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Author Topic: Supersizing the College Classroom  (Read 18933 times)
cgfunmathguy
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« Reply #30 on: May 04, 2012, 7:37:56 AM »

The class size isn't *that* uncommon in STEM fields. Not familiar enough with the situation in other areas in large state schools to comment.

Penn State's General Chemistry classes were, iirc, 2500 students in one lecture room. Louisiana State only has 800 students in a lecture hall, but one professor covers 3 rooms- physically lecturing in one, and through a video screen in the others, rotating to each room physically once per week.

I know Penn State did tests by bulk hiring grad students to each sit in and proctor a 100 student section of the lecture hall, and I assume grading was done similarly.
Unless you were taking classes in Schwab Auditorium, the Rec Hall gym, or the arena in the Bryce Jordan Center, the largest classrooms at University Park seat ~400. Now, there were several lecture sections in any semester, but no individual class had 2500 students when I was there. Are they using DL technology on campus now? That might raise the number up to 2500/presentation. Also, our tests were multiple-choice on scantrons, making the grading easier and faster. The TAs ran the lab sections and recitation sections and proctored the exams in the main classroom. Of course, all of this may have changed in the time since I graduated.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #31 on: May 04, 2012, 7:48:44 AM »

I cannot comment on how common huge class sizes are since the largest class I ever took as a student had 70 students and the largest class I've ever dealt with in any kind of instructor capacity is 54. 

I can comment on the fact that research on the pedagogy of science indicates that lecture alone is a terrible way to teach science and math to people who aren't already strong in those areas--that's why the intro course DWF rates are typically 50% or more.  Lecture doesn't teach the reasoning and small group work with people who don't care and don't know tends to be a disaster.

Small group work with people who are eager to learn, know something related, and are accustomed to doing independent small group work can work pretty well with a large student:faculty ratio.
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spork
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« Reply #32 on: May 04, 2012, 8:26:50 AM »

This guy is an amateur. Thrun and Ng are teaching 150,000 at a time at Stanford via online access and artificial intelligence systems.

Seriously though, I'm with larryc -- I could do that. This semester I gave one of my undergraduate courses a modular architecture and it worked wonderfully. Hardly any lecture on my part, students invested themselves more heavily into the material because they could choose from a menu of options, and there was even (at least as reported by students) some peer to peer learning.
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eigen
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« Reply #33 on: May 04, 2012, 11:22:42 AM »

The class size isn't *that* uncommon in STEM fields. Not familiar enough with the situation in other areas in large state schools to comment.

Penn State's General Chemistry classes were, iirc, 2500 students in one lecture room. Louisiana State only has 800 students in a lecture hall, but one professor covers 3 rooms- physically lecturing in one, and through a video screen in the others, rotating to each room physically once per week.

I know Penn State did tests by bulk hiring grad students to each sit in and proctor a 100 student section of the lecture hall, and I assume grading was done similarly.
Unless you were taking classes in Schwab Auditorium, the Rec Hall gym, or the arena in the Bryce Jordan Center, the largest classrooms at University Park seat ~400. Now, there were several lecture sections in any semester, but no individual class had 2500 students when I was there. Are they using DL technology on campus now? That might raise the number up to 2500/presentation. Also, our tests were multiple-choice on scantrons, making the grading easier and faster. The TAs ran the lab sections and recitation sections and proctored the exams in the main classroom. Of course, all of this may have changed in the time since I graduated.

Can't comment, as I wasn't taking the classes. But that's what I was quoted by the department for number of students in a classroom when I was visiting there as a prospective grad student, in reference to TAing said classes.
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hegemony
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« Reply #34 on: May 04, 2012, 12:26:46 PM »

This approach is not as adaptable to some subjects -- I think it works particularly well because it engages with something that's happening in the present.  That's why you can get current politicos.  But say you're teaching a course on Emily Dickinson?  How to superscale that?  What are the breaking events to send out on Twitter, and who are the superstar guests?  The sense of immediacy and urgency won't be there.  This is not to say that this guy shouldn't teach poli sci this way.  I just hope that administrators don't think, "Smith and Jones are both bringing in $3 million per semester with their giant poli sci courses. But Hortense over there has an Emily Dickinson class with 25 students where they all have to get together in the same room and read things on paper.  Emily Dickinson is even less cost-effective than I thought.  And, hmmm, I have some budget cutting to do..."

