We often talk of class size and how it affects student learning and instructor performance. I’ve just read a study, published by Merlot in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, that discusses this question, Classrooms Without Walls: A Comparison of Instructor Performance in Online Courses Differing in Class Size. by Chris Sorensen, Ph.D.
The results of this study suggest that there may be some negative consequences in terms of instructor performance and the quality of instruction in online course with larger class sizes…. Typically, the thought is that smaller class sizes allow for more meaningful student-to-instructor interaction and a higher quality of instruction.
Surprise. Teaching Presence matters.
The optimal class size they found was 15.9 students when 10 or less is small, 11-19 is medium, and 20-30 is large. I agree. 15 to 16 students in an online discussion creates enough varied perspectives on a question to make an interesting conversation. Less than 10 doesn’t provided enough variation. Close to 30 can be difficult to navigate. But realistically, especially for introductory undergraduate courses, the numbers are sometimes 200, seldom 10 to 20.
What was more interesting to me to share are the definitions and rubric used to measure “Distinguished Teaching Performance.” Keep these in mind as you design your next course.
Fostering Critical Thinking Challenging students to elaborate on their thoughts, question their assumptions, examine biases, communicate in a clear and concise manner, and defend their positions throughout the course
Instructive Feedback Providing feedback that challenges and inspires students, while providing specific suggestions to improve the quality of their work and thinking.
High Expectations Demonstrating high expectations throughout the course, while holding students accountable for insightful exchanges and high quality performance on assignments, and promoting active engagement in their own learning.
Establishing Relationships Creatively uses available tools (Announcements, Instructor Guidance, Faculty Expectations, Ask Your Instructor, Emails, Discussion Forum) and strategies to enhance relationships, creating a community of learners willing to take risks and actively engage with one another.
Instructor Expertise Effectively and consistently utilizes expertise in subject matter by providing personal experiences, connecting course knowledge to real-world examples. Enhances course content and resources to encourage student comprehension and application of course learning outcomes.
Many faculty I’ve spoken with recognize that online teaching allows you to personalize the instruction and establish relationships with students, often more than in a f2f class. It is true “that as class size increases, instructors provide less quality feedback because they may not have the time to provide quality instruction to a large number of students.” But course design and instructional strategies can help faculty give feedback and examples of expertise to a larger group of students: group collaboration, discussion groups of 15, learning modules that embed good questions, peer and self assessments, recorded videos of faculty sharing expert examples and demonstrations, one summary post responding to student posts rather than individual response to each post, … are some examples of providing engagement and feedback more efficiently.
How do you engage with your students, especially if you have a large enrollment course of 50 or more?? Please share!!