large courses

Large courses present some distinct challenges to teachers and students. How, for example, can hundreds of students practice challenging concepts simultaneously? And how can instructors in large courses gain insights about the learning of all of their many students? 

CRLT has sponsored several faculty learning communities focused on effective strategies for teaching in large courses. Faculty members learn together about pedagogical tools and technologies that facilitate student learning and then develop concrete applications for them in their specific courses. In this 6-minute video, one participant, psychology professor Pamela Davis-Kean, highlights her use of Google Forms to provide students practice with key skills and difficult concepts in an upper-level course of 150 students. She recommends it as a flexible, easy-to-learn technology that can enhance student interaction and engagement in a large course setting.

For more details about Davis-Kean's use of Google Forms, see this page. You can find more examples of U-M instructors creatively using online tools to enhance student collaboration and learning in our searchable list. And you can click on the "large course" tab below for more examples and resources specifically related to such classes. Read more »


Professor Pamela Davis-Kean, Associate Professor of Psychology, discusses her use of Google Forms to clarify difficult concepts in her Social Development course (Psych 353), a 150-student course for upper-level psychology majors.  In class, Professor Davis-Kean used Google Forms to engage students in the actual work of developmental psychologists.  For example, she had students practice coding videos of parent-child interactions, submitting their initial codes anonymously via Google Forms. Using the results from this coding activity, Professor Davis-Kean was able to engage the students in a more nuanced discussion of interrater reliability.  

Through this use of Google Forms, Professor Davis-Kean found she could interact with a larger percentage of her students and better gauge their understanding of difficult concepts in class.  Having successfully incorporated Google Forms into Psych 353, Professor Davis-Kean is now exploring other ways this technology can be incorporated into her teaching, even in her smaller courses. She recommends it to others as a technology that assists students' learning rather than distracts from it, that is easy for both faculty and students to use, and that can be easily incorporated into an instructor’s existing lectures.

Brief Description: 

Personal response system (PRS), Classroom Performance System (CPS), and Audience Response System (ARS) refer to technology tools that provide a way for students to interact with the instructor during instruction. Through small remote devices ("clickers") or through laptops, tablet devices and/or smart phones accesssing online tools, instructors can poll their students, ensure key points are understood, give low-stakes quizzes to assess student learning, and receive immediate classroom feedback on teaching.

Tips for Using Personal Response Systems (PRS)

  • Examine your own teaching style and establish clear goals for using a PRS in the class.
  • Know how the PRS works before bringing it into the classroom. If you are not well prepared technologically or pedagogically for using a PRS, it is recommended that you postpone using it until you are ready.
  • Explain to students why a PRS is being used in the course and clarify how the PRS can help students achieve the learning objective(s). Be sure to use the PRS regularly and consistently.
  • Clearly articulate your expectations of students and also establish rules and student responsibilities (e.g., it is the students' responsibility to bring clickers or other device to lecture every time).
  • Develop a pool of thoughtful and effective questions for each lecture. Questions that ask for conceptual thinking in technical courses or critical thinking in any class are particularly effective.
  • Use a PRS in conjunction with teaching strategies such as "Peer Instruction" and "Think-Pair-Share" to improve students' conceptual understanding of the content, as well as their critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

students working at a computerThere's no question that students' writing improves most when they have frequent opportunities for practice and feedback. But instructors sometimes struggle to find ways to provide those opportunities, especially in large courses. One method that many U-M instructors use to good effect is structured peer review. These three faculty members--featured in CRLT's recent Occasional Paper about Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs)--have made creative use of OCTs to facilitate collaborative writing as well as timely, frequent, low-stakes peer feedback: Read more »


CRLT recently published an Occasional Paper by Assistant Director Chad Hershock and U-M Associate Professor of Political Science Mika LaVaque-Manty detailing a range of innovative ways U-M faculty are teaching with Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs). In the coming weeks, we will highlight sections of this paper on our blog, starting this week with ideas from two Thurnau Professors about ways to promote student engagement and participation in large courses. Follow this link to the full paper, including recommendations for implementing OCTs effectively and efficiently in teaching.

Although students can easily become passive learners in a traditional lecture setting, with the right approach lectures can be a very effective way to disseminate content efficiently to large numbers of students, to present cutting-edge material not available elsewhere, and to model expert thinking. Here are two examples of U-M instructors who have used OCTs in large courses to increase student interactions and engagement.  Read more »