Through a focus group interview (please refer to the list of interviewees), we got data of students’ experience and expectations of learning in large class. The results are shared here.Interviewees:
Ken (ELEC, Yr 1), Fok (COMP, Yr 1), Rose (FINA, Yr 1), Dom (FINA, Yr 1), Jo (FINA, Yr 1), Jeff (CPEG, Yr 3), Siu (CPEG, Yr 3), Doe (CPEG, Yr 3), Fay (CHEM, alumni), Pan (BIOL, Yr 2)
- Do you prefer learning in large class or small class in general?
- What are the major problems learning in a large class?
- What expectations do you have for large class?
- To you, what is the meaning of Tutorial and how is your relationship with Teaching Assistants (TAs)?
- What would you suggest to improve large class learning and teaching?
- Are there anything that students should do to foster an effective large class learning environment?
All of them prefer learning in small class in general. Two of them said learning in large class is ok, not that undesirable.
"Students easily fall asleep in lecture theater. Small class is more effective"
"It's the lighting and atmosphere and all that, we fall asleep unconsciously. But if lecturer delivers clear information, large class is acceptable."
"Most of us are too shy to ask questions in front of a large group. In small class, it is easier."
"If interaction is ensured, learning in large class in not that disastrous. In my experience, I can ask questions online and that helps a lot."
They feel that they never have contact with the lecturer. There is always a distance between the lecturer and the students. It is very embarrassing to raise questions.
They easily fall asleep and chat. Some students even eat in the lecture hall.
"It's hard to ask questions. Everybody looks at you. Students like to approach lecturer after lecture. Some are too shy to do that. We prefer email, discussion board."
"Lecturers are not enthusiastic, some would blame you for not listening"
"No one starts. If somebody can start, most are willing to speak up. Its' embarrassing if somebody is called when daydreaming."
"Simple questions are welcome, not difficult ones."
"The environment makes you sleep easily."
"Late comers are disturbing."
"Students chat a lot. In small class it is difficult to chat."
"A lot of the students just eat in the lecture and this is real inconsiderate."
"Lecturers and TAs don't have enough communication and it turns out they teach different things."
"I feel the distance between the lecturer and myself. There is a lack of personal touch. I easily get confused when I can't follow."
"If the class is interesting, it must be noisy. A quiet class implies it's boring."
Students expect to understand difficult concepts in lecture and clear delivery of the lecturer is very important. If the lecturer can add some humor and interesting talks, that would be a bonus.
"Most students come with expectations, otherwise they will just skip class"
"It is important to know where the majority is, in order to catch up."
"I expect to understand concepts so I expect the lecturer to explain in a clear and simple way. Language is also an issue. Sometimes if they carry accents and speak too fast, it is difficult to follow. Of course, it adds bonus if he speaks in an interesting way."
"The level of difficulty is crucial. The lecturer has to make it appropriate, not too hard and not too easy. In Engineering, steps and procedure is important."
"In Business studies, application to business world is important. The lecturer should give such examples."
"We don't want to get behind the others so we go to large class to keep ourselves updated."
"Clear delivery is very important, when he explains steps and procedures."
"We expect to learn things that can be applied back to the business world. This is essential for Business students."
"Quiz can be done at the end of each lecture to confirm understanding. It helps me sum up what I have learnt."
"The first few lectures for me are very important. I want to have interesting activities. Once I skip a few lectures, I will not attend again."
"Lecturers should emphasize more on the importance of reading on our own. They tend to assume we do but we seldom. Not everything is inside the notes."
"Lecturers should be well-prepared. He should give clear instructions and tell us the objectives. He also has to control the discipline of the class."
4. To you, what is the meaning of Tutorial and how is your relationship with Teaching Assistants (TAs)?
TAs are more approachable as most of them speak Cantonese. For Math questions in particular, I go to TAs first. The lecturer would accuse me of not paying attention in class.
"I usually approach TAs first, then lecturers, because TAs speak Cantonese, and it's easier to understand the concepts."
"I seek help from lecturer, not TAs, as the lecturer is the one who teaches me and knows better my need."
"I am afraid to be blacklisted and accused of not paying attention in lecture, so I'd rather approach the TA."
"Most TAs are nice and understanding. Even they know you skip class, they just explain the missing parts and ask you to attend lecture in a nice way."
"I rely on the TAs a lot on math problems."
"Some tutorial sessions are conducted in Cantonese and it's a lot easier for us to follow the concepts."
"TAs understand more our needs. Most lecturers seem to look at things only from their viewpoint."
"I think my relationship with TAs is closer than that between the lecturer and myself. But I don't want to get too close with them as I think they should be fair in treating the tutor-student relationship."
Some of them think students of different levels should be separated, in order to achieve effective learning. Almost all agree that there should be more communication between lecturers and TAs, and among TAs. They also raise that they are not that afraid of questions. If somebody starts, they are willing to share their ideas too.
"In a lot of the courses, students of different levels and exposure are put together. If possible, it's good to divide a big lecture into small ones, according to levels and abilities. It will be more interesting and effective."
"Lecturers should be more careful in designing the exam tasks. Now the range of mark distribution doesn't reflect the reality of student standard."
"It's good if lecturers can teach the tutorial themselves."
"Lecturers could spend some time to learn students' names. This can help to create a better atmosphere."
"When we seek jobs, we cannot ask them to write reference letters because they just don't remember our names!"
"There should be more communication between TAs and lecturers to standardize the materials being delivered. Also among TAs themselves."
"Lecturers can prepare simple questions or questions that can prompt us to speak for discussion."
"Lecturers should speak in a clear way, at a moderate pace. Adding humor and jokes is a bonus."
"The pace of delivering a course is usually uneven. In the beginning, everything goes slow and towards the middle, the lecturer tends to rush to cover everything."
"Lecturers can ask more questions. In fact we are not that passive and if they ask us questions that are not too difficult, we are willing to give our voices."
"Lecturers can be more keen to answer questions on the web, so that students know their questions are not being ignored."
6. Are there anything that students should do to foster an effective large class learning environment?
They think they have their responsibilities too, as students. They should prepare themselves well before lecture, be punctual to lecture. They could also read more. They admit they know but it's hard to keep up.
"Students should also prepare well. Unfortunately we only do that in the beginning of term, never can last to the end."
"Reading helps us get a lot of useful information that is not covered in the notes. Not until recently have I realized the benefits of reading on my own."
"Lecturers usually request us to prepare for the lecture, and I think we should do that."
"Sleeping is ok, but chatting disturbs others. Students should behave themselves."
"Students should be considerate. For example, I feel annoyed with phones so I strongly feel that they should turn their phones off in lecture."
"Coming late has to avoided. They are just inconsiderate, coming late and disturbing others."