Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Big/small classes compared

Big/Small Classes

by Chris Werner, College Writer

With the ever-present threat of budget cuts affecting the University of Wisconsin’s educational system, the possibility of reducing the number of smaller classes and increasing attendance in large lecture classes has become a paramount issue among administration and students alike.


Both professors and UW students said both types of classes can be conducive to learning, although the environment and way of doing so differs for each.

“They both have benefits. In the larger classes, you have to learn to teach yourself the information, but in the smaller classes you get more one-on-one interaction,” UW sophomore Margaret Quinn said.

Adam Woodis, who teaches first semester German in a smaller classroom setting, feels differently about the matter and said interactive learning in a more intimate environment is a more effective way to reach the students.

“You have much more time for individual questions and needs. You don’t just go in there and preach,” he said. “You can adjust your teaching to suit what they need at the time.”

UW sophomore Tim Grilley agreed.

“I’d definitely say that smaller classes are better for my education, because I always have the chance to ask professors my questions. They know when they’re losing me because they can see the blank look on my face, so I like having the professors right there for greater flexibility,” he said.

Political Science professor Kenneth Mayer teaches an introductory level class of more than 550 students, one of few classes of that size on campus.

Mayer said that such a large class could be detrimental to students’ educations.

“It could easily make them less engaged. The kind of supervision you have is much less intense,” he said, adding that such an environment is often less challenging and less effective at keeping a student’s attention.

Like Mayer, assistant professor of anthropology Larry Nesper teaches an introductory class of more than 550 students and says the lack of personal dialogue makes it hard for students to stay motivated and for professors to receive feedback from students.

“Big classes are a challenge for everyone,” he said.

Despite hindrances in communication, Nesper noted that students are still able to have a personal relationship with their teaching assistants in discussion sections.

Nick Ryan-Lang, a discussion leader for Topics in German Culture, holds two different discussion sections, one with 15 students and another with 40.

He said that his larger section is easier to educate and that having such a small number of students in his other section is often problematic. He said that with only a few students, opinion rarely varies, and students become self-conscious of their peers.

Furthermore, he said lectures exist simply to present information to students.

“I think for some courses a small class size is necessary … But I’m against the knee jerk reaction from departments and professors who feel that smaller classes will magically solve all their problems, when frequently the problem lies with professors who are lousy teachers or just not concerned about the quality of their teaching,” he said.

Both Mayer and Nesper also said quality of teaching is an integral aspect of one’s education.

Although both professors said that the ability to reach students in a smaller setting is an ideal educational situation, they nonetheless said a larger setting could also benefit students.

Nesper said teaching for such a large number is an efficient way to get a message out to students, adding that, “you can reach a lot more people.”

“It allows you to have more diversity in the kinds of classes,” Mayer said.

Mayer, however, said the diverse selection within bigger classes should remain at the introductory level.

Sofia Gaudioso, a UW sophomore, said she also feels the same way.

“I think for introductory classes, larger classes are fine. For more upper level classes, though, the material starts to get more complicated, so the one-on-one interaction is really essential,” she added.

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