Large Class in Math…A Challenge!

                                   By Vic Odarve

Due to a large number of students in math class, professors face a difficult task on how the students participate in the discussions, express the scientific approach to problem-solving in its simplest terms, and absorb the important steps and techniques through listening. In a classroom setting, students’ active participation during discussion makes sense in order to get the activities engaging and interesting. Expressing the step by step solutions through various illustrations and examples enables the students to grasp the methods and applications of how the principles work in math. Since lectures are usually meant as a medium of communication in large classes and listening is the best way to capture the message the professor want to emphasize, getting the crucial points poses a problem for many students. Unknown to many, most African universities allowed hundred to a thousand students in a class. Last semester, my courses usually had 200- 400 students in a Math class. It is indeed a challenging task!

Owing to a large number of students, math professors do often use Power Point presentations of lectures on the topics being discussed. This means less participation of the students; few opportunities for every student to ask questions. Most often only a few number of questions can be entertained. In a college setting, lecture courses seldom

Math class of 275 students

Math class of 275 students- Nigerian University

have a group study. So every student must stick their eyes and ears in the presentation. But occasionally students are too crowded in theater-style lecture halls, where classes are held. To build a class engaging through students’ participation is a challenge both for lecturers and students!

Since math courses are discussed as equations and numerical expressions, conveying the methods or techniques to students in solving problems and illustrating its theories and principles usually pose problems to lecturers. Because of the large class size, there is less opportunity for everyone to express and share ideas with the lecturers or with the classmates. Thus, students will likely have less opportunity to speak personally with the lecturers; the professor may not even know their names and how much more on the personal level. But on the other hand, students develop to take on more responsibility for their learning and learn the material more independently. It is indeed a challenge!

Engineering class with 28 students - Medium class size

Engineering class with 28 students – Davao City, Philippines

The effectiveness to grasp the important points during lectures is another problem. There are fewer opportunities for class discussion and less time for students who are eager to interact with their classmates and professors. There are some students who prefer a more social setting to learn comfortably. Classroom problem management arising from students behavioral problems that disrupt classes is amplified. In some cases, lecturers may not give enough assignments or quizzes to measure how far the students absorb the lessons.  It is a challenge for having a large number of students!

Some school administrators believe that there is no ideal class size for college freshmen courses. They believe that class size, large or small, can be effective and inspiring. They also believe that a quality of professors can make a huge difference in any courses, no matter what the college class size is. It can be said that it is worth attending a large class size with a great and charismatic math lecturer who makes lectures engaging and interesting rather than sitting with small class with a professor who has a reputation of being uninspiring and dull.

It is true that by reducing class size would mean additional lecturers. This means more money is needed. In an African setting, math class sizes consist of several hundred students.

I was there teaching in one of the Nigerian universities for the past several years. It is, indeed, a huge challenge for the lecturers!

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