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Approach to Teaching Large Classes:
Know your classroom

To effectively teach a class, especially a large class, it is crucial for you to know your classroom. That way, you will be able to take advantage of features that the room can offer – theater-style seating that can help foster discussion, for example, or a multimedia projection system that allows you to show videos or PowerPoint presentations. Advance knowledge also can help you address or overcome a room’s shortcomings, such as glare from sunlight shining through a window or the difficulty students in the back row may have seeing the blackboard. Most importantly, familiarity with the classroom gives you a psychological edge: It conveys a sense of authority; it shows students that you are in control; and it reflects the value you place on preparation and a productive work environment. In short, knowing your classroom can set the tone for the course, particularly on the first day.

Before your class meets for the first time, visit the classroom. At VCU, most large lecture rooms are maintained by VCU’s Media Support Services (828-1098). Contact Media Support Services to visit such rooms. To visit other rooms, contact your department or the manager of the building in which the room is located.

During the initial visit, find out whether you need a key to the room or to certain fixtures in the room. For instance, in the School of Business Building, instructors need a key to the cabinet that houses the lectern computer’s CPU; without the key, you cannot turn on the machine or attach a flash drive to the computer. The key is available from the School of Business’ administrative offices.

In visiting the classroom before the first meeting, take note of the physical layout:

  • How the seats are arranged; where the instructor’s area is located;
  • Where the light switches and chalkboards or whiteboards are placed.
  • You might factor these details into your teaching style and presentation.
  • Can you walk around the room a la Oprah Winfrey?
  • How can you promote student collaboration?
  • Can the classroom easily accommodate a student who uses a wheelchair?
  • Determine how large your writing must be on the board in the front of the room in order to be easily read from the back of the room.
  • And, of course, see if there will be enough seats for the number of students enrolled in the course.

Many VCU classrooms are equipped with overhead projectors, televisions, VCR players, data and video projectors, computer network connections and centralized remote control systems. Large classrooms often have microphones and speakers as well. VCU’s Media Support Services unit maintains the equipment located in general-purpose classrooms (those made available for use by all departments). Classrooms that are used exclusively by one department are serviced by that department.

A master list of rooms maintained by Media Support Services can be viewed at http://ts.vcu.edu/kb/1293.html

The above Web page provides room-by-room descriptions of equipment for buildings on the Monroe Park and Medical College of Virginia campuses. Many of those buildings have “smart classrooms” that can present multimedia through a centralized remote control system. In most cases, the podium has a computer connected to VCUNet and the World Wide Web and includes a VCR player and a DVD player. All instructional media can be projected on a motorized screen at the front of the room.

From the Media Support Services Web site, you can download and print out the instructions for operating the equipment in the “smart classrooms.” A copy of the instructions also is mounted on each podium. It is critical to get a copy of the instructions for your room before your class meets the first time.

Before the first class meeting:

  • You should take an inventory of the equipment in your classroom.
  • Find out whether the room has receivers for the Classroom Performance System.
  • If the equipment you need is not present, you might request it from the building’s manager or Media Support Services.
  • The room’s technological capabilities will help you plan how to deliver information beyond a traditional lecture.
  • If the classroom has a multimedia projection system, for instance, you can:
    • Present a slide show from your computer – with text and illustrations outlining key points.
    • Embed in the slide show questions to which students can respond using their CPS clickers.
    • Show software applications, Internet sites, Blackboard content or online readings via the lectern computer.
    • Show and discuss videos from VCR tapes or DVDs.
  • Equipment
    • Projection System
      • Find out how to lower and raise the screen
      • How to adjust the lighting in the classroom so that students can see your slides or videos and take notes.
      • The lighting controls can take time to master: Some rooms have sophisticated systems and determining the optimal settings can be a challenge.
      • Another factor is glare from sunlight streaming through the classroom’s windows.
      • If this makes it difficult to see the board or the screen, make it a habit to adjust the blinds before each class meeting.
    • Volume
      • The lectern may have different volume controls for the audio from the microphone, the audio from the computer and the audio from a VCR tape.
      • Experiment with various audio inputs and settings, and ensure that the sound can be heard in far reaches of the room.
      • You might consider whether a wireless microphone would be helpful in your course. (You can check out such devices from Media Support Services.)
    • Lectern Computer
      • Spend time getting familiar with the lectern computer:
      • Does it have an Internet connection?
      • What kind of software does it have?
      • Does it have the necessary browser plug-ins for audio and video files?
      • Does the computer have CD and DVD drives?
      • How can you transfer to the machine files that you need for class? (USB ports are not always obvious – so you must note their location ahead of time.)
    • Software
      • If the lectern computer lacks software you need, contact Media Support Services for information about how it can be installed.
      • In many lecture halls, the instructor can install a particular program on the spot; however, when the computer is restarted, the newly installed software disappears.
      • Media Support Services can help if you want a certain program permanently installed on a computer.
    • Technological Glitches
      • It’s important to have a backup plan in the event of technological glitches.
      • For example, if the computer does not recognize your flash drive, consider other possibilities:
        • From your office, you could park the files you need on Blackboard, and then from the classroom, download them to the lectern computer.
        • Or see whether the lectern computer has a drive for a Zip disk (although VCU no longer supports that media format).
      • In addition, see how to attach peripheral devices to the lectern computer.
      • You might want to use a wireless mouse (which requires attaching a receiver to a USB port), so that you can advance from one slide to another without standing at the lectern.
      • Also determine how to connect a laptop computer to the projection system and how to get the system to project the laptop computer instead of the lectern computer.
      • This will give you a backup system to the lectern computer or help you accommodate guest speakers who have their presentation on a laptop.
  • Environmental Characteristics
    • Clock
      • See where the clock is in the classroom: It may be on the wall, built into the lectern or both.
      • This may be important in helping you time your teaching presentation.
      • Sometimes the clocks need to be adjusted so that students are not tempted to begin packing up to leave early.
    • Ventilation
      • Before class meets for the first time, and continually throughout the semester, make sure that the classroom is adequately ventilated;
      • That it is clean
      • And that it is not too hot or too cold. If there are problems,
      • Consult the building manager or VCU Facilities Management at 828-9444.
    • Wireless Connection
      • Besides considering how you can take advantage of the classroom, consider how students might take advantage of it – in ways both good and bad.
      • If the room has wireless connection students who bring their laptop computers to class might be tempted to surf the Internet or read their e-mail during your class.
      • You might want to address that situation in your syllabus – or see if you can turn off the wireless router when you are teaching.
      • On the other hand, perhaps you can design exercises in which students with laptops are strategically located throughout the room and work on Internet-related activities with students seated nearby.
      • Likewise, some classrooms have an electrical outlet at each seat for students with laptops to use.

Each classroom should have a sign with phone numbers to call to report problems. The number for AV equipment problems is 828-1098; for computer problems, 828-2227; and for problems involving facilities, 828-9444. Know where this sign is, so that you can call in case a bulb burns out or you have other problems.

To become thoroughly familiar with your classroom, it will take more than one visit. Indeed, you should constantly monitor the room, its environmental characteristics and its technological capabilities. Talk to other instructors about the room; see how they use it, and what problems they may have encountered. Moreover, to avoid unpleasant surprises, you should test new presentation techniques in the room before “going live” during class. This might mean getting to the classroom early and making sure that certain equipment or software works. Or you can visit the classroom at another time when it is not being used and experiment without pressure. You can find out when your classroom is not in use from the SIS-Plus system (screen 1C7) or by contacting Laura Longmire in Records & Registration. Her e-mail address is lblongmire@vcu.edu, and her phone number is 828-1868. If you want to change classrooms early in the semester or for the following semester, contact Ms. Longmire. (However, because of limited space on campus, it often is impossible to switch classrooms during the semester.)

Key contact information for this section


Unit or person

Contact information

When to use this resource

Media Support Services

828-1098
http://ts.vcu.edu/kb/1273.html

Arrange to visit general-purpose classrooms; check out equipment, including wireless microphones; report problems with audio-visual equipment.

List and description of classrooms maintained by Media Support Services

http://ts.vcu.edu/kb/1293.html

Take a virtual tour of the classroom; download or print out instructions for operating classroom technology and other equipment.

VCU Facilities Management

828-9444

Report problems involving heating, cooling, ventilation or cleanliness.

Academic Technology

828-2227

Report problems with classroom computers.

Center for Teaching Excellence

828-4470
cte@vcu.edu

Seek advice on teaching and using technology.

Laura Longmire,
Records & Registration

828-1868
lblongmire@vcu.edu

Find out when a classroom is not in use; ask for a change in classroom assignments.

 
 
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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