This one guy's classes sound memorable and great.  I'm glad not all classes have to be so energetic and media-oriented, because sometimes excellent scholars don't have more than average showmanship skills.  I'd hate to think that there's an even higher bar for entrance to the academy, especially when all it gets you is $58,000 per year.
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spork
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« Reply #35 on: May 04, 2012, 12:46:58 PM »

Hortense needs to have students reading things on paper at home, and doing other things in the classroom, like deconstruct and discuss a poem in small groups, followed by a student-designed quiz taken on iPads and Droid phones, the results of which are instantly projected on a screen at the front of the room.
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larryc
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« Reply #36 on: May 04, 2012, 1:15:34 PM »

I think this would work fine for Emily Dickinson. Where I see it breaking down is in STEM classes or other classes that are part of a sequence where you absolutely need the core knowledge of 101 to succeed in 102 and subsequent classes. The buffet model of assignments would result in people with uneven subject knowledge and missing some key information to proceed.
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hegemony
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« Reply #37 on: May 04, 2012, 1:20:28 PM »

But what kind of a quiz can you have on Emily Dickinson?  The skills needed are those of interpretation, where an instructor (not a computer, and not a student) will have to grade the interpretation.  I don't know if you were serious, but I seriously don't see how it would work in a field where answers are discursive.
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slinger
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« Reply #38 on: May 04, 2012, 1:29:08 PM »

I think this would work fine for Emily Dickinson. Where I see it breaking down is in STEM classes or other classes that are part of a sequence where you absolutely need the core knowledge of 101 to succeed in 102 and subsequent classes. The buffet model of assignments would result in people with uneven subject knowledge and missing some key information to proceed.

Not necessarily.

I do buffet-style (and I like this new-to-me-term for it) for some classes. The knowledge being worked and tested is the same; it's just different ways of approaching it. Let's say Chapter 4 is required knowledge to move from 101 (my course) to 102. Student wants to slack off and do the easy assignment, or only has a few minutes this week and needs to get something done quickly, or is struggling with the concept? Choose the Do the 10 Review Questions assignment from Chapter 4. It's worth X points. Ready for more, have more time to invest, or need/want more points? Create a multiple choice quiz for your classmates based on the information in Chapter 4. That'll earn you up to 2X points. Have complete mastery of Chapter 4 and want even more? Write a short essay on the history/usefulness/application of the technique described in Chapter 4, using outside sources. That's 3X.

The students think I'm catering to their "learning styles" by letting them choose. I think it's a Humane Course Policy/JMT idea to get them to think about their choices, consequences, and take responsbility for their own learning.
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merinoblue
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« Reply #39 on: May 04, 2012, 1:33:25 PM »

This approach is not as adaptable to some subjects

This one guy's classes sound memorable and great. 

I'm glad not all classes have to be so energetic and media-oriented, because sometimes excellent scholars don't have more than average showmanship skills. 

Yes, to all three points.

I think this is about the personality driving the teaching style and format. It's one person finding a perfect outlet for his techno-loving showmanship.  Perhaps some of his tools and methods can be used in other fields and by less dynamic teaching personalities.  But this has to be a one-off.  Most people don't have this kind of personality, and couldn't pull it off even if they did.  If he wasn't teaching 3,000 students, he would be performing for large crowds in another industry and setting, as a motivational speaker, or a media host, for example.  And he would have a following in those settings.
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #40 on: May 04, 2012, 3:29:12 PM »

I've done 280 with a radio-mike and electronic PP clicker.  I'd come in from the back and pack them into the first rows solid (arrive a few minutes late for this.)  One time, my senioritis TAs were more of a talking and whispering problem. 
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larryc
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« Reply #41 on: May 04, 2012, 4:37:03 PM »

But what kind of a quiz can you have on Emily Dickinson? 

