Motivating and Engaging Students in Large Classes: A Personal View Since 1973.

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz / Professor of Anthropology
California State University, Chico / Chico, California 95929-0400
Office: Butte Hall 317} 530-898-6220; Department: Butte Hall 311} 530-898-6192; FAX: 530-898-6143
e-mail: / home page:

[This page printed from]

30 October 2003 [1]

© [All Rights Reserved.] For a presentation on October 30, 2003, for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences "Conversation on Teaching Large Classes" sponsored by the "Best Teaching Practices Committee" of the College at CSU, Chico.


"The most important word in the English language is attitude. Love and hate, work and play, hope and fear, our attitudinal response to all these situations, impresses me as being the guide [stress added]." Harlen Adams (1904-1997)

I have been a member of the faculty since August 1973 and for fourteen years, since 1989, I have taught our semester-long "Jumbo" Anthropology 13 (Human Cultural Diversity). Prior to teaching at this institution, in 1972-1973 I taught at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis campus. I received my Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Oregon in August 1972. At CSU, Chico, I have taught a variety of courses (including a History course in the College of Humanities of Fine Arts as well as a SOSC course in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. I also teach other Anthropology courses, including Cultural Anthropology, Culture and Tourism, Pacific Cultures, and History and Theory of Anthropology. I enjoy teaching the "jumbo" course and enrollments in this course have ranged from my smallest "jumbo" of 67 students in spring 2003 to 175 students in fall 2003. The majority of the ANTH 13 classes have been held in Ayres 106 (with "comfortable" seats) but I have also taught an ANTH 13 class in Glenn 212 and an ANTH 13 class in Plumas 102 (both of which have "traditional" classroom desks). I mention the locations because each room has different dynamics of presenting lecture materials and interacting with students. Incidentally, each of the three classroom are so-called "smart" classrooms, an appellation I loathe since it possibly infers that classrooms which are not so-equipped are..."dumb" classrooms? (The term "e-classroom" or "electronic classroom" would be much more palatable for my personal view.)

I have taught the jumbo class on a MWF basis as well as a Tuesday-Thursday basis (an have taught the course both in the fall and in the spring). I provide this detail to make the point that there is a different "rhythm" between a 50 minutes class and a 75 minute class. In the former you "engage" with the students ~45 times in a semester while in the latter you only have contact ~30 times: the overall minutes may be the same but the dynamics are definitely different! And a fall semester course, where the Thanksgiving break doesn't come until approximately the 14th week of the semester (as in this year), requires different planning than a spring semester course (when the spring break will occur in the 8th week of the semester in 2004). 



They judge me before they even know me." Shrek.
Ellen Weiss, 2001, Shrek: The Novel (NY: Puffin Books), page 86.

On the first day for each class I ask the students in my classes to fill out an "Individual Information Sheet" (Appendix I) so I can learn about them (hometown, travel experience, what they expect out of the course, etc). In-all-fairness, I provide them with the same information: including my date of birth, home phone number, as well as my response to the question I ask of them: What "experience" (personal or world-wide) has had the biggest influence on your life to date? I have learned a lot about our students by asking that question: death, disease, and disasters have affected many of them (and many students have traveled extensively around the planet and have already been exposed to "cultural diversity" on several of the continents). On the second day of each class I go over the information with the students, pointing out the range of "diversity" sitting before me (and also getting "engaged" with the students). 

In order to keep the students on track I must be on track and my courses are highly structured: I lay out the entire semester in advance and provide as much detailed information for the students as possible. I view the course syllabus as a "contract" between myself and the students and no "pop quizzes" nor anything unscheduled occurs (for the students!) during the semester. (Although my occasional jury duty summons over the years does require some changes!) Incidentally, I outline the courses as much as possible to keep myself on track! I now teach three courses a semester (with a modest amount of overlap since I am the person in "common" for all courses) and I use my course outlines to keep track of what I plan to say, what I have said and discussed, and what will be coming in future class sessions. I have "standardized" my assessment techniques for the jumbo classes over the years and, as it now stands, assessment is made as follows: EXAM I (20%), WRITING ASSIGNMENT (20%), EXAM II (25%), EXAM III (30%), and CLASS PARTICIPATION (5%). I literally use a "building block" approach to the course and you may examine the PowerPoint presentation, available on the web, for the fall 2003 ANTH 13 course; all web addresses are listed below.



