Making Lemonade:
Exploring the Bright Side of Large Classes
Steve Wolfman
UW CS&E Educational Technology Group
Course Description
• CSE142: Intro to Programming I
– 400 students total (final)
– two parallel sections
– service + feeder course
• Spring ’01 reviews top 10% in eng
(including small/advanced classes)
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Making Lemonade:
Exploring the Bright Side of Large Classes
Steve Wolfman
can Educational
Groupin herds,
Men… go mad
in a large class
while they only recover
you can do better
their senses slowly,
in a small one.
and one by one.
– Phil Wankat
– Charles McKay
(attributed by Richard Felder)
Key Points:
What you will walk away believing
• Large classes have valuable properties.
• Instructors and students can turn these
properties to pedagogical advantage.
• Corollary: SIGCSE should explore ways to
exploit these properties.
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Raw material
Large classes are big, and so…
• they are diverse.
– wide range of ideas and backgrounds
– upper tails
• they have substantial staff resources.
– amortized effort
– staff diversity
• they engender a crowd atmosphere.
– the “madness of the crowds”
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
“Large classes are big”
can be an advantage
Human algorithms: binary tree simulation
– scale of the class is intuitively “big” to students
– result shows a property of binary trees
– active, sensing, inductive (Felder)
– sensio-motor learning experience (Piaget)
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Diversity can be an advantage
Class discussions: “Let’s Make a Deal”
– diversity of
• …opinion  (positive) conflict
• …background  different reasoning strategies
– result:
• meta-cognition (on reasoning process)
• reflection on what makes a “faithful” simulation
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
The “Upper Tails”
can be an advantage
The “upper tails” are the set of students that
greatly exceed the mean for some
These students can improve the whole class
– “early adopters”: refine assignments
– vocal students: spark discussion
– top students: inspire others
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Amortized staff resources
can be an advantage
Homework infrastructure
Shared section materials
Open labs
The “CSE142 Library”
Study sessions
Debugger tutorial
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
The “madness of the crowds”
can be an advantage
• The first day hand-raising [Klionsky]
(or song or shout…)
• Game shows
– Let’s make a deal problem
– Towers of Hanoi
– Money in envelopes
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Methods to use these advantages
Informing students
Individualized work (or extra credit [Roberts])
Public opportunities to share work [Roberts]
Group action to overcome habits [Klionsky]
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
We have a responsibility to explore
the bright side of large classes
Large class sizes are a fact for at least the
near future in introductory CS courses.
“Lemonade” techniques have potential to
enhance learning in large classes.
, the CS education community has a
responsibility to explore these techniques.
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Key points not in this talk
• Individual innovative techniques
Many techniques in this talk are not
• Statistically significant measures
Mea culpa: let’s test them now!
• How much better are small classes?
Not relevant once you’re already slated to
teach a large class.
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Codify and evaluate a positive pedagogy of
large courses — through design of
classroom techniques — that will
complement the existing pedagogy and
enhance student learning.
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E
Martin Dickey, CSE142 staff and students,
CSE326 staff and students, Richard
Anderson, Mike Ernst, Andy Garland,
David Kay, Rachel Pottinger, Jacob and
Shelley Wolfman, and CSE590ET.
This work was supported in part by an Intel
Foundation Graduate Fellowship.
Steve Wolfman UW CS&E

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