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Let us consider that one is supposed to teach a class of a large number of students (say 100 or more). I am thinking of this scenario corresponding to undergraduate students, but hoping for a general solution.

  1. Is it a good idea to divide the class to a number of sub-classes and teach them at separate sessions(say, 5 groups of 20 students or 4 groups of 25 students)? What are the plus and minus of dividing the class?

  2. What are the alternate ways of managing a large number of students?

  3. Suppose, we decide to divide the class to n number of sub-classes? What are the best criteria to take into account to put students into different classes?

  4. I can think of two ways of dividing the class based on grades. However, this looks a narrow judgement to me... Any way, first, each subclass is a Gaussian distribution of students based on grades. Second, each subclass has students within certain range of grades. Which one will be more helpful to students?

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    One obvious consideration for 1 is cost, at least the way things are done in U.S. universities. To a first approximation, all other things equal, offering 5 small classes costs the university roughly 5 times as much as one large class. I can try to explain some of the economics involved in an answer, when I have a chance. – Nate Eldredge Apr 3 '15 at 17:10
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    The idea that 100 students is a lot is fascinating to me. That would have been a very small class in my Australian undergrad; classes of ~300 were typical. – sapi Apr 3 '15 at 22:22
  • @NateEldredge, Thanks. I would like to know more about the economics involved. I have absolutely no idea about it. – Swagatika Apr 4 '15 at 23:56
  • @sapi, Woow. I thought 100 would be a large number for developed countries :) I'm not sure if you were the instructor or a student. But I'm sure I can take help from your experience. Would like to know more. – Swagatika Apr 4 '15 at 23:58
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I've done this two different ways so far:

  1. Divided the group (150 for example) into three different classes (50 each), each meeting twice per week (2 hours per session).

This allows for some interaction which my undergrads find very useful. This leaves me with 12 teaching hours for this subject in one week.

  1. Keep the class together (all 150) for one lecture session (2 hours) which allows for very little, if any, interaction with them. Then, split the 150 into 5 classes of 30 each for one 2 hour workshop.

The workshop is much smaller allowing for much greater interaction due to the smaller group size. I can balance "lecturing at" them with holding their hand when they get stuck. I still have 12 (2+[5*2]) teaching hours for the same group of students and each student still has 4 contact hours per week.

My preference is option (2) although I find 2 hours of non-interaction (large lecture) is too much for my students. Next time I will likely trim the lecturing time down and add the extra time to workshops (perhaps more and even smaller workshops). The large lecture is more difficult to manage as my university has a mandatory attendance policy and many don't want to be there. So, large lectures can get loud but classroom management is part of the job (at least my job).

As far as choosing which student goes into which group, I simply sort by past GPA and divide into equal sized group. It's not perfect but it keeps the fast ones together and the less prepared ones together so I can provide one pace which is more suitable for the group (with the exception of the large lecture). The issue to be aware of with this kind of sorting is if the students feel there is a stigma attached to being in the "slow" group it can create problems between the students and teacher ("Hey! Why am I in THIS class!?!? You want to RUIN my life?!?!")

  • thanks for the wonderful response. Can I know (A) what kind of workshops are they? What are the aspects that you attend to in the workshops? (B) Does the university come in way of your plan in some way? What would you do in that case? (C) I was really worried about the stigma with sorting and a colleague also pointed out the same possibility. How can one handle that? Your comments will be really helpful. – Swagatika Apr 5 '15 at 0:04
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    a) Workshops focus on application of the theories we discussed during the previous lecture, sometimes requiring students to perform additional research between lecture and workshop (so each week covers a single topic). b) no (they mostly let me do what I want, as long as don't ask for more money), c) I do not publicize my basis for the sorting so some think it is random. – earthling Apr 5 '15 at 1:45
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Typically, in the US, large classes are divided into sections and scheduled at different times throughout the day. Then the students pick which one best fits their overall schedule when they register. Registration times are typically done by class, nominally seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, with a later period nearer to the start of the semester to give students some time to rearrange. The enrollment in each section is capped, and students may fail to register for their preferred time, but that's just how it is.

Typically undergraduate students are not divided up into sections by grades, but there may be entirely separate classes organized for students that are on some sort of Honors track. Good grades and other things are required to get into the Honors track, but after that, there's little use of their grades to separate them from non-honors students.

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