UW Continuum College Instructor Resources

Episode 6: Managing large in-person classes transcript

P: Hi there, Jan!

J: Hi Peter! Whatcha got for us today?

P: Well I’ll tell ya. I was talking with one of our instructors the other day, and she’s teaching a class that meets in-person once a week, which is pretty standard for our programs.

J: Right.

P: But she has upwards of 50 students, which is quite large for us, and she had some questions about how she can manage that many students at once. I know other instructors sometimes have this question, too, so I figured you and I could talk about that and go over some ideas.

J: That sounds great! I hear this question a lot, too.

P: Ya it’s definitely pretty common. And one strategy that seems to work well is to break students up into teams and have them work on problems or tasks that somehow supports one of the learning objectives for the day.

J: Ah those learning objectives. And that all sounds interesting. Say more about how that could work.

P: Well, and this actually overlaps a bit with what we talked about in our episode about managing class time, but in this case, let’s say that one of the the learning objectives for the day is something like, students will be able to identify ten key elements of a storyboard for a 5-minute documentary, that they’ll go on to actually create later in the quarter.

J: Oooh that sounds like fun.

P: Definitely. And so with that objective, the instructor could have students work in teams to identify those elements, create some kind of visual, like a poster or something, and then share what they came up with.

J: Ah okay. And that would allow the instructor to see that the objective was met, too.

P: Exactly. But what’s also cool about this is that because students are working in groups, and thus, at least in theory, all working and engaged in a task, the students are largely managing themselves. The instructor can then focus on circulating around the room and offering support as needed.

J: Makes sense to me. What other ideas do you have?

P: Well, another strategy is to have students work in teams, but instead of having them all work on the same task, like we talked about with the storyboard, the instructor can have each team work on a different task that somehow contributes to a larger understanding of the issue.

J: Oh I see. Do you have an example of what that could look like?

P: I do! In our episode about active learning and authentic assessment, we talked about the wetlands restoration course where students were invited to explain different elements of a successful restoration project to different stakeholders, like engineers and neighbors.

J: Right! That was a good one.

P: It was! And in our case here, the instructor could have each team focus on a different audience, so one team could focus on the engineers, another on the neighbors, and so on. The instructor could then invite each team to figure out how they might go about explaining those elements to their audience, keeping in mind that each group would likely have different interests and stakes in the situation.

J: I like that. And just like with the storyboard example, it sounds like the students are all working together and managing themselves, so the instructor can focus more on facilitating the activity.

P: Exactly!

J: Very cool. And so that all sounds great for in-class stuff, but when it comes to grading 50 or more homework assignments, that can be challenging, too.

P: It definitely can be. And that’s where rubrics can come in handy, which is what I think we’re talking about in our next episode.

J: Yes it is! In the meantime, if listeners would like to leave suggestions for another future episode, there’s a link at the bottom of the podcast page where folks can leave their ideas.