August 30, 2009 by Tom Sandford NMSU Round Up
Aggies and faculty discuss their ideal class size
When it comes to size, in the world of academia bigger isn’t always better.
Many New Mexico State University students and faculty prefer smaller classes, and few know this better than Greg Armfield, a professor of Communications at NMSU.
As co-professor of COMM-265, the largest class on campus, Armfield lectures 648 students, split into two classes of 324 students, in the biggest lecture hall at NMSU, Hardman Hall 106.
“I like smaller classes better because I have more interaction with students,” Armfield said.
COMM-265 students must also take a lab taught by a graduate student, which is limited to a capacity of 18 students. This allows students the opportunity to receive the interaction they cannot get from the lecture, Armfield said.
“A big advantage to students is that the labs are small and intimate, where they can get to know their instructors,” Armfield said.
Holding the students’ attention during a lecture is a constant battle, Armfield said.
“I’ve got to keep their attention for 50 minutes, so I have to be very highly motivated,” Armfield said. “It works out nice, but it’s tiring after being on stage for two hours.”
Armfield said he uses a few unorthodox tools to make his job easier. Armfield said he plays a mix of 80s music, classic rap, and country music prior to starting the lecture to get students excited and energized about the class.
COMM-265 is a requirement for every NMSU student, and since enrollment keeps increasing, Armfield’s lectures show no signs of getting smaller.
The department recently opened up another lab section in each lecture to accommodate the growth.
Not all NMSU classes are as large as COMM-265.
Brian Hurd, a professor of agricultural economics and agricultural business, teaches a water resource management and policy course to a class of only 10 students.
”This [size] of class allows me to give more writing assignments to better develop their skill,” Hurd said. “But I like teaching both large and small classes, because it allows me to teach in different styles.”
Hurd said he likes the interaction that comes with a smaller class, a philosophy that he mirrored from his experiences in high school. Hurd said in his high school, classes only had 13 students, and his instructors involved themselves in class discussions.
“That style has more of an ‘alive’ feeling to it,” Hurd said.
Rhonda Hipp, a graduate student in Agriculture Business and one of Hurd’s students, said she prefers smaller classes as well.
“There’s more one-on-one interaction so you can learn more from your professor and benefit from their experiences,” Hipp said. “In a large class, they can’t let you in on the little helpful secrets.”
Samantha Evans, a junior in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management, went to a culinary school that had 15 students in her class, but has since enrolled in a food science course at NMSU that has a lab of 30 students.
“It’s really crowded,” Evans said. “I’m used to being in a class of 15 with the chef constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m doing everything right.”
Evans said it’s easier to ask questions and get more input in smaller classes, and she gets to know her fellow students better.
“It’s good to get to know your professors, but they won’t get to know you in larger classes,” Evans said.
Tom Sandford is a news reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.