I decided not to attempt to be clever in choosing a title for this blog post. Universities and colleges for many years now have had to deal with large class sizes. In particular this is a problem for online classes.
When I was in 1st year (Freshman year to Americans) back in 1969, my introductory History class had 27 students. We sat in a small classroom where the Professor taught us modern European history. There was no Teaching Assistant, we asked questions and were asked questions in an intimate manner. It was small even by the standards of my High School and elementary schools where classes often had 40 or more students. Now, History classes taught in classrooms usually have at least 60 students, which is considered intimate. At one point in my pedagogical career I was a teaching assistant to an introductory history class with 500 students.
Online courses taught in a standard university setting (not a MOOC) number at least 100 students and usually more.
How then do you deal with these numbers?
For major assignments such as essays, which are still a primary tool in learning history and learning evidence-based critical thought that is the principle intellectual tool of the historian, time must be found to add comments. In the past, when class numbers were smaller, or where universities had the budgets to assign adequate numbers of Teaching Assistants, detailed comments on evidence, logic and grammar peppered the essay paper. With very large classes, that is any class over 50 or so, without adequate assistance, a summary comment at the end is all you can do. Grammar skills are very poor these days too often. Unless you are teaching in an English class, you have to let this go except in cases where understanding is difficult – then some comment directing a student to one of the writing labs they have at universities now is appropriate. But mostly you will just have to grin and bear it, and provide an assessment of the evidence provided and the logic based on that foundation for the student.
Online teaching must involve a fair degree of discussion, as this is the place where learning in direct communication with an instructor occurs. Here personal, pointed commentary is impossible. All you can do is to give an overview for the entire class of strengths and weaknesses of logic, evidence, understanding.