Big classes, name tents, and anxiety in the classroom
by Cynthia J. Brame, CFT Associate Director
Classes at my institution started last week, which means that my co-teacher and I greeted just over 150 students in our biochemistry class. When I start the semester, I’m always struck by how many students there are, and how a big class like this would not have brought out the best in me. I thrived in the small classes I experienced in college, where I got to know my professors and my colleagues pretty well, and I think that I would have found a class of 150 intimidating and perhaps isolating.
Perhaps partly for that reason, I think a lot about how I can mimic parts of a small class in my biochem class. I want to get to know my students, and I want them to get to know each other. I want them to think of us as a group of colleagues and collaborators with a common goal: developing a love and understanding of some of the basics of biochemistry. The sense of belonging that I’d like my students to develop has been shown to be important for academic achievement and persistence (here and here, for example).
One really basic way to help people feel like they belong in a group is to know and use their names, but when I’m staring at a class of 150, this can feel like a big task. Yes, I create notecards where my students tell me their names (and how to pronounce them), their pronouns, and something about themselves on the first day of class, and I tape their pictures on the cards, and I find these cards extremely valuable—but they’re not so great at helping me learn names. Why? One, I hate flashcards and pretty much refuse to use them, and two, the pictures don’t look like the students sitting in front of me!