07-26-2019 02:21 PM - last edited on 07-26-2019 02:41 PM by michael_britt
Note: this is the first in a series of posts addressing the challenges of teaching large classes.
It is the first day of the semester. You walk into the classroom and you see 100 faces, or 200, or 500. How can you do anything more than talk at them and hope they absorb something in a 50-minute period? Teaching in a large classroom requires that we rethink our approach and work toward what I call the iClassroom.
In 1996 Steve Jobs introduced the iMac by explaining the significance of the “i" that has become a signature of Apple products. In addition to “internet,” he suggested rethinking the idea of a personal computer and he added the words “individual, instruct, inform, and inspire.” The success of Apple products since that time is unquestioned and the “i" is now ubiquitous. What works for marketing electronic devices does not necessarily work for teaching, but the overarching principle is a good one. Maybe we should rethink what it is we are offering our students and how we are doing it, especially when faced with a large classroom.
Although we could apply each of Jobs’ four words to teaching, the unique challenges of the large classroom require a more customized approach (i-approach?).
We can improve the experience of the large classroom by making it individualized, organized, engaging, and at least somewhat digital.
Start with your own attitude. You are not teaching a large classroom. You are teaching students. Each one of those students is an individual. How can you overcome the anonymity of the crowd?
Make small talk with some of your students before class starts. As they talk about music or sports or food or even the weather, look for something you can reference while you are teaching. The students who were involved in the conversation will sense a personal connection to what you are saying.
Make eye contact with students while you are teaching. Move around the room if you can. Physical proximity makes the classroom seem more personal.
You will not be able to learn all their names, but you can have them learn each other’s names. Use icebreakers or ask them to introduce themselves before collaborating on an in-class activity. If a student raises their hand, have them give their name first. When responding to student questions, either in person or by email, always use their name.
When a student speaks to you before or after class or in your office, write down their name and what you talked about. For example, if a student asks about missing class for an upcoming event, later you might have a chance to ask how it went. This is particularly effective for students involved in competitions or performances. Follow up an important conversation with an email summarizing what you discussed. This makes the encounter personal and it creates a record for future reference.
If we can break down the anonymity and make at least some personal connections with our students, the experience will be more individualized for each of them.
Stay tuned for more posts on the topic of improving the large classroom experience by making it organized, engaging, and at least somewhat digital.