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Professors see potential in engaging, large lectures

	Professor Jason Roberts lectures his very full Poli 100 class, which is one of the large lectures on campus, located in Hamilton Hall.

Professor Jason Roberts lectures his very full Poli 100 class, which is one of the large lectures on campus, located in Hamilton Hall.

A Ph.D. and a battery-operated microphone are the only weapons Jeannie Loeb has when facing the 300-plus students in Psychology 101.

While it may seem a daunting task — standing alone in front of a mob of young adults — many professors of large lecture classes say they see the potential rather than the disadvantage.

“The class size isn’t so much as an obstacle as it is energizing,” Loeb said.

“There’s some sort of excitement in the room, and I like to take advantage of that.”

Large lecture classes, where enrollment ranges between 100 and approximately 320 students, rely heavily on professor creativity to keep students engaged.

According to most large lecture teachers, simply lecturing isn’t enough anymore.

“It’s hard for anyone, including myself, to stay engaged and listen to someone talking for 50 straight minutes,” said professor Daniel Gitterman, who teaches Public Policy 101.

For Loeb, teaching is down to a science.

“What I attempt to do is teach in the way the brain was designed,” she said. “What that means is I try and stimulate as many of their senses as I can, and do as much active learning as possible.”

She said she uses her knowledge of psychology to divide class time effectively.

John Brackett, professor of the popular music course Introduction to Rock Music, said his strategy to break monotony is to use a wide variety of teaching techniques.

Brackett said he balances lecturing, presenting video and song clips, demonstrating specific instruments and bringing in guest speakers involved in the music industry — anything that relates to the topics discussed throughout the course.

He said there are performative aspects in teaching, and his experience as a musician helped prepare him for the attention that comes with large lecture audiences.

Professors most often note that building rapport with their many students is one of the main challenges of teaching a large class.

“There’s a tradeoff, always, in terms of your ability to get to know and be helpful to individual students,” Gitterman said.

Interaction, the professors agreed, is the foundation of keeping students engaged.

“It’s important to create some sort of dialogue where people do feel like they’re participating,” Brackett said. “That helps make a large lecture seem like a smaller course.”

Brackett said the challenge keeps him on his toes.

“You do really have to be on — it forces you to examine how you teach,” he said.

“I look at it not as a task to get nervous about, but an opportunity to learn something about yourself — why we are here as teachers.”

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