Tuesday, August 21

Throwback Thursday: Tracing the origin of overcrowded classrooms at UCLA


Discussion sections, now the norm for most lecture-style classes at UCLA, were once a mere novelty. (Daily Bruin archives)

Discussion sections, now the norm for most lecture-style classes at UCLA, were once a mere novelty. (Daily Bruin archives)


Imagine a UCLA lecture hall without a teaching assistant to light the way. Fifty years ago, Bruins didn’t have to imagine it because that was the reality.

In 1967, then-Vice Chancellor Charles Young introduced an expansion of “quiz” sections, known as discussion sections to modern UCLA students. Discussions, usually guided by a teaching assistant, offer an opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned in large lecture halls in a smaller, more intimate classroom setting. In essence, they aim to start a discussion between students about the course material. Of course, whether or not that actually happens tends to differ from classroom to classroom.

The suggestions came after growing student enrollment increases and concerns surrounding UCLA’s quality of education – familiar news to Bruins today.

And if you struggle with finding a seat in your class today, you can trace that problem back to the year 1967: “A professor does a better job, per se, if he lectures to 500 rather than 100 students,” Young said.

At the time, the average class size on the LA campus was 100 students, taught by one professor. Young proposed combining five of these classes and implementing more discussion sections to increase faculty-student interaction, starting with one of UCLA’s oldest and most popular majors: political science.

“I think the professor would feel more justified to spend more time preparing for a larger class,” Young said. “When a class passes the magic number where interaction can occur, you may as well go to the maximum number the room can hold.”

But recent news suggests that large classes are detrimental to the learning experience, and today’s Bruins would argue the same about their large lectures.

With the then-new technology of color television, Young had also emphasized the importance of incorporating audio-visual materials like movie and television clips for the larger lecture sessions. Today’s common lecture experience takes after this.

This year, UCLA received the most submitted applications – over 100,000 – of any university in the nation. Over the next five years, the University of California plans to increase resident student enrollment by 10,000.

But this isn’t the first time the campus has had to adapt in order to contend with a dramatic increase in student enrollment.

Today, most students can expect to sign up for both lectures and a discussion section when they add a class to their schedule, unless otherwise noted on the class registrar. And be sure to speak up and participate in your next discussion. It’s what Young would have wanted.

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Jasmine Aquino was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2016-2017 year. Previously, she was an Opinion and News contributor.


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