofsoftskillssuchascommunicationand
teamwork.Groupworkcanbeeasilymodifiedtomakeclassesinteractivebycombining
discussion with group work. The tasks assigned to the groups can be tailored to
incorporatecognitiveskillsatalllevels.Thewaysgroupworkcanbeincorporatedin
largeclassroomssuccessfullyinclude:

Temporarygroupsinclass:Dividestudentsintogroups(34,ormoredepending
onclass sizeandproblem tobesolved).Groups answerspecific questions or
solve specific problems. These groups work on the solution and a group
representative/spokesperson may report on the progress, once the larger class
reconvenes.Someorallgroupscanpresenttheirsolutions.Ageneralsenseofthe
classsunderstandingcanbegainedbyquicklypollingseveralgroupsfortheir
questionsorcomments.

Semesterwidegroupwork:Studentscanbedividedintogroupsatthebeginning
ofthesemester.Specificgroupprojectscanbeassignedthatrequiregroupsto
meetoutsideofclass.Groupsmightberesponsibleforstartingdiscussion,for
presenting important concepts, or reporting on research. Discussion can be
generatedinclassbyaskingthegroupstopresenttheirdiversesolutions,asking
peerstocommentonit,orbyaskinggroupstoabidetoaspecificpositionand
presenttheirviews.

Group work on case studies and roleplaying are other effective mechanisms
involvingbothactiveandcollaborativelearning.

Collaborativeworkrequiresthatthetasksathandbecarefullydesignedsuchthattheyare
in sync with the lectures and actually support the learning objectives of the course.
Contextualized,realworldproblemscanbegiventostudentstocreateopportunitiesfor
authentic learning, thus incorporating aspects of Project Based Learning (PrBL) in
collaborative learning. A major issue with introduction of collaborative work is
assessment. Groupworksignificantlyreducedgradingload,butintroducessomenewer
challengesinassessment. Assessmentofindividualcompetencyinagroupisnoteasy
andrequires verycarefuldesign.Anotherissuemaybetoensurecontributionbyall
groupmembers.

4.2 Engaging students


Keepingstudentsengagedisnoteasy,whetheritisasmallclassoralargeone.Keeping
largenumberofstudentsengagedisdefinitelychallenging.Somesuccessfulstrategiesfor
engagementare:

Askingquestionstostudents.Questionskeepstudentsfocused.Studentscanbe
pointed outtoensurethateventhe shystudentsspeakup.Thequestionscan
theoretical, or may require solving a problem. Straightforward questions on a
topiccanbeusedtoevaluateifstudentshaveunderstoodthetopicornot.Indirect
questions related toreal worldapplication ofconcepts, oraskingeven wrong
questionscanengagestudents.

Encouraging students to ask questions. For this they should create situations
wherestudentscanaskquestions.Motivatestudentstospeakup.

Making classes discussion oriented is another way to engage students. The


associatechallengeishowtoinvokediscussions.Thestrategiesforthesameare
giveninforthcomingsection.

Askstudentstovolunteerforademonstration.Thesearenotonlyengaging,but
alsointeractive.

Giveweighttoclassparticipationingrading.Theparticipationcanbeinformof
asking or answering questions, taking part in meaningful discussions, giving
demonstrationsonboardetc.

Small inclass exercises, individual or pair wise are also effective ways of
engagingstudents.

Agoodstrategytokeepstudentsattentiveistomovingaroundinclassinsteadof
standinginfrontallthetime.Thiscreatesanenvironmentakintoasmallclass
andmakesfacultyapproachable.

Collaborative,activelearningasdiscussedinprevioussection.

4.3 Using discussions


Owingtothediversityinherentinlargeclassrooms,discussionscanprovetobevery
effectivelearningtoolsinlargeclasssettings.Theycanbringvariedviewpointstothe
classroom,andhelpininculcatinghigherorderthinkingskills.Followingtechniquescan
beusedforinvokingdiscussionsinanyclass,especiallyalargeclass.

Discussionscanbecenteredonprojectwork,orainclassexercises.

Caseexercisesprovideuniqueopportunitiesfordiscussion,sincetheyareinvolve
illstructuredorsemistructuredproblemsolving.Thereisnosinglerightsolution
forsuchproblemsandhencetheygeneratediscussionsveryeasily.

Thediscussionscanbeeasilycenteredonapplicationofaconcept,applicability
ofaconceptorprocedure,orcomparisonofmethodsandtechniques.Studentscan

beasked(randomlyorchosen)topresenttheirresultsfromgroupworkandthe
peers can be asked to give comments, critiques or alternatives to presented
solutions.

