Allen Lok Fun Luen

Posted date: Tue Jul 05 08:00:00 SGT 2016 Tue Jul 05 08:00:00 SGT 2016

Classroom Management and Instructional Delivery for Large Groups - An Overview of Strategies in Institutes of Higher Learning

This article outlines some of the methods that are useful in overcoming the challenges in teaching large classes. These methods include using simple teaching and a variety of information technologies to enhance the learning environment. 
Large classes are most often taught by an instructor lecturing to a sizeable group of students, creating a situation that can sometimes be ineffective, inefficient and unfulfilling for both students and instructors.
An article in (Aagard, Bowen & Olesova, 2010) a journal dedicated to exploring how technology can best be implemented in the classroom, explained how the major problems with large class teaching have remained the same for decades.
  • Large space - Lectures usually take place in a large room/lecture theatre, and interaction does not feel personal because the instructor is so far away. Tight rows also make group discussions rather difficult.
  • Isolation - Lectures are usually full of people, perhaps with many strangers around, creating a sense for students that what they say and do doesn’t really matter, leading them to care less about seemingly small distractions (i.e. like talking to a neighbour, reading a newspaper/magazine or texting/playing games on the phone), and creating an inhibition about participating in front of a large audience.
  • Group size - The sheer number of students makes discussion during a regular lecture that includes everyone (or everyone willing to chime in) almost near to impossible.
  • Sage on the stage - The instructor appears impersonal, remote and inaccessible. The communication gap between the students and the instructor feels (and may be) very real.
  • Theatre setting - A seating arrangement that feels more like a theatre than a class induces student passivity
The main objectives for instructors teaching large classes are to make the class seem smaller than it is, encourage students to participate, and make themselves accessible to the students. Basically, instructors must transform what is naturally a passive learning environment, where the instructors lecture at the students, into a place where students can practice active learning and become individually engaged in the class (Allen & Tanner, 2005).
In large classes it is important to cultivate student-instructor interaction so as to create an environment where the instructors are accessible and students also feel comfortable communicating with them. It is vital for the instructor to appear approachable in large classes. Build rapport with the students, and recognise the individuality of each student. Move among the students when conducting lectures in a large lecture theatre. Increase student access to instructor by getting to class early to listen to their questions, comments or even complaints.
Below are some of the key findings on strategies that some universities had adopted for teaching large classes. The University of California-Berkeley provides a set of guidelines for instructors on how to organise for large classes (Gross Davis, 1993):
  • Decide what content to cover and set broad goals well in advance. Make sure to make estimates for how long it will take to cover the lecture material and then increase estimates by 50 percent to allow for students to ask questions.
  • Organise the topics in a sequence that makes sense both to the instructor and the students.
  • Describe how the course is organised in the syllabus.
  • Prepare different types of lectures to suit the course content and keep the students interested. For example, one day conduct a simple expository lecture that describes a topic with hierarchical minor and major points and the next day provide a case study lecture that uses real-life cases to examine specific topics.
  • Create a clear syllabus with both the course structure and the expectations of the students.
The George Washington University’s Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning recommended some basic ways to facilitate student-faculty interactions:
  • Spend some time at the end of the class talking to students. Maybe even end class a few minutes early so that there is enough time for students to come and ask individual questions.
  • Make an effort to call students by their names. Because it can be difficult to remember the names of everybody in a large class. Consider having students place cards with their names on their desks.
  • Walk around during class to make the students feel more connected.
  • Have the students fill out a “student profile” on the first day detailing their personal interests.
  • Frequently remind students that they are always more than welcome to come to meet instructors during office hours.
Technologies can be used to provide visual aids and make lectures more interesting and engaging. PowerPoint presentations are one of the most well-established ways that instructors can use technology to make lectures more interesting. With PowerPoint, instructors can complement their lectures with images and highlighting text of key concepts that students should record.
However, instructors should avoid the danger of relying too heavily on PowerPoint presentations by making sure to incorporate a variety of different visual tools. If used intermittently, videos, overheads, slideshows and computer images can help to break up a monotonous lecture and keep students’ attention.
One of the most common technologies currently being used in large classes is an Audience Response System. Audience response systems include any number of hand-held devices that allow students to respond and interact with the instructor. One of the most common types of these devices is the “Clicker”, a small hand-held device that looks like a remote control manufactured by a number of companies, including eInstruction, iClicker, and Turning Technologies.
Clickers generally include a ten-digit numeric keypad and also some additional keys (e.g. “yes” and “no” buttons), allowing students to enter a variety of simple responses to questions. Clickers have been used in a wide variety of subjects ranging from mathematics and biology to philosophy and psychology (Caldwell, 2007).
Ohio State University’s Learning Technology site has suggested some common ways for using Clickers:
  • Facilitate Class Discussion - Facilitate discussion by polling students’ opinions and discussing the reasons for their opinions.
  • Guide Lectures - Collect immediate feedback about students’ understanding of lecture topics so confusion can be addressed quickly.
  • Encourage Peer Instruction - Allow students to share, discuss, and change their opinions before answering a question.
  • Collect Data and Perform Formative Assessment - Collect data on course topics or learning preferences throughout the cycle of a course.
  • Offer Quizzes - Decrease grading time by using clickers to collect student answers to quizzes.
  • Take Attendance - Record attendance in large lecture classes.
Teaching large classes can be a very challenging task. However, by using suitable teaching strategies with the support of educational technologies, instructors can ensure that they provide an effective and engaging learning environment to their students. With appropriate effort the large class can indeed be an effective teaching and learning environment.


  1. Aagard, H., Bowen,K., and Olesova, L (2010). Hotseat: Opening the Backchannel in Large Lectures. Educause Quarterly, 33, p.3.
  2. Allen, D. and Tanner, K (2005). Infusing Active Learning into the Large-enrollment Biology Class: Seven Strategies, from the Simple to Complex. Cell Biology Education 4(4), p.262.
  3. Caldwell, J. (2007). Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best- Practice Tips. CBE Life Sciences Education, 6:1, pp.9-20
  4. George Washington University, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (n.d). Teaching Large Undergraduate Classes: A Guide for Faculty and Teaching Assistants [online]. Available from: <http://citl.gwu.edu/pdf/LargeClasses.pdf>. [Accessed 04 May 2014]
  5. Gross Davis, B (1993). Tools for Teaching, San Francisco: Jossey- Bass Publishers
  6. University of Maryland (n.d). Large Classes: A Teaching Guide [online]. Available from: <http://www.cte.umd.edu/library/ teachingLargeClass/guide/preface.html>. [Accessed 04 May 2014]
  7. University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Center for Teaching (2000). A Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes [online]. Available from: <http://teaching.uncc.edu/resources/ best-practice-articles/large-classes/handbooklarge- classes>. [Accessed 04 May 2014]
  8. The Ohio State University, Learning Technology (n.d). Clickers [online]. Available from: <http://lt.osu.edu/resourcesclickers/>. [Accessed 04 May 2014].
  9. The Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College (2010). Classroom Response Systems: Major Manufacturers [online]. Available from: <http://serc.carleton.edu/econ/classresponse/manufacturers.html>. [Accessed 04 May 2014]

Article contributor: Allen Lok

Allen Lok received the Teaching Merit Award in the Faculty Appreciation Dinner 2014 and 2016. He currently teaches information systems and quality management in the RMIT programmes.

Category: Literature review