National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Occasional Paper 27 - Pedagogical Choices Make Large Classes Feel Small


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Singer-Freeman, K., & Bastone, L. (2016, July). Pedagogical choices make large classes feel small. (Occasional Paper No. 27). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).



In NILOA's twenty-seventh occasional paper, authors Karen Singer-Freeman and Linda Bastone discuss ways to encourage students' engagement and success in a large general education course. The paper's appendix can be downloaded here.

Paper Abstract

Many students begin their college experience enrolled in large introductory classes. These classes are likely to enroll students who are at risk of leaving college without a degree. As such, these classes have the potential to reach at-risk students including first-year, first-generation, undeclared, and underrepresented minority (URM) students. Unfortunately, large lecture classes can make it difficult for students to develop meaningful relationships with faculty members or peers, even though it is known that the presence of strong faculty-student relationships predicts student engagement (Jaasma & Koper, 1999). One route to engaging students is the intentional use of evidence-based pedagogical practices. There have been substantial efforts to improve large lecture classes through the strategic use of discussion sections, active learning, and varied forms of assessment. Additionally, efforts to increase students’ engagement and persistence have taken place outside of the classroom. We believe that some evidence-based practices developed outside the classroom are ripe for use in large lectures. In the current paper we describe an integration of academic content with practices that support student engagement and success in a large general education course, Child Development.

We begin with a brief description of the class, as it was before modification and as it is now. We then summarize some of the literature that describes evidenced-based methods of supporting at-risk students and explain how we have used this literature to inform our alignment of pedagogical practices with pedagogical goals. We share means of authentic assessment used in this course that target academic mastery and student well-being during and after the course’s completion. Throughout this discussion we report on early indications that our modifications have met our intended goals. We conclude by considering principles that might guide redesign of other large classes.

Biography of the Authors

Karen Singer-Freeman is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the psychology program at Purchase College, SUNY. Her research examines analogical reasoning in young children and identity shift in college students. Dr. Singer-Freeman is Project Director of the MARC U*STAR Honors Program and Associate Director of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Program,NIH/NIGMS-funded programs for STEM students from underserved groups. She previously served as Director of the Interpersonal Relationships Improve Student Success(I-RISE) Mentoring Program and the Social Action Learning Community.

Linda Bastone is Chair of the School of Natural and Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Psychology at Purchase College, SUNY. Dr. Bastone has an enduring interest in understanding the causes and consequences of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination as well as the factors that facilitate or impede academic success. Dr. Bastone is Project Director of the MARC U*STAR Honors Program. Dr. Bastone previously served as the Director of the Liberal Arts Freshman Seminar Program, Faculty Coordinator of Assessment, and the Coordinator of the social sciences and humanities component of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Program.


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