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Dealing with Large Class

Please cite as follows: Chan, CKY (2015). "Dealing with Large Class", Engineering Education Enhancement and Research Asia (E3R Asia).

Problems with large classes

Reviews of the existing literature reported many pedagogical challenges of large class teaching, such as passive learning, teachers’ inability to attend to students’ need and difficulty to assess and to provide prompt feedback. The root of these difficulties often lies in a lack of teacher-student interaction in large classes.

Large enrollment courses usually take place in lecture theatres with significant physical distance between teacher and students, which creates an imaginary barrier and an impersonal atmosphere hampering student involvement and interaction (Geske, 1992). VanDeGrift, Wolfman, Yasuhara, & Anderson (2002) suggested several factors inhibiting student-initiated interaction in large classes, namely student apprehension, comment verbalization, feedback lag and single-speaker paradigm. Student apprehension refers to students’ feeling of uneasiness when asked to speak up in a large class. This is particularly true when they are unfamiliar with the class material and even have problem expressing their difficulties in class. Students may also have a misconception that the opportunity to ask questions has passed once the lecturer move on to a new topic, resulting in feedback lag.

Large class teaching is often characterized by one-way communication which promotes teacher-centered learning, offering students minimum opportunities to express or discuss their opinions in class. Even if students do take the initiative to ask questions or make comments, there is limited time for them to do so one by one (i.e. single-speaker paradigm). As time is limited, teachers usually do not arrange any in-class activity in large lectures (Hoekstra, 2008). Therefore, there is no learning activity for students to evaluate the new concepts, and even apply their existing knowledge to what they have learnt (Alexander, Crescini, Juskewitch, Lachman, & Pawlina, 2009). In the learning environment of large lecture classes, it is difficult for students to maintain their concentration in a long period of time. The lack of interaction may result in a negative student learning experience and atmosphere.

Furthermore, DeBourgh (2008) suggested that teachers generally do not receive any feedback from students in large classes, thus it is difficult for them to assess students’ understanding until the summative process.


  • Alexander, C. J., Crescini, W. M., Juskewitch, J. E., Lachman, N., & Pawlina, W. (2009). Assessing the integration of audience response system technology in teaching of anatomical sciences. Anatomical Sciences Education, 2(4), 160-166.
  • DeBourgh, G. A. (2008). Use of classroom "clickers" to promote acquisition of advanced reasoning skills. Nurse Education in Practice, 8(2), 76-87.
  • Geske, J. (1992). Overcoming the drawbacks of the large lecture class. College Teaching, 40(4), 151-154.
  • Hoekstra, A. (2008). Vibrant student voices: Exploring effects of the use of clickers in large college courses. Learning, Media and Technology, 33(4), 329-341.
  • VanDeGrift, T., Wolfman, S. A., Yasuhara, K., & Anderson, R. J. (2002). Promoting interaction in large classes with computer-mediated feedback system. Seattle: University of Washington.