An excess of students in the classroom is the bane of teachers everywhere, but college professors often teach introductory courses with hundreds of students in one lecture hall.
Can such a class become more intimate so students come out from behind the crowd and participate in the education process?Two Utah State University instructors say the answer is yes, and they have received $3,000 from the Northern Rockies Consortium for Higher Education to prove it. Glenn McEvoy and Shari Lewis are the first recipients of the new award.
Though the cash award recognizing innovative teaching is new, the Northern Rockies Consortium for Higher Education has been in the business of improving education since 1978. From its Salt Lake headquarters, it has accomplished this by giving workshops and lecture series to teachers in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
Nicholas Eastmond, president of the consortium's board, said board members felt that recognizing imaginative teaching methods would be another good way to improve education. They will give the award every two years and spend some of the interim time making sure other teachers learn about the innovative ideas.
McEvoy, an associate professor of management in the management and human resources department, and Lewis, an instructor in the same department, teach different sections of a management and organization course that is offered throughout the school year. The number of students in the course has increased each year. There are now 100 to 150 students in many of the sections.
"It has been our sense that students don't learn as much in large classes," McEvoy said. "I'm convinced they aren't as happy."
The approach is an attempt to capture the intimacy and accountability of a small class so students can be motivated and mentally engaged in the class, according to the two instructors.
The basic premise, said Lewis, is to shift responsibility for learning to the students. "They are expected to read the textbook," she said. "Everyone takes a short quiz on the textbook reading at the beginning of each class period."
Each student is also part of a group ranging from five to 10 students. They remain with this same group throughout the quarter. Following their individual quiz, they take the same quiz as a group.
"The group test requires them to discuss the question and come up with an answer all agree on," Lewis explained. "In the process they tutor one another."
Following the quizzes, the instructor motivates additional interest in the topic by lecturing on current issues, real-life examples and key challenges faced by managers. To keep them intellectually engaged in the lecture, students are asked to write down and submit at the end of the lecture one question the lecture has raised in their minds. To kick off the second half of the two-hour class, some of these questions are selected at random and answered.
Random selection is key to this approach. Since responses to questions and assignments are selected at random, all individuals and groups must be prepared.
In the second half of the class, groups meet to analyze cases or conduct an experiential exercise. Each group prepares an overhead transparency reporting the results of this activity. One or two groups are then selected at random to present their findings to the class. However, the work of each group is collected and graded each day.
"We want them to learn to work in groups because that is one of the ways they will work in the business world," McEvoy said. "This course deals with group dynamics and they are using principles to learn to make decisions and prepare presentations."
The instructors say they will evaluate their approach at the end of the quarter. Student feedback will be solicited about halfway through the course and again at the end. Also at the end of the quarter, McEvoy and Lewis will randomly select some students from one another's class and conduct a focus group to further fine-tune the process.