November 2019

The Transition from a Large Lecture Hall to a Small Classroom teaser image
My undergraduate degree was in biomedical sciences, and I believe my smallest class was an English class freshman year. It was maybe 30 people. Most of my classes were in the typical lecture hall that could hold anywhere from 100-300 people. I rarely knew the person sitting next to me, and only sometimes did I know somebody in the entire class. If I was lucky, I knew somebody taking the same professor but in a different section time.
I spent most of my time arriving to class 3 minutes before the lecture would begin, sitting in the back, and being quick to leave. I didn’t have to conversate with anyone, and I felt very much so like a little fish in a huge pond. Classes were overwhelming in this sense.
Flash forward to now, and I am in a close-knit graduate program. During my first semester in the program, I had a class that only had 4 people in it!! I had to completely retrain myself to socialize and have a discussion with my peers during class. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t excel in the class. It would be impossible.
So I did. I learned to break back out of my shell and speak up in discussion when appropriate. Sometimes it feels forced, and other times, it’s incredibly natural. It honestly sometimes depends on the day and the mood I am in.
My classes this semester are a bit bigger with ~10 people in the class. However, the same thing still applies. I must participate in class discussion in order to succeed.
 
What have I learned from this transition?
Having a small classroom size makes me more motivated. There is no room to slack off because many times the discussion or even the entire lecture depends on every person reading and/or completing their assignments. For example, we sometimes split entire books up by assigning a single chapter to each person in the room. That person then reads, makes a handout, and teaches the highlights of the chapter to the class. If I slack off, it’s not only my grade that suffers but also the learning and understanding of my classmates.
My classmates bring a great perspective to the discussion. In the large lecture halls, I only had my professor’s perspective. If I wanted a new way to try to understand something, I oftentimes turned to YouTube for guidance. This helped a little bit, but nothing compared to having my classmates.
I have an enjoyable learning environment. I used to dread going to my large classes…and those were only for 50-75 minutes. My classes now are almost 3 hours long, but I barely notice! I am no longer tempted to fall asleep during a lecture or surf the web. Instead, I am engaged, and I genuinely love what I am learning.
 
 My takeaway message is not that large classrooms are bad and small classrooms are good, but instead, my message is that if you feel like you are struggling in one environment or one learning style, switch it up if you have control to do so!!
 Small classrooms transformed my learning experience. 

---Courtney Adams
Courtney Adams is a masters student in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences

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