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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Size doesn’t matter

The latest numbers show one out of every 20 classes offered at UA has at least 100 students, but the UA is working to make the lives of those in such classes easier.

Professors and administrators alike are working to prove a 2005 University of Maryland study correct. That study concluded students tend to focus more on the quality of instruction rather than the size of a class.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, large classes do not necessarily hinder instruction.

“”The impact of class size on the overall learning environment is related to such factors as teaching style, student behavior, and the opportunity for students to meet with teachers outside of class,”” the website states.

This semester, the UA is placing a greater emphasis on community volunteers and student-faculty interaction grants, in the hopes this will aid large classes to better serve student needs.

Associate professor of astronomy Edward Prather’s beginning astronomy class, which he teaches to around 800 students, utilizes ranked tasks and interactive lectures to enhance student learning. These techniques have been shown to boost introductory science knowledge of incoming freshmen from the average 25 to 30 percent to as high as 80 percent after several lectures.

“”My promise to students is: ‘If you guys work hard and do the tasks and get in a debate when I’m asking you to defend your answer, you’ll know more astronomy than any other student in the country does,'”” Prather said of his classes.

Even with larger class sizes, the UA had four of the top-performing astronomy classes, according to a study by Physics Today.

Prather’s class is one of four taught in Centennial Hall, the largest classroom available on campus. Teachers get together to discuss what works best for larger class learning, according to Lynette Cook-Francis, assistant vice president of Student Affairs.

“”We realized there were some issues with course availability and we didn’t want that to be a barrier for students,”” Cook-Francis said. “”We put those classes in there to free up the pipeline where students get stuck. The Provost’s Office will continue to look where the clogs in the pipelines are.””

Cook-Francis works specifically with instructors in Centennial Hall classes.

Geosciences professor George Gehrels took classes in Centennial Hall during his undergraduate studies at the UA 30 years ago. Cook-Francis said Gehrels feels excited about utilizing the venue in a way to prove that, with the right teacher, the environment is inconsequential to how much students learn.

“”He really believes that the venue has some promise with the right kind of faculty,”” Cook-Francis said.

Centennial Hall professors have usually already taught classes of 400 to 500 students. Cook-Francis said the UA is implementing new programs to aid students in large venues, such as testing in the Gallagher Theater, where students can sign up for an hour block during a set time period to take tests in a “”environment that is more easily proctored.””

The UA is also utilizing community retirees as adjunct proctors to monitor students in large classrooms and funding interaction grants, which allow faculty to have time outside of the classroom with students to provide individualized attention.

Especially with budget concerns, larger classes can mean more students taught with less teacher pay.

“”Engaging 50 students and engaging 1,000 students is really different,”” Cook-Francis said. “”Nothing happens in the Centennial Hall classroom that doesn’t happen in any classroom. The classes that are very large magnify the classroom experience — the good things about the class and the bad things about the class.””

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