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Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty

Edited by Christine A. Stanley & M. Erin Porter
Anker Publishing
376 pages
ISBN: 1-882982-51-7
$39.95 (cloth)

Reviewed by

Robert E. Bleicher

Department of Education
CSU Channel Islands


Christine A. Stanley and M. Erin Porter's edited book presents innovative teaching approaches for college instructors teaching large classes. Chapter authors include 34 instructors from at least 12 different disciplines who write about their experiences with and ideas about teaching large undergraduate and graduate classes. The book is divided into two parts. The first part develops concepts about planning, teaching, and assessing large classes. The second part contexualizes these concepts in a series of case studies in 12 different disciplines.

Several themes germane to approaching instruction in large classes are reiterated by different authors. One of these themes is the point that the purpose and general overarching aims of a course are usually set out clearly, yet learning outcomes are often tangled up with planned classroom activities. Explicitly stating learning outcomes can enable an instructor more accurately to choose learning experiences that can best achieve the outcomes. In addition, this procedure gives an instructor more freedom in exploring different pedagogical approaches in the instructional situation.

Another common theme is the development and implementation of technical mechanics to allow instruction to flow smoothly in a large-class setting. On this subject, several chapters offer very practical and concrete suggestions, addressing class meeting times, tracking attendance and participation, preparation and distribution of handouts, exams, academic dishonesty, and grading, among other issues. Throughout the book, authors discuss social interactions in the classroom . This includes the notion of civility in classroom discourse between students and instructor as well as student to student.

Several chapters deal with how various learning theories can guide effective teaching in large classes. Concepts such as group brainstorming, team learning, and active learning are developed from theoretical foundations to practical application in the large-class teaching and learning setting. Once again, the discussion often ends up with a substantial discussion of practical suggestions that can be utilized immediately by colleagues looking for advice on managing large-class instruction.

The second half of the book is composed of 17 case studies that present examples of approaches to large-class instruction across the disciplines of agriculture, business, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, education, engineering, English, law, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and psychology. These case studies include examples of how the concepts and theoretical approaches to teaching large classes play out in specific disciplines. They provide concrete suggestions and vivid insight into how instructors across a wide range of disciplines have approached the problems of teaching large classes.

In conclusion, Porter and Stanley present several pieces of advice for college faculty teaching large classes. The first and foremost advice is to plan, plan, and plan some more. Effective time management is critical to success in teaching large college classes. The editors emphasize the importance of carefully delineating explicit course purposes, aims, and learning outcomes. They recommend seeking a mentor who has had experience teaching large classes. Teacher-student social interactions can make or break an effective learning environment in all classrooms, but even more so in large classes. Thus, the importance of providing out-of-class instructor contact and setting up effective communication networks for students cannot be overstated. Facilitative classroom management depends heavily upon the clear communication of course assignments, assessments, and especially grading policies. The more people involved in a social interaction, the more potential barriers to clear communication. Learner-centered teaching approaches are recommended, as is the appropriate use of technology in classroom instruction. Training teaching assistants and including them in the planning stages of instruction is another crucial element to successful large class teaching experiences. Finally, the editors urge special pedagogical considerations for the increased diversity inherent in large classes. All of this advice is well supported by concrete examples and theoretical considerations that are discussed throughout the book.

With increasing enrollments in times of severe budget cuts affecting faculty hiring, large college classes are becoming more commonplace. Engaging Large Classes therefore provides a timely guide to approaching the complex instructional tasks associated with large classes. With over 230 references, the book is firmly situated on a thorough theoretical research foundation. With 34 contributing authors across varied disciplines, there is something for everyone in this volume. The major strength of this book is definitely its excellent balance of theoretical conceptualizing and practical advice. I recommend it to all college instructors who contemplate teaching large classes.

Posted April 18, 2003

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2003 by Robert E. Bleicher.

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