Includeparticipationindiscussionsaspartofclassparticipation.Giveweightto
classparticipationingrading

Askquestionsrelatedtoboundarycondition.Thismakesstudentthinkandask
questions.

Askverydifficultorwrongquestionsinclass.Thiswillagainforcestudentsto
thinkoratleastspeakup.

4.4 Motivating the uninterested


Impersonalizedenvironmentsoflargeclassescaneasilymakethestudentsbeyondfirst
few rowsless attentive orslowlylooseinterestinthetopic.Itis besttoavoidsuch
situationsbykeepingclassesengagingandinteractive.Ifsomehowthestudentisstill
lost, then following strategies can be useful to motivate students in the subject.
Motivationwillautomaticallybringattentionandengagement.

Problemsolvingmode.Startingwithaproblemandshowinghowthelearningfrom
the class can be applied to solve a given problem or a set of problems. The
demonstrationcanbeinthebeginning,middleorendoftheclass.Theproblems
should be authentic, sufficiently complex and useful. When students understand
whybehindaconcept,theygetmotivatedfordeeperlearning.

Carefully drafted examinations. Assessments are a big motivator. Application


oriented exams, where students have to demonstrate proficiency in application of
concepts or procedures learned in class can really motivate students to learn the
materialwell.

Buildinganalogieswithrealworldphenomenon,orevents.Whenstudentscanseethe
connectionsbetweentheoryandreality,theygetmotivatedtolearn.

Give prompt feedback. A common reason for student loosing interest is lack of
feedbackafterevaluations.Whenstudentscannotseetheirprogress,theycaneasily
getdemotivated.Earlyanddetailedfeedbackencouragesstudents.

4.5 Personalization of Learning


Creatinganillusionofasmallclassisnecessarytoavoidimpersonalizedatmosphere
commonlyseeninlargeclassrooms.Usefulstrategiesare:

Learn at least some student names. Correct pronunciation of names is important


especiallywhenforeignstudentsordifficultsoundingnamesarepresent.

Movearoundinclassandmaintaineyecontact

Distributeorcollectpapers/materialalongwithTAs.

Providepersonalizedfeedbacksontheassessments.Forthisonlyasubsetofstudents
canbegivenfeedbackononeassessment.Bysemesterend,moststudentswould
havereceivedpersonalizedfeedbackononeormoreassessments.

Spendsometimeinclarifyingdoubtsofstudentsinclassoroffline.

Providefeedbackmechanisms.Websites,courseportals andemails arequickand


usefulmechanismforgatheringfeedback.

4.6 Careful course organization and implementation


EstablishingLargeclassesrequiremoreorganizationandmorepreparationforproper
administration of large classes. The course structure and other modalities should be
decidedinverybeginninganddiscussedwiththestudentsandsupportstaff.Somethings
tobetakencareofareasfollows:

Establishgroundrulesforcommunication,dealingwithplagiarism,assessment
policies etc. Communicate these details along with details of course learning
objectives,assessmentplans,studymaterial,resources,etc.

Setexpectationsfromthestudentsandcommunicatetheseexpectationstothemat
theverybeginningofthecourse.

EstablishachainofcommandifTAsareinvolved.

Performworkdistributionintheverybeginning.

ConductregularTAmeetings.

Conductregularlab/tutorialsessions/TAofficehours

4.7 Developing valid and reliable assessment that is


also manageable.
Usefullearningenvironmentsrequirecreationofmeaningfulassessmentsthatsatisfythe
Learning sciences. Good assessments are aligned with the course learning goals,
integratedwiththepedagogyandarenotaburdenonthefacultyandstudents.Furtherthe
assessmentshouldprovidefeedbackaswellenhancelearningopportunitiestostudents.
Theyshouldcoverbreadthaswelldepthofthecurriculum.Inlargeclasses,theneedfor
manageableassessmentishighpriorityduetolimitedresourcesandtime.Assessments
canbeobjectivetypeorsubjectivetype.Objectivetypequestionsareeasytoadminister
andgrade,butcangiveincompletepictureofstudentscompetency.Followingstrategies
helptodevelopgoodassessments:

Coverdepthaswellbreadthofcurriculum

Develop exams that demonstrate competency. Application type questions are


usefultoevaluatethecompetencylevelsofastudent.Shortessaytypequestions,
casestudies,areusefulassessmentinstrumentsforthispurpose.Forlargeclasses,
theseinstrumentscanbeusedincombinationwithmultiplechoicequestions.

Addshortessayquestions;controlthelengthofresponsesbyprovidingstudents
withalimitedamountofspaceforanswers.Thusstudentswillwritetothepoint
answers.

