Teaching Larger Classes: Maintaining Quality and Your Sanity

How can you maintain the quality of instruction and a sufficient level of individual attention for students in larger classes? What pedagogical approaches can contribute to more active learning? How can you efficiently manage the logistics, grading, and facilitation of a larger class?

Whether you teach face-to-face, hybrid, or entirely online, this webinar will provide you with practical tips and techniques for the design and management of a larger class that can result in greater efficiencies and student engagement, all while preserving instructional quality.

View the recording of Teaching Larger Classes: Maintaining Quality and Your Sanity webinar co-hosted by Donna McGregor, Assistant Professor, Chemistry.

Teaching Larger Classes - The “Why” by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education and Clinical Professor, Department of History, Lehman College

Teaching Larger Classes - The “How” by Olena Zhadko, Director of Online Education (prepared by Naliza Sadik, Educational Technologist | Instructional Designer, Office Online Education)

Teaching Larger Classes - The Faculty Experience by Donna McGregor, Assistant Professor,Department of Chemistry, Lehman College

You can also view the webinar presentation slides and read the overview of thewebinar below - prepared by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education.

The Why

Maringe & Sing (2014) define large as “any class where the number of students pose both perceived and real challenges in the delivery of quality and equal learning opportunities.” “Larger” basically means larger than what you are accustomed to teaching, therefore requiring an adjustment in design and planning - different sizes require different considerations and techniques, depending also on the resources available to the instructor (for example, whether there will be any TAs).

Design is key to effective teaching in a larger class because a change in the scale of then course requires intentional and purposeful design/redesign, feasible instructional strategies, and skillful management to assure quality and student engagement and to fulfill learning outcomes. Some aspects of the class affected by a change in scale are the kinds of interaction (faculty-student and student-student) possible; the assessment and feedback options; the communication strategies and protocols; the opportunities for higher level thinking assignments; and the way class time is distributed in person and/or online.

Traditional large classes often have limitations, such as consisting of more passive than active learning, class time dominated by lecture, or the lack of frequent feedback to students. The flipped model for larger classes provides for in-person class time to feature more active learning, with all or most course materials made available online. In a web-enhanced or hybrid class, online activities and content are integrated with and help support and enhance the in-person class meetings, while facilitating class management tasks. Every larger class can be enhanced by technology used in-person or through online resources.

Some best practices for larger classes are using group and peer-to-peer strategies for a greater percentage of activity, whether performed online or in-person, the use of automated feedback and rubrics to grade and guide assignments, and providing online practice opportunities for lower level thinking tasks (e.g. involving memory, retention, factual knowledge, repetitive practice), or for discussions and activities that extend or supplement the in-person class time. The establishment of protocols for communications, online discussions, and assignment submission further help clarify and organize class activity.

The greater complexity of teaching and managing a larger class necessitates intentional planning and design. Such planning should include the details of week by week activity, with flipped and hybrid classes considering what will happen each week before, during, and after each class meeting. It is important to lay out where, when and how each instructional element and communication will occur, and to indicate which activities are for the individual student and those which are intended for group or peer-to-peer. For those that have a TA to assist, one needs to consider and indicate which tasks and activities the TA will handle.

The How

There are many technology tools that can help facilitate and support a larger class. If using Blackboard, these can include group areas, integrated rubrics, announcements, discussions, blogs, quizzes or other tools like VoiceThread, integrated in Blackboard. Tools for in-person interaction include clickers and online polling software. There is also publisher content or other online software used for practice, homework, labs, etc.

Small groups in Blackboard can be equipped with their own areas for discussion and collaboration, including blogs and wikis. Quizzes and tests in Blackboard can be utilized for low-stakes testing and practice, with automatic feedback and scoring. Integrated rubrics can simplify grading tasks for instructors while providing clear guidelines for students undertaking assignments. Announcements can help with communication and engagement, providing a means to alert, remind, and provide clarifications for students throughout the week. A central Q&A forum can provide a more efficient way than email to answer questions posed by students. VoiceThread, blogs, and discussion forums all offer the opportunity to create community and foster interaction.

In face-to-face class meetings, the use of clickers can add to active learning and engagement, with students using mobile devices or iClicker remotes for polling and quizzing activities. Online software can also be used for this purpose in the classroom. Other software or publisher materials may be used to augment the in-person class, providing labs, practice, homework, or other hands-on activity.

With all the many options and choices available to organize, enhance, and support your course, we recommend the use of a course planning document such as the one available from Lehman’s Office of Online Education to help simplify the design and planning process for your larger class!

The Faculty Experience

Dr. Donna McGregor, Assistant Professor in the Chemistry department at Lehman College, shared her considerable experience teaching large classes since 2009 and her use of the flipped classroom model since 2014, classes that entailed teaching a range of sizes, from 120 to 800 students.

A well-structured course and active learning have been the two principles behind her teaching. Available active learning strategies are diverse and may include round tables, group problem solving, role playing and debates, case studies, and interactive videos.
Her own chemistry class at Lehman employs problem solving as its main strategy. Her students engage with one another, with peer leaders, and the instructor to solve problems during the class, using clickers to provide ongoing feedback about student learning to the instructor.

Graduate student teaching assistants and undergraduate learning assistants both facilitate problem solving and also hold scheduled tutoring sessions for her class. She uses multiple online platforms to support the course, with online videos and course documents providing content, publisher software like Sapling or Top Hat allowing for other online activities and homework, all contributing to a mix of well-integrated course components.

Dr. McGregor provided graphs illustrating data that showed that the flipped and active learning models provided better outcomes than the traditional model for General Chemistry, with fewer withdrawals, and better passing rates.


Blackboard GroupsTest and QuizzesRubricAnnouncementsDiscussionsVoiceThread

Tools for F2F Interactions: iClickers, Polling software (Poll Everywhere)

Course Planning Document

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact the Office of Online Education at online.education@lehman.cuny.edu