Smaller classes making big difference for freshmen

imageThe idea of emphasizing smaller classes for freshmen is to make a larger impact on learning. So far, the results of an expanded effort to that effect on campus are promising.

Starting this fall, the college included all freshmen in the FirstChoice experience of at least one class with enrollment capped at 19 students. It fulfills an Engagement 2000 strategy to “provide a first-year academic experience for all new students” to create a learner-centered academic culture.

Better interaction is a common theme cited by the budding journalism majors in a “History of American Journalism” class taught by Linda Loomis.

“I think it’s a better environment because she doesn’t only lecture to us, she asks our opinion,” said Gloriel Smith of Rochester. “We feel like we get to know each student by heart and make new friends.”

Lynn Collier of Chittenango concurred. “I definitely feel closer to the people in this class, which makes for a better learning environment,” she said. “I feel like I have additional closeness to the professor, which helps me learn.”

Dan Kruse of North Salem also noted the increase in individual attention. “It’s a lot easier to get help from the teacher,” he said. “She knows you and can help you more specifically. You can find out more what you as a person need to work on.”

Michael Benjamin from Sidney appreciated the opportunity to work in a more interactive setting. “We just did a project here in groups of four, working together in and outside of class,” he said. “We’re about to do a PowerPoint presentation. That’s definitely something I’ve never done in a lecture hall.”

In Gwen Kay’s preceptor class, “The American Experience: 1920s,” freshman found the smaller class size allowing for opportunities for learning to come alive, such as exploring fads and fashions from the era or discussing topics of the day.

“It gives us firsthand experience of what the 1920s were like,” said Greg Zak of Hampton Bays. “With the smaller classes, it’s better.”

Tyler Branch of Saranac Lake has found that the class offers better group interaction. “It gives a chance for everyone to be heard,” he said.

Allie Chervin, a childhood education major from West Babylon, agreed: “Everyone has the chance to get involved and participate.”

The smaller class also means that students have to be responsible, said Kristin Benoodt, a journalism major from Rochester, “It’s one class where it’s hard to get away with stuff you may be able to in a large lecture hall,” she said. “You have to do the work. You can’t just walk in.”

From a teaching perspective, Kay finds the smaller classes rewarding. “With 19 students, I can assign each person a piece of the Leopold-Loeb case, from evidence to newspaper accounts to court testimony, and we can piece together what happened. We can engage in debate — prosecution versus defense — about the issues in the Scopes trial,” she said. “A class significantly larger would make these and other activities logistically impossible, and impractical.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Roaring ‘20s—Freshmen in Gwen Kay’s “The American Experience: 1920s” class demonstrate some of the fads of the decade in a recent session.

(Posted: Dec 01, 2004)