I’ve never taught a course with more than 40 students before, and next fall I’m scheduled to teach a lecture course with 80 students. I’m not sure how this increase in enrollment will affect my approach to teaching, and I am nervous that the classroom will feel big and anonymous.

-Lost in the crowd

Dear Lost in the crowd,

There are a few simple things that you can do, every class session, to make sure that your students get a more connected classroom feeling. First and foremost, try to generate excitement and enthusiasm for your topic by making connections, and ultimately getting your students to make connections, between your course topics and real-world issues or practices. You can ask students to set up Google Alerts for a topic and report out (perhaps on Canvas discussion boards) what news stories are coming up about that topic. Helping students see how the course content relates to issues that they care about will help them to feel personally invested in their learning.

If you want to minimize anonymity, you don’t need to do all of the work yourself. One easy way to help students feel part of a classroom community is to get them talking to each other in regular, low-stakes ways. Use a classic “Think, Pair, Share,” exercise for questions related to homework, and have students turn to the person next to them to discuss for a few minutes before soliciting comments from the larger group. If you are concerned that students lose focus during the class period, build in “note check” times, and periodically have students review their notes with their neighbors. This is also a great way to encourage study groups, and to help students who may be shy in a large classroom to engage with their peers.

There are so other many ways that you can help your larger classes to feel small: group work, online discussion groups, small group discussion protocols… Our Keynote Speaker at the Summer Institute on Teaching this year, Stephanie Foote, will help you decide what factors are most important in making changes to your course. Her organization, the Gardner Institute, is a leader in helping improve outcomes for gateway courses at colleges and universities across the country.

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