Center for Teaching and Learning


Center for Teaching and Learning

September-October 2019

Message from the Director

The Center for Teaching and Learning is giving special emphasis to large, introductory classes this academic year.  This includes a special task force and our major spring workshop devoted to the challenges of these courses and creative solutions; in addition, there will be regular workshops and speakers on the subject.  The importance of the introductory course is perhaps unparalleled in the curriculum.  Success in the first courses for students plays a critical role in retention and ultimately graduation, especially for underrepresented groups.  Student experiences in introductory courses also help determine choice of majors, whether these are decisions to change or retain a given major because of good or bad experiences therein.  For majors, introductory courses provide the foundational knowledge and skills for upper-level courses and associated careers.  Introductory courses are also important for non-majors in that these might be the only courses in the area that students take and therefore will shape their understandings of critical matters throughout their lives.  Accordingly, many recommend that schools place their best instructors in introductory courses.

Upcoming Events—check your email for invitations & RSVP links
W 10/16  Innovative Teaching Practices in STEM courses, with Dr. Kate York and Dr. Stephanie Taylor
T 10/22   The Role of Faculty in Promoting Transfer Student Success,” with Dr. J.D. Thomas, Orbit Director
TH 10/31 Why Students Resist Learning, with Dr. Anton Tolman, Professor of Behavioral Sciences, Utah Valley University
W 11/6    What Students Do Know Can Hurt Them:  Evidence on Providing Study Guides and Slides, with Dr. Karen Huxtable
T 11/12   Understanding Challenges Faced by International Students, with Leticia Zamarripa, Director of Global Engagement, and Josephine Vitta, Director of Immigration Services
W 11/20  Faculty workshop on Writing a Teaching Philosophy, with Dr. Paul Diehl

Teaching Tip

Universities don’t brag about how large their classes are, but with conscientious design and implementation, an excellent instructor will still be excellent regardless of class size, and students will still learn.  Many of the challenges of teaching large classes can also be opportunities.  For example:

  1. Large classes can make students feel lost and anonymous.  Promote a sense of belonging by organizing students into small learning groups.  Groups can work together on a problem or discussion for a single session or a longer project.  Use the photo roster to learn students’ names, and spend a few minutes before each class begins to call out a few names and test yourself.  Students will appreciate your effort and will respect you for learning correct pronunciation as well.
  2. Large classes don’t have to be lecture-driven.  Integrating active learning, classroom response technology (such as clickers or polling software), and peer instruction can be effective.  
  3. Early, frequent low-stakes assessment can help both instructor and students identify how well students are learning.  Instead of extra, optional tutoring outside of class, which is sometimes out of reach for students who need it most, integrate remedial activities into the course design.  Give students extra chances to redo a specified number of assignments or exams, for example.     
For more on this topic, see 
Mulryan-Kyne, C.  (2010).  Teaching large classes at college and university level:  Challenges and opportunities.  Teaching in Higher Education, 15(2), 175-185.
Singer-Freeman, K., & Bastone, L.  (2016).  Pedagogical choices make large classes feel small (NILOA Occasional Paper No. 27). Urbana, IL:  University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Research into Practice
Morales (2012) conducted a qualitative analysis of students’ experiences in liberal arts courses.  Participants were 20 first-generation students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.  Morales identified three key themes that we can see in many introductory courses and throughout the experience of higher education:
  1. Legitimizing the private by making it public:  Especially in literature courses, but certainly with other learning experiences as well, students can be exposed to perspectives of others that validate their own experiences.  Marginalized students, in particular, may come to realize that they are not alone in feeling embarrassed or confused as they encounter common challenges in adjusting to campus life and new disciplines.  
  2. Contributing academic accuracy to pre-existing knowledge:  Students develop knowledge and understanding of their histories and their worlds.  Learning to think in the method of their discipline (e.g., as a historian or scientist) empowers students who can now feel freed from erroneous beliefs and belief systems around contexts and events important to them.  Profound intellectual excitement accompanies the emotional and cognitive liberation of seeing the world through new eyes.  
  3. Validating dissent:  Students in our introductory, as well as advanced, courses have the opportunity to develop ideological autonomy.  Many adolescents learn simply that knowledge is dispensed by authority figures, but with higher education can come to realize they can question this knowledge, and even participate in creating new knowledge.  For some, this may be the first time they’ve been asked or allowed to question prior norms, thoughts, and values.
Instructors can nurture development of these realizations by pointing out connections between course material and students’ own experiences, and by asking students to do so.  It also helps to directly address common myths and misconceptions in your field.  
Morales, E. E.  (2012).  Learning as liberation:  How liberal arts education transforms first-generation low socio-economic college students.  Journal of College Student Retention, 13(4), 499-518.

What the Students Say

  As noted in the Director’s message, introductory courses have an important impact on students.  Nevertheless, students do not always have the proper attitudes or behaviors when beginning these classes.  Introductory courses are disproportionately populated with students new to UTD, whether they are freshmen, transfer students, or adult learners returning to school.  Accordingly, they often have not adjusted to the rigors of this university and might struggle, but not know why.  In addition, students expect any introductory course to be easy, and thus students are not ready for the rigors of a new way of thinking.  Furthermore, if the course fulfills core curriculum or general education requirements, a large percentage of the class will be non-majors and therefore have less motivation to be there or to be passionate about the subject matter.  These are hurdles about which instructors need to be aware in planning courses and assignments.

CTL Staff

Dr. Paul F. Diehl, Director

Dr. Karen Huxtable, Associate Director

Dr. Carol Cirulli-Lanham, Assistant Director

Dr. Salena Brody, Assistant Director

Beverly Reed, Administrative Assistant II

Center for Teaching and Learning

800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson, Texas 75080-3021

[email protected]


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