"When you ferret out something for yourself, piecing the clues together unaided, it remains for the rest of your life in some way truer than facts you are merely taught, and freer from onslaughts of doubt." Colin Fletcher, 1968, The Man Who Walked Through Time, page. 109.

Eight years ago, in 1995, I placed my ANTH 13 course syllabi on the web; four years ago, in spring 1999, I created a Guidebook for the course which I placed on the web (and I continue to place a new version of the Guidebook for the ANTH 13 course on the web each semester). The Guidebook contains detailed lecture outlines, film notes, terminology, and sample test questions. Several years ago I began "updating" the Guidebook on a regular basis (you may consult the current fall semester Guidebook below to see how that is done) and students have found this of value. The occasional update keeps me engaged with the students and and it keeps the course current and topical: engagement! Three years ago, in January 1999, I took a 40 hour WebCT courses sponsored by TLP (The Technology and Learning Program) but decided not to go that route; in spring 2000, however, with the assistance of TLP, I discovered a free program that allowed me to create "self-tests" for the students (and appropriate web addresses are available below). I have also provided the link to the University of Victoria, British Columbia, which created the program called "Hot Potatoes." Incidentally, over the years I have learned quite a bit by taking advantage of TLP as well as the annual CELT (Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) activities: as active, and engaged faculty, we should take advantage of as many of the resources of this outstanding institution as possible. 



"Amaze me with your stories. Thrill me with your experiences. Astound me with your brilliance. Convince me with your passion. Show excitement. Intrigue. Anything--just don't bore me with another computer graphics presentation [stress added]." Clifford Stoll, 1999, High-Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Refledctions by a Computer Contrarian (NY: Doubleday), page 183.

Sometime over the years, since 1989, I began teaching the jumbo section of ANTH 13 in a "smart" classroom as well as a "regular" section of the same course in the same semester in a "non-smart classroom." This is what leads me to view the term "smart classroom" with disdain since I could not use all of the "smart classroom" technology in a non-smart classroom: one therefore has to have two parallel courses. I begin each lecture with appropriate cartoons, some information from recent news which is germane to the lecture planned, use numerous transparencies while lecturing, and then usually show a videotape "snippet" or a complete video: classes move along and at the end of the 50 minute (or 75 minute) class I open it up for discussion. I have had two chapters published (available on the web and referenced below) that deal with my teaching techniques and the use of mnemonics in the classroom: for me, Anthropology is a simple as the ABCs, namely the Appreciation of Basic Cultural Diversity Everywhere! (It also fits in nicely with the course title: Human Cultural Diversity.) I also "lecture" (or perform) as Charles Darwin in the first person and students come to appreciate the amount of work that goes into a classroom presentation. I am not on a first name basis with any of my students, since in any given semester I can have six Peters, four Pauls, or three Marys, or whatever! I do attempt, however, to make eye contact and have enthusiastic body language at all times and when exams are turned in I make note of faces and names in my own record book. In brief, while it is a Jumbo class, I attempt to associate names with some faces. 



"A teacher affects eternity; he [or she!!] can never tell where his [or her] influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams [1838-1918], The Education of Henry Adams, chapter 20).

