large courses

Professor Jeff RingenbergFollow this link to a short video describing these teaching strategies.

Jeff Ringenberg, School of Engineering, teaches Engineering 101 which has 675 students and an instructional team of approximately 25 GSIs, graders, etc. Due to the scale of the course, Ringenberg has employed a variety of Google Apps efficiently manage this large number of students and instructors.

ENGIN101 uses Google Docs to (1) create and update course policies for the instructional team, and (2) create and edit instructions for student projects and labs. The ability to collaborate asynchronously on the same document has been a particularly useful feature so GSIs can create the instructions, but Ringenberg can give feedback.

ENGIN101 uses Google Spreadsheets to track grading. Multiple users can edit the spreadsheet simultaneously, which minimizes the time and file management required for data entry. The spreadsheet for this courses has multiple tabs, one for each assignment, which are referenced by the master gradesheet to calculate the students' final grades. In addition, Ringenberg has written numerous formulas that allow for question-by-question analysis of students' performance on assignments. Read more »


Professor Robin QueenFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy. 

Robin Queen, Linguistics, lectures to about 150 students in a 300-level linguistics and anthropology course on language and social conflict. To increase student interactions with peers and internet content related to the course, she instituted a blog for each discussion section of 25 students. Queen and her graduate student instructors provided a weekly discussion prompt and seeded blogs with initial posts, to model ways of meeting the desired criteria. Students were randomly assigned two dates when they had to post. Students could either use the prompt to frame their post, or they could post on a topic of their choosing. To earn a “B” grade for blogging, students also had to comment on peers’ posts twice a week. More extensive weekly commenting could earn an “A.”

GSIs monitored and graded blog posts and comments based on content, instead of assigning conventional essays. Queen’s GSIs reported that the effort of grading blogs was comparable to grading conventional essays, but that the degree of student interaction and exchange increased dramatically. GSIs also used blog discussion threads as primers for their weekly discussion section activities.


Professor Trisha WittkoppHere is a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Trisha Wittkopp,  Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, teaches genetics to hundreds of students in a large lecture. She uses personal response systems (clickers) to increase interactivity, assess student learning, and address student confusion during class. Nevertheless, between classes, questions remain, and many students have similar questions.

To avoid responding individually to each student, Wittkopp employs Piazza, a discussion forum designed to crowdsource answers to students’ questions. Instead of sending individual e-mails, students post their questions on Piazza, where they can be answered by one of their peers, a graduate student instructor (GSI), or Wittkopp herself. This reduces the number of redundant questions and shortens response time. Students collaboratively edit answers to questions as they would on a wiki, eliminating the need to read through long, threaded discussions or chat transcripts to find the correct answer. Read more »


Thad Polk, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology, offers practical advice for promoting student engagement in a large gateway courses. He also discusses research findings on student learning that have led him to adopt these innovative teaching strategies.

A summary of the main points (.pdf)