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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Potential, pitfalls of ‘super’ courses”

    Last week, the Summer Wildcat reported that Centennial Hall was to be used for general education courses beginning in the fall. The courses are slated to include as many as 1,200 students.

    One’s first reaction to this news might be to panic. After all, a thousand-strong class doesn’t promise much room for individual attention or classroom debate. It also seems to line up with the centralizing and consolidating tendencies of the UA Transformation Plan, which promises to make college a more bureaucratic ð- and more frustrating -ÿexperience for everyone involved.

    But it’s too soon to panic. In truth, a 1,200 persons capicity classroom probably won’t be much of a shocker for most students. Anyone who’s been to a UA basketball game in the last year has probably rubbed shoulders with ten times that many people.

    The greater danger is that incoming freshmen -ÿthe primary audience for gen-ed courses – could get turned off by their first-time classroom experience at the UA, feel alienated by a class in which their professor isn’t likely to remember their name, and decide to tune out for the rest of the semester -ÿor their college career. That’s a worst-case scenario, but first impressions do matter.

    If it’s handled properly, however, a leviathan-sized classroom could turn out to be a reasonable response to the financial crisis of the moment – as well as the problems posed by gen-ed classes.

    Gen-ed classes are already large and impersonal. As the Summer Wildcat reported today, the UA is already working to improve the gen-ed system, and a super-classroom offers the opportunity to do just that.

    Dividing the courses up into groups of 10 and assigning student preceptors to guide each group, as Prof. Albrecht Classen told the Summer Wildcat he plans to do for his fall class, will reduce the sense of anonymity felt by many students in large courses. This is likely to be more effective than the usual gen-ed courses, in which a couple of teaching assistants are left juggling the various demands of 200 students or more.

    A super-classroom would also reduce the pressure students feel in the race to sign up for the “”best”” gen-ed courses every semester. As Melissa Vito, vice president for student affairs, pointed out to the Summer Wildcat, assigning high-quality instructors to teach the Centennial Hall classes would give more students access to the best courses. Isn’t that what improving the college experience is all about?

    The trend of inflated classroom sizes is a worrying one, and we wouldn’t want to see 300-level classes expand to stadium size. But if letting gen-ed classes grow turns out to be the key to making them better, so be it.

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