2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM


HOWELL, Paul D., Dept. of Geological Sciences, Univ of Kentucky, 101 Slone Bldg, Lexington, KY 40506-0053, phowell@uky.edu

Ten years and 5000 students later, I still enjoy teaching large lecture classes. Despite changing technologies and shifting student demographics, I can distill what I've learned about successful large classes into six technology-agnostic lessons that are difficult to understand exactly how they work and even more difficult to implement wisely. (1) Aim high - teach so that the smartest students in your class are NEVER disappointed in the quality of the lessons you impart, and challenge them with assignments of corresponding caliber. (2) Clarify expectations - ask for the moon, but give them clear guidance on how to report their capture of the moon to you, and in what depth you expect to read about it. (3) Set hurdles - there must be firm minima in the quality of work you will accept from students, with no exceptions brokered. (4) Grade fairly - you know they will not fetch the moon, so make allowances for those who fall short and reward highly those who reach beyond expectations. (5) Draw lines - students have responsibilities as well as rights, and they must respect as they expect respect. (6) Remain human - be available to students both in and out of class, albeit with controls. (7) Keep trying new things - but be ready to take your lumps.

The results are manifold. Aiming high, you will achieve respect and good effort from the best and brightest, and grading fairly you will avoid enmity from the weakest links. Clarifying expectations coupled with high aim fosters excellent work from a surprisingly large core of mediocre but determined students. Setting hurdles raises the bar for minimally acceptable college work; all rise to the occasion and everyone benefits. Drawing lines improves morale across the board; deadlines are meaningful, attendance improves, and respect builds both ways. Remaining accessible to students both in and out of the classroom is imperative to retaining your humanity, both in their eyes and your own. You are never done; you must improvise, innovate, analyze, build up, throw away and adapt more than adopt. Cool technologies, flashy podium presence and the latest pedagogical mumbojumbo will only take you so far with students in large lecture classes, and only for so long. It is these lessons that keep me coming back, motivated and eager for fresh new faces, year after year after year.