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How large lectures differ from smaller classes

From office hours to the workload, large lectures are a refreshing change of pace

As a third-year transfer student, I have never been in a class with more than 50 people. The small school I attended before the University didn’t have “big lectures” and classes in the Curry School tend to run on the smaller side. In fact, any class with over 40 students was rare and seemed intimidating. How was I supposed to stand out to my professor? How was I supposed meet my fellow classmates? How were we supposed to collaborate or have discussions? As I soon found out, the most generalized answer to all of those questions were … you don’t.

For the most part, you don’t get to know your professor. You don’t meet your fellow classmates. You don’t collaborate or have discussions; that is, unless your professor has created an elaborate and largely inconvenient group project. While some students are well-rehearsed and used to these enormous lectures, I’ve just begun to familiarize myself.

There are about 350 students enrolled in my psychology class, and it’s also the first class I have taken in the department. The material is interesting, the professor is engaging and the workload is more than manageable. What stands out as the most interesting is the wide variety of students in the class. There are some that come with their A-game – notepad open on their lap, multicolored pens at the ready and some even recording the lecture on their phone. I would certainly call myself a serious student, but I have yet to master the art of taking color-coded notes as I scribble down the PowerPoint and everything that comes out of my professor’s mouth. These account for a small number of students.

The most abundant type of student, without doubt, are the ones that physically attend class, but are absent in spirit. We all know the type. Heck, sometimes we are the type. These students come in countless forms — from the sleep-deprived, in desperate need of a break student to those that spend the time online shopping — hunting for the best deal on size-four jeans. 

One class, there was actually a student watching a Game of Thrones episode — with the captions on, of course. It was a bold move, admittedly, and not one that would ever occur in a smaller classroom setting. No student would be able to get away with that, not necessarily that a lot of students would want to in the first place. While these are certainly two different extremes of students, there is a healthy range between.

Another aspect that varies from the standard, small classroom environment is the workload attached to the course. In my experience, smaller classes have a wide array of assignments — book readings, essays, presentations or even just classic busy work. In this 350-student class, our workload is short, sweet, and concise. We are assigned four comprehensive exams … and that’s it. Those are your only four chances to prove your understanding of the material. It seems harsh, but, after a bit of reflection, I prefer it — as long as you read the textbook and pay attention in class, you are golden throughout the year.

Even stranger are office hours. While I’ve found these to be helpful safety nets in smaller classes, they are absolute necessities in these bigger environments. Since these classes are so big, it is essentially a pipe dream for professors to know your name. It’s a challenge to actually find the time and patience to chat with them after class since the line of students is always long. Office hours are the only time to have some one-on-one face time with your professor and, even then, he or she may direct you to the TA’s office. Throughout my academic career at this University, I have had a small, limited number of interactions with TAs.

I’ll admit, if anything, that the larger lecture hall is a great change of pace. It’s refreshing to try something new. It serves to broaden our horizons and allow us to examine things from a different perspective. While I thought that I could never enjoy an introductory psychology class with a student-count of 350, I have found the material to be engaging and the workload to be easier to swallow than some of the smaller, more intimate classes on Grounds.