Friday, April 3

Jacqueline Alvarez: Professors must work to engage students in large lectures

(Charlotte Gautier/Daily Bruin)

Hundreds of sleepy-looking Bruins slouch into their seats. The professor stands behind a podium, though it’s hard to determine whether he’s reading the lecture speech for the first or 50th time. An entire hour has passed since the audience was last prompted for questions, yet the room has collectively sent more than 50 Facebook messages and made four online purchases.

This is a common experience for many students, especially first-year Bruins. At one point or another, undergraduate students have had a class with a mediocre professor who makes the learning experience miserable.

This fall, more than 100,000 students applied for admission to UCLA in hopes of experiencing this so-called top-notch, world-class education. The University of California promised to enroll more than 10,000 students by the 2018-2019 academic year, so class sizes are only going up from here.

The university has already spent over $3 million in renovations, hired more faculty and teacher assistants and added more seating in lecture halls and classrooms as a response to increased enrollment, but these efforts still do not seem to address the ineffective teaching methods of some professors. If the university wants to enroll more students, it must take on the challenge of providing a high-quality learning environment for all of them.

Packing 300 students into a lecture hall is simply not enough. Professors should be equipped with the proper training that allows them to teach effectively and help keep students engaged, despite the large class size.

[Related: UCLA plans to add more discussion sections to match increased enrollment]

Let me be clear: We all know UCLA is a research university, and many professors are hired for their research abilities, not their teaching skills. Certainly, there are outstanding professors, but many spend most of their time conducting research, not preparing for lectures or improving their teaching. As a result, these professors more easily succumb to ineffective teaching methods, such as reading from a podium the entire lecture, refusing to answer questions, displaying lack of enthusiasm for course content and speaking in a monotone voice. And being assigned to teach large lecture halls only exacerbates these professors’ mediocre qualities.

According to a study by the University of Maryland, large classes are detrimental to the learning experience, and the damages are only greater if you add a terrible professor to the mix. Colleges that depended on large lectures with ineffective professors resulted in lower success rates with their students and were considered to be less engaging.

And UCLA is not the exception. For example, Atharva Padhye, a first-year electrical engineering student, stated one of his professors demonstrated little effort to make the class clear enough for everyone to understand. And Jacqueline Garcia, a first-year psychology student, said her professor last quarter did not seem to have a passion for the course material, therefore it made the class boring for most of the students. Her professor also refused to utilize visuals or PowerPoint, making it difficult for students who sat at the back of the class to see the small writing on the whiteboard. Evidently, professors who do the minimal amount of work to deliver information to their students are hindering the quality of education in classrooms.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this issue by providing the proper training for those professors who will be teaching in lecture halls of over 100 students. Undergoing a teaching seminar before each academic year can help professors take the time to learn and understand what teaching methods are most effective in large lecture halls, according to student responses.

Based on what has been previously deemed ineffective, professors should then adopt a more comprehensive teaching style suited for their students’ needs by considering the teacher evaluation forms students submit at the end of each quarter and even taking into account professor reviews on BruinWalk, UCLA’s website for professor and class ratings.

[Column: Enrollment increases are irresponsible, hinder quality of education]

The training could be administered by respective academic departments and cater to the needs of each subject area. Professors who teach large classes could be required to attend and discuss what they believe needs to be changed. Professors who have been highly rated by their students could even mentor those who were not and collaborate on finding new methods to consider.

Small changes such as pacing around the lecture hall while speaking, choosing students to answer questions, implementing more peer-group instruction or even displaying some enthusiasm can instantly help make a classroom a much more engaging environment, one that thousands of dollars of tuition should guarantee.

UCLA is known for being a prestigious university; therefore it has an obligation to live up to that status in the classroom. Similar to how students go through safety training so they can effectively deal with emergencies, professors need to go through some level of teacher training to increase their vitality and enthusiasm in their lectures. This is exactly what will help maintain and even boost UCLA’s reputation in the academic world.


Alumni Director

Alvarez is the Alumni Director and a senior staffer in the Opinion section. She was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2017-2018 school year and previously contributed as an opinion columnist. She writes about topics such as campus life, Westwood and Los Angeles city programs.

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  • DJ

    Meh. Students need to engage themselves.