Small classes encourage individualized learning

Smaller student-to-teacher ratios offer a better qualilty of education and are one of the biggest draws for prospective TU students.

As a University Ambassador, I always try to hit on certain points when I’m giving tours to prospective students. I tell them about our roomy and affordable on-campus apartments, successful Division I sports program, the beautiful fitness center that I don’t use nearly enough. And of course, I can’t forget about the small class sizes and that sweet 11:1 student to faculty ratio. Recently, however, I found myself in a debate as to whether small class sizes are actually worthy of all the hype they are given, realizing that I should actually take some time to consider a position that I had always simply accepted as gospel. Well, after much deliberation, the jury has reached a verdict: small classes are a good thing, guilty as charged.

Maybe that’s an anticlimactic conclusion, but the truth is often boring. You know what’s not boring though? Class participation. And I’ll bet that if I gave you just one attempt, you could guess whether smaller or larger classes foster more discussion.

Everyone learns in different ways, so the following arguments obviously shouldn’t be considered universal. If you are a person who can only absorb information by zoning out and staring at your notes and textbook, then there’s probably not any type of classroom setting that’s ideal for you. But for the rest of us, who I think constitute the vast majority, interaction and personal consideration are the keys to retention. In general, if the professor is taking the time to craft their lesson to the individual and gives the students the opportunity to respond and offer their own input, it will lead to a much more favorable scholastic environment.

When you have a mere 11 students (or a comparably small number, for you pedants out there), this sort of thing can actually take place. In a massive lecture hall with stadium seating and 600 students, you would have no chance of ever getting to know the professor and no opportunity to ask a question or participate in discussion, lest class take about seven hours. In addition, smaller class sizes allow instructors to spend more time grading and offering critique of each assignment, which should lead to a more thorough understanding of the material for the student. And we haven’t even acknowledged yet the fact that large classes are almost invariably taught by TAs, not the person with the advanced degree who is actually offering the course! Where is the downside?

Of course, not every small class is going to lend itself to these advantages. There are certain courses, and we’ve all taken some, where the material is so dry and seemingly meaningless that nobody has any particular interest in paying attention, let alone participating. When you’re going over the Myers-Briggs personality test for the fifth time, it can be difficult enough just to drag yourself to class in the morning without also having to pretend that it’s interesting or useful.

If we wanted to discuss amending the curriculum to get rid such classes which are seemingly designed to take up space rather than provide a quality education, that would be a conversation for a different day. For now, it’s enough to say that in a more intimate classroom setting, we at least have the opportunity to engage in more interactive learning that would be denied us in a larger space. It’s not a cliche. And for that reason, it seems exceedingly fair for this UA to categorize TU as perhaps the best school in the history of mankind.

Post Author: Justin Guglielmetti