Confused in large classes? How to make the most of lecture

By Angelina Cole

Roommate conflicts, late-night study habits and learning to be independent of mom and dad are parts of the guaranteed changes from high school to the University. However, one of the biggest changes that goes unnoticed is how large some classes really are, and one of the biggest challenges is how to stand out in a lecture hall of 400 people.

“In a room of 400-plus people you feel like you’re not getting any individual attention,” said Janea Raines, junior in LAS. “You feel that it’s very easy to get lost in a crowd, very difficult to stand out and you’re more discouraged and not really encouraged to do your best. If you’re in a classroom with 20 other people you know that your professor or (teaching assistant) knows your name. You have more of an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with them.”

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Raines said that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in classes that are required for multiple colleges and disciplines.

Fred Gottheil, professor of economics, believes there is both an upside and a downside to large classes. Gottheil said he teaches roughly 1,500 students every semester.

“Large classes deny the student the opportunity of really picking the professor’s brain,” Gottheil said. “They also deny the professor from understanding what is coming across and what is not.”

The upside, according to Gottheil, is that it increases the University’s efficiency. He said it is more efficient to have one professor teaching 700 students instead of 70 professors teaching 10 students apiece.

Gottheil thinks that some professors can get their message across to students and others simply cannot. He is convinced that there should be a limit on class size so that students can get as much as they can out of each one. But, students should also take ownership of their education. And there are several strategies to make large classes smaller and to get the most out of a large hourlong lecture.

“Always go to class,” Julian Parrott, LAS assistant dean and director of the general curriculum center, said. “It’s the simplest thing a student can do. Sit in the front because it shrinks the class, and make eye contact with the instructor. It’s intimidating for an instructor too and they’re looking for allies, engagement and feedback. When they get that from you, they’ll keep coming back.”

Parrott suggests making notes because there is a lot of information from lecture that is not in the PowerPoints or the readings.

Additionally try to forge a personal connection with a professor or instructor during their office hours.

Parrott said living and learning communities, and global studies programs at the University also provide students with a small class approach to larger classes.

“A balance is always good because you learn how to stay afloat in the bigger classes but you also learn how to be more independent,” Raines said. “The smaller classes really develop the skills necessary to succeed in college.”