Askstudentstoanswerquestionsusingdiagramsorflowcharts.Theseareshort
andeasytograde,butcanbeveryinformativeaboutstudentanalyticalskills.

Forsomemultiplechoicequestions,askthestudenttochoosethecorrectanswer
andthenprovideaoneortwolineexplanationofhowtheygotthatanswer.

Give clear guidelines to students. Set expectations from the assessment and
communicate them to the students. Similarly set guidelines for quality
submissionsbystudentsandcommunicatethemtothestudents.

Relyonmultipleinstrumentsofassessmentinsteadofjustoneexamoronetype
ofquestions.

Informstudentsabouttheplagiarismpolicy.

Includequestionsthatsupportreflection.Example: Reflectonthelearningfrom
thiscourseandlisttoptwolearningfromsolutionsgivenbygroupX.

4.8 Effective Grading mechanisms

Usepeerevaluations.Distributeananswersheetsostudentscanassesstheirown
performance,orsetasideclasstimetogothroughtheanswerstothehomework
withtheentireclass.Studentscandoaselfassessmentorapeerassessmentusing
theprovidedanswersheet.Objectivetypequestionscanbeveryeasilygradedin
classlikethis.Abigadvantageisthatthefeedbackininstantaneous.

Usegroupassignments,thussubstantiallyreducingthenumberofitems tobe
graded.

Take help from technology to store, sort, organize answer sheets/documents.


Submissions in digital format will allow for easier work distribution and
feedback.

Assessment criteria of various exams and assignments should be shared with


students.Thiswillallowstudentstoselfevaluateandalsocutofffeedbacksand
assessmentrelatedcommunication.

4.9 Dealing with Plagiarism


Cheatingandplagiarismcaneasilyspiralintoaunmanageableproblemifnotcurbed
early andharshly in large class rooms.These problems are common whenthere are
uninterestedstudentsintheclass,orassessmentsarenotsetattherightlevel.Thereisno
bestwaytodealwiththeseissues.Somestrategiesthathavehelpedustosomeextentare
asfollows:

Placesafeguardsinplace.TrainTAstodetectcheating.Usesoftwaretoolsthat
candetectplagiarism.

Educatestudentsaboutthevicesandconsequencesofcheatingandplagiarism.
Emphasizeonconsequences.

Strict evaluation of very first assessments and penalties for the plagiarism or
cheatingcaseswillsettheprecedence.

Makesubmissionspublic(butnotthemarks).Projectreports,groupsubmissions,
bestanswersetc.canbemadepublicallyavailable.

Encourageandifpossiblerewardearlysubmissions.Plagiarismincreaseswhen
studentstrytomakelastminutesubmissions.

Setuptutorialsessionstohelpweakstudents.

4.10 Attendance taking


Followingstrategiescanbeadoptedtotakeattendanceinalargeclass:

Fixedseatingarrangements:Fixedseatscanbeassignedtostudents.Arrangement
is usually alphabetical or by rolls code. Students sit on the designated seats.
Attendance taking may be reduced to marking of empty seats, thus absent
students.EventhisactivitycanbedelegatedtoaTAduringtheclass.

Randomized attendance: This suboptimal strategy requires that the faculty


randomlycallsnames

Usinginclassexercisesorquizzestomarkattendance.Thiseliminatestheneed
totakeseparateattendance.

4.11 Using technology


Administrators prefer tousetechnology tooffset thelack ofresources orto support
administrationoflargeclasses.Somesimplebuteffectiveusesare:

Lectureslidesandnotes:Thesecanbesharedelectronicallyinclassandoffclass.
Buttheyshouldbeusedaspointersforthefacultyratherthancontentdissemination
media.TheslidescanbePowerPointslidesorPDFdocuments.

Simulations. Theseinteractive examples thatexhibit aphenomenon orconcept in


workingdefinitelyengagesstudents.

Publicaddressingsystem.Agoodmicrophoneandspeakersystemgoesalongwayin
keepingstudentsinterested.Inaudiblefacultyinalargeclassisacommonproblem.It
keepsthestressoffthefacultyandtheycanfocusonthecontent.

LearningManagementsystems/courseportals.Extensiveuseofthecoursewebsite
e.g.availabilityoftheentirecoursematerial,broadcastsrelatedtotheprogram,online
assignmentsubmissionsandstudentdiscussionforums.Thisnotonlyhelpsusreduce
thequantityofdirectcommunicationbutalsomotivatesandengagesthestudentsin
participating.

