December 7, 2001

Faculty Share Ideas About Managing Large Lectures

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A faculty forum scheduled for Monday is designed to enhance the effectiveness of learning in large classes and improve the experience of the individual student as well as the professor.

Entitled “University Faculty Forum for Faculty Who Teach Large Courses,” the event will address issues such as fostering learning, managing logistics and facilitating faculty support in large classes. Co-sponsored by the offices of the University Faculty and Provost, it will be open to all Cornell faculty members and will take place at North Campus Community Commons from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

As the latest in an ongoing series of faculty forums initiated three years ago, the upcoming program is designed to encourage faculty-wide interaction and discussion concerning the successful execution of large classes. After opening remarks by J. Robert Cooke, dean of the University faculty, and Patsy Brannon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology, an open forum will be led by Cornell’s Weiss Presidential Fellows in which faculty members will share experiences and concerns regarding teaching large classes.


In addition to the entire faculty, invitations have also been extended to University Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin and all of the University’s deans.

“It’s part of an ongoing effort to enhance the learning environment and give faculty members a chance to share ideas and talk to each other,” said Brannon, the event’s principal organizer. “We want to find out what works and what doesn’t work in teaching large classes.”


According to Cooke, a study of Fall 1993 lecture courses showed that only 236 of the more than 3,000 lectures courses at Cornell teach half of all lecture course enrollments. Although large lectures have long been a necessity due to Cornell’s size and the presence of numerous core requirements, Cooke believes that many issues concerning the teaching and administration of these courses have yet to be addressed appropriately.

A segment of the program will deal with the logistics of large classes, including issues such as grading, academic integrity, make-up exams and Teaching Assistant (TA) training.

“Having a large group of TA’s is almost like teaching another course,” said Cooke. “There are issues particular to managing large courses that are rarely discussed.”

Ongoing Efforts

The forum also constitutes part of an ongoing effort to recognize and commend those faculty members who exhibit exemplary teaching skills. In addition to the Weiss Presidential Fellows, administrators also extended a

special invitation to faculty members cited for their exemplary teaching of large classes.

Cooke acknowledges that in the university’s research oriented atmosphere, recognition of outstanding teaching is often lacking. The program concludes with an optional breakout discussion entitled “Balancing your teaching and research” to be co-facilitated by faculty and administrators.

“We want to have the entire community appreciate what these outstanding teachers are doing,” said Cooke. “Some of these classes are big just because people find them interesting. These professors have special talents that should be shared with the rest of the faculty.”

Cooke cites a technique used by Prof. James Maas, psychology, in which each lecture session is initiated with a puzzle designed to engage the students in critical thought. At over 1,600 students, Maas’ Psychology 101 is Cornell’s largest lecture.


Other initiatives designed to increase the visibility of Cornell’s outstanding faculty members are in the process, including the installation of special nameplates outside the doors of Weiss Presidential Fellows. Since the Weiss award is normally presented before a limited audience of Cornell Trustees, the administration is taking steps to make the recognition discernible to the entire community.

According to Cooke, a disproportionate number of large courses are taught by Weiss Presidential Fellows.

“We must insist that suitable financial support be provided for these courses to succeed,” said Cooke. “We must also provide them with a supportive environment. This Forum is intended to encourage such a supportive environment by facilitating a conversation among themselves.”

Previous faculty forums have addressed issues such as long-distance learning, the 1969 experience at Cornell and the use of technology in supporting courses. Unlike the sparsely attended mandatory faculty meetings that were held in the past, prior forums attracted as many as 500 members.


The forums are designed to engage faculty members on specific issues and foster the candid and open exchange of ideas. In contrast to the programs of previous years, the upcoming forum will be built entirely around conversation.

“It’s easy to let the quality of teaching slip in a situation in which it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves,” said Cooke. “This is a good opportunity to recognize those who are doing a good job and teach others their methods in the process.”

Archived article by Jason Leff