Q: Hope is thing with ________.
     A. blue
     B. rhinoceros
     C. triangle
     D. feathers

Now they would have to do some discursive writing somewhere in the course, but would also have choices such as participating in a poetry slam reciting Dickinson poems, tweeting that event or writing a story about it, rewriting Dickinson poems as Facebook updates, and creating an Xtra Normal video of Dickinson having dinner with Poe, with all the dialogue coming from their actual writings.

Why the hell not? We kill literature when we forever approach it as if we were in a church. Great literature can withstand a mashup.
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marigolds
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« Reply #42 on: May 04, 2012, 4:46:52 PM »

I LOVE THESE IDEAS.  Slinger, Spork, and Larry--keep them coming!
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polly_mer
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« Reply #43 on: May 04, 2012, 5:12:43 PM »

I agree that some buffet-style approach to STEM can work, if students are serious about it and the instructor is creative while keeping in mind the course goals.  

For example, why should everyone have to do exactly the same homework problems?  That's a waste of time for people who can do the most complicated problem with no lead-up and it's ineffectual for people who can't do even the first problem alone.  Instead, an instructor could list the activities for Chapter 4 with point totals and maximum points allowed to be earned or maximum number of items the instructor will grade.

For example, pick at least four of the following, only six will be graded for credit, so choose wisely in your submission:

Warm-up Problems <list from book> 20 points
Medium Problems <list from book> 30 points
Online quiz--take as many times as you like, problems change every time, grade is last try 50 points
Report on the uses of Chapter 4 in daily life with a minimum of 5 worked examples with real numbers 50 points
Hard problems <list from book> 50 points
In-class group activities (3 days available 20 points each)
Lab with report 100 points

Then, the answers or examples of everything can be posted at the end of Chapter 4 so that people can see all of it.  After a while, students who always pick the easy things and stop may be encouraged to do the easy things and then go to the harder things to submit the harder things for credit and just use the easier things as warm-up.

Careful selection of the test items and finagling with the math ensures that C means "competent at the rote things and able to do some novel problems" while A means "excellent at both rote knowledge and synthesis of higher-level thinking".  

In my book, there's no reason that C has to mean "did 75% of what the A students did" instead of "mastered the low-level content for the whole course, but is still wrestling with how to apply the content in novel contexts".

The drawback is that this method is still grading intensive for a large class unless the book problems can be autograded via a textbook online homework service and one has graders to help with the lab reports.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2012, 5:14:36 PM by polly_mer » Logged

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spork
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« Reply #44 on: May 04, 2012, 10:58:07 PM »

Well looks like I'm so thirty seconds ago. Thrun has quit his tenured position at Stanford to create Udacity, and apparently he wants to teach 500,000 people at a time.

Regarding the need to gain competency in 101 material before moving on to 102 level instruction, this is the direction the university is headed:

1) Unbundle the content -- break a semester course down into smaller chunks of content knowledge and skill proficiencies

2) Put the content online so anyone can access it

3) Test for competency

I don't have the data in front of me, but the DoE classifies something like half the country's undergraduates as "independent," meaning that they are 24 years or older, married, responsible for legal dependents other than a spouse, orphans or wards of the court (or were until age 18), or military veterans. These are the people who want a university education but who don't have the money or time for the four-year full-time residential college experience. The non-elite universities who learn how to serve this population the best will be the ones that survive. The rest will die.
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a.k.a. gum-chewing monkey in a Tufts University jacket

"There are no bad ideas, only great ideas that go horribly wrong."

"Please do not force people who are exhausted to take medication for hallucinations." -- Memo from the Chair, Department of White Privilege Studies, Fiork University
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