Automatedorsemiautomatedgradingsystems

5 An experience Report
WeregularlyteachafirstcourseinSoftwareEngineeringtoComputerSciencestudents.
Usualenrollmentinthecourseisbetween150to200students.Thesestudentsareamix
of undergraduate and fulltime and parttime postgraduate students. The parttime
students are industry participants with at least two years of software development
experience. Sometimes we have students from other countries though the number is
small. Thuswehaveaverydiversesetofstudents.Thelearninggoalsofthiscourse
included:ThuslearningoutcomesforthisSoftwareEngineeringcourseare:

Understandingthenatureofsoftware,softwaredevelopmentandprofessionalismin
softwaredevelopment

Inculcatetheabilityofengineeringgoodsoftwarethroughconcepts,procedures,
toolsandtechniques

Inculcatingandpracticingsomeproblemsolvingskillssuchasforminghypothesis,
analysis,criticalthinkingandevaluation.Theseskillsformanimportantpartofthe
enduringengineeringprinciplesinanyengineeringcourse

Otherskillssuchascommunicationandteamwork.

Wedesignedascalablelearningenvironmentthatisflexibleenoughtoincorporatelarge
numberofstudents.Thisisanactiveandcollaborativelearningpedagogybasedcourse.
Nonconventionallecturesandteachingcasestudiesarethemainteachinginstruments.

Following table will list the strategies used in the course to handle the issues and
challengesarisingduetolargenumberofstudents.Weusuallyemployone(1)TAper
20studentsandalotofsupportfromtechnology,sincetheuseofcasemethodisresource
intensive.
Thisstructuredlearningenvironmenthelpedusincourseadministrationinaneffective
andefficientmanner.

Issue/Challenge

Techniqueused

Pedagogy

Lecturemodifiedtoincorporateactivelearning,groupworkto
solve authentic case challenges and discussions on case
solutions.Involvesreflectivelearning.Studentsreflectontheir
learning from discussions and submit as part of assignments.
MixedgroupsofUG,PGandindustrystudentsareformed.

Usingrealworldcasestudies.Thecasestudiesweredeveloped
from actual software development projects and converted to
teaching cases. Examples given in lectures. Worked out
examplesintheorylectures.Roleplays.Classparticipationhas
Invoking interest 10%grading weight.Students encouraged tospeakupduring
discussions and lectures. Same mode of instruction and
andengagement
assessmenti.e.casestudies.Hencestudentspayattentionsothat
theycanperformwellinexams.Multipleteamssolvingsame
case. They usually give different solutions. All discussed in
class.
Assessment
Communication

Using case studies as assessments. Realistic problems. Small


essaytypequestions.Scopeforjustifyinganswers.Notlooking
foronerightanswer,insteadmanycorrectlyjustifiedanswers.
Applicationorientedexams.Onlinesubmissionofassignments.
Course management portal used to disseminate course related
information. Discussion forum, emails main medium of

Issue/Challenge

Techniqueused
communication. Fixed formats for file uploads. All protocols
discussedinthefirstlecture.

Feedback

Surveysconductedregularly.Mandatorycourseandcasestudy
feedbacks. Possibility of anonymous feedback. Detailed
feedback by TAs on case study solutions before in class
presentation and discussion. Sharing grading criteria with
students.

Plagiarism

TAs trained to detect plagiarism. F grade if cheating. Case


submissionspostedonlocalwikiandaccessibletoall.

Practicalactivities

RegularlabsessionsonUML.SomeLabexercisesconsideredas
bonussubmissions.

Personalization

TAsorfacultymeetseachgroupanddiscussthesolutionwith
student groups. Opportunity for doubt clearing, removal of
misconceptions.Movementandeyecontactinclass.

Attendance

Fixedseating.Notingabsentees

Discipline

Questions and focused discussion is allowed, noise is not.


Attendanceinbeginningofclasstoavoidlatecomers.

Course
organizations

Welldefined expectations, large number of carefully chosen


TAs,Groundrulesforcommunication,dealingwithplagiarism,
assessmentpolicies,reportingetc.RegularTAmeetings.

Table1:SummaryofDecisionsrelatedtoClassSizeforSoftwareEngineeringClass

6 Conclusions
Enablinglargeclassestoimpartqualityeducationisachallengingtask.Introducinga
variation in size changes the entire dynamics of a class. Size brings variations,
administrativeissuesandneedforpedagogicalchangeswithit.Basiclearningprinciples
and guidelines for effective teaching remain the same, the implementation of these
practicechangessignificantly.Mostissuesareamixofinterdependentadministrative
andpedagogicalissuesthatrequirecarefuldesignandoperationalizationofthislearning
environment.Theadministrativeissuescannotbeignoredofthestudentsinlargeclasses
aretobeengagedinaqualitylearningexperience.Wediscussedseveralissuesandthe
possible best practices that may help faculty and students to make large classes a
rewardingexperience.

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