‘Supersizing’ the College Classroom: 2,670 Students Share One Teacher

‘Supersizing’ the College Classroom: 2,670 Students Share One Teacher

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Conventional wisdom deems smaller classes superior. John Boyer a professor at Virginia Tech and a self-described “Podunk instructor,” calls that “poppycock.” He’s exploring how technology can help engage students in face-to-face courses that enroll from 600 to nearly 3,000 students. It’s a timely project that may suggest tips for others. In a recent survey of financial conditions at state universities, 56% of respondents said that budget constraints were causing them to collapse sections into fewer, larger classes, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. At Virginia Tech, about two dozen classes exceed 300 students.

Boyer’s approach? Decentralize the rigid class format by recreating assessment as a gamelike system in which students earn points for completing assignments of their choosing from many options. Saturate students with Facebook and Twitter updates (some online pop quizzes are announced only on social media). Keep the conversation going with online office hours. And snag big-name visitors by turning the enormous class into a digital hive that swarms them with requests.

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