I view myself as the "content" expert for my classes and I treat my students with respect. They are adults and they are here for an adult education. One of the most crucial things that I keep in mind every semester is the following: I was born in 1942 and was graduated from high school in 1960. When I attended New York University as a Freshman in 1960-1961 I was eighteen years of age. After flunking out in 1961 I enlisted in the United States Air Force for four years and I show every class I teach a transparency of my first-year university work: if I flunked out, so can they. I also point out that once I "knew" what I wanted to do, I received my B.A. (1967), my M.A. (1969), and my Ph.D. (1972) in seven years. On potential "academic problems" I cite the the following from The Chico Enterprise-Record of August 20, 1993:

"Freshmen--be forewarned. Your first weeks at Chico State University are crucial ones. Everyone admitted to the university, theoretically, has the ability to earn a degree, says Paul Moore, Chico State's vice president for student affairs. But not all of the approximately 1,600 freshmen who begin at the campus each fall stay for the four or five or six years it takes to graduate. About 25 percent of the freshmen do not come back for a second year, Moore said, and another 25 percent are on academic probation after the first year [stress added]." Larry Mitchell, 1993, Orientation will help. The Chico Enterprise-Record, August 20, 1993.

The current year is 2003 and most of the students I have in my ANTH 13 class are approximately eighteen years of age. That means that they were born around 1985. James Meyers, a colleague long-retired, was a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at CSU, Chico, and he once remarked that "memory culture" doesn't "kick in" for individuals for at least ten years; and so students born in 1985 have little memory of cultural phenomenon prior to 1995! When I make reference to various "ideas" and "things" in lectures (and discussions) I must remember that some of what I am talking about that was "real" to me was (and is!) "ancient history" to the students. This includes such phenomenon as the first President Bush, Desert Storm, President Reagan (never mind Governor Reagan), as well get the idea! And as Clive Cussler wrote: "To anyone born after 1980, World War Two must seem as distant as the Civil War was to our parents" as spoken by the character "Dirk Pitt" in Atlantis Found, 1999, by Clive Cussler [2001 Berkley paperback], page 503. For example:

Paul Newman has always made salad dressing.
Gas has always been unleaded.
They have always "grazed" for food.
They have always had a pin number.
Banana Republic has always been a store, not a puppet government in Latin America.

For the complete list, which comes from Beloit College (September 3, 2003), please see

"Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young." (Albus Dumbledore, in} J. K. Rowling, 2003, Harry Potter And the Order of The Phoenix (NY: Scholastic Press), page 826.

Or as the irascible Andy Rooney stated it:

"There are many things about life that do not change with age. Older people have some advantage over the young because, having been young and having been old, they know both ages. Young people, on the other hand, can only guess what it must like to be old. I know exactly what it is like to be young and what it is like to be old. I am aware of myself now and remember what I was like then [stress added]." Andy Rooney, 2002, Common Nonsense Addressed to the Reading Public (NY: Public Affairs), page 161

The distinguished Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner stated it thusly: "We must place ourselves in the heads of our students and try to understand as far as possible the sources and strengths of their conceptions" (Howard Gardner, 1991, The Unschooled Mind [NY: Basic Books], page 253). There are numerous things, events, and personalities which are "fresh" in our minds which mean absolutely nothing to the students of today! Conversely, there are probably numerous things, events, and personalities in their minds which mean absolutely nothing to us--but which the students of today not only identify with but which also mean a great deal to them! We must attempt to have some "overlap" with our students in many-many areas! Remember, we are getting older and "they" are getting younger (and "older" at the same time), but that's the way it goes! As T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) stated part of it in his celebrated 1917 The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

"I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach."

My insights or recommendations for motivating and engaging students in large classes, or indeed, any size of classes, is simply be yourself, be prepared, and be honest! As stated at the beginning, the term "attitude" is all important. If you don't know the answer to one of their questions, don't try to fake it. If you treat your students with respect and as (young) human beings, they in turn, will come to treat you with respect as an old(er) human being! And you can, and we can, make an important positive difference. As stated six years ago, in 1997:

