Size matters: Technology encourages student interaction in large classes

Bigger isn’t always better.

Because student-instructor interaction is difficult in large general-education courses, some classes this semester are using remote control technology to increase student participation.

“I wanted some mechanism to engage the students in the class because there’s 170 people in there,” Thunder Jalili, assistant professor of nutrition, said.

Every student is supposed to purchase a remote control pad for $6.50 plus an installation fee. The pads allow students to answer quiz or in-class questions from their seats without worrying about others hearing them.

“I can ask a question and I immediately know if they’re following along or completely confused,” Jalili said.

Because only Jalili and one biology class are trying the new technology, getting enough of the pads and getting them all registered with the system is still problematic, he said. Although the new technology is catching on slowly, both students and instructors recognize the need for change.

“Its harder to pay attention because there are so many people talking to each other,” Katie Newbold, an undeclared freshman, said about one of her classes.

Robyn Grant, a freshman planning on majoring in education, said speaking out in her large Math 1010 class can be intimidating. Instructors have their own complaints.

“If you have 200 students in a class, you don’t have time to talk to every student,” said Margaret Toscano, assistant professor of classical languages.

E-mail is often the best way for students and their instructors to stay in contact. Toscano said she loves it when her students e-mail her.

“It shows that students are interested in the class. I like the feeling that they’re taking the initiative,” she said.

But all of this assumes students can contact their instructor. Although every instructor is required to keep office hours, some can be out of touch outside those times.

“When you try to talk to the teacher, it’s really hard because there is only two days when you can contact them, and they’re not convenient times,” Becky Jensen, an undeclared freshman, said.

A book titled “The Importance of Class Size,” by Stephen J. Pemberton, offers suggestions for getting the most out of large classes.

It recommends never skipping class thinking the professor won’t notice you because it will be more harmful in the end.

The book also points out that a student’s ability to adjust to large classrooms depends on their particular learning style.

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