"Teaching is work but teaching is fun. Someone once asked in a class, How would you like to be remembered after your death? My response was, He made a positive difference" and "Teaching is work because it involves preparation and planning but teaching is also fun. Teaching is not dull since changing students, a changing world, and a changing philosophy keep it exciting. I hope my students have made their own contributions to the appreciation of basic cultural diversity everywhere and have made a positive difference. That is the positive difference I wish to have made." [from:


On several occasions in the past years I have had students who were enrolled in my Jumbo ANTH 13 course and this course served as one of their freshman "linked" course (with either ENGL or MCGS) and then with UNIV 001. This semester my ANTH 13 jumbo course is linked with the sections of UNIV 001-1C-A1 (Ms. Nan Timmons) and UNIV 001-1C-A2 (Ms. Kris Johnson). (This means that this semester there are 25 students who travel as a group for Nan's course and 24 students who travel as a groups for Kris's, and 126 students who are taking my jumbo class as a non-linked class. When it comes to the "linked courses" we three instructors have been meeting on an irregular basis since the summer and Nan's class did an in-class exercise on creating a "Communication Profile" for themselves (and their various instructors!): although I stress the basic humanity" of us all, when asked to choose what sort of "animal" I was (with the options being an Owl, a Dolphin, a Peacock, or a Panther), I was clearly described as a Peacock by the linked students in Nan's course! Please see Appendix II below for a listing of characteristics associated with each; and as Nan Timmons pointed out to the students, this is "generalized & flexible. Not 100% accurate. Use as a guideline - not gospel!"

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WEB SITES THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST (in Reverse Chronological Order): [University of Victoria} Hot Potatoes Page for creating various Self-Tests] DarwinTestThree.htm [Fall 2003} Darwin SelfTest #3 (providing links to earlier Darwin Self Tests)].\ [Fall 2003 Self-Test for ANTH 13]. [Kris Johnson} October 2003} Librarian at Large: Walking Thorugh your Field. Inside Chico State, October 16, 2003, Volume 34, No. 3.]. [Fall 2003} PowerPoint presentation from Day 1 for ANTH 13] [Fall 2003} Current web-based Guidebook for ANTH 13]. [September 3, 2003, Beloit College} Cultural References for Freshmen] [2002 Urbanowicz Chapter: Teaching As Theater. In Strategies in Teaching Anthropology, Second Edition (2002), edited by Patricia Rice & David W. McCurdy, Editors (NJ: Prentice Hall), pages 147-149. [Fall 2000} Another type of self-test that can be created with Hot Potatoes software]. [Spring 2000 Self-Test} the first ANTH 13 Self-Test]. [Urbanowicz as Master Teacher} From the 1999-2001 University Catalog]. [1999 Urbanowicz chapter: Mnemonics, Quotations, Cartoons, and a Notebook: "Tricks For Appreciating Cultural Diversity. In Strategies In Teaching Anthropology (2000), Edited by Patricia Rice and David McCurdy (NJ: Prentice-Hall), page 132-140. [Spring 1999} First web-based Guidebook for ANTH 13]. [March 1998} Presentation entitled" Dealing With Disruptive Behavior In The Classroom. A 'Master Teacher Brown Bag Lunch'" with Pamela Johnson, Madeline Keaveney, Laura McLachlin, and Devon Metzger at CSU, Chico]. [The Enthusiasm of Teaching. Inside Chico, 1997, Vol 26, No. 7 (October 23), page 2. [Fall 1995} First web-based syllabus for ANTH 13].

APPENDIX I: INDIVIDUAL INFORMATION SHEET (Note: "Spacing" between responses reduced for this Appendix).


ANTHROPOLOGY 13 MWF / Fall 2003} 25 August 2002









WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF THIS COURSE? ANY PREVIOUS ANTHROPOLOGY COURSES? WHERE? (Please use the reverse side of this page if you wish to elaborate on any response.)



WHAT IS THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO YOUR MIND when you hear the term Anthropology? Or Anthropologist?


WHAT "EXPERIENCE" (personal or world-wide) has had the biggest influence on your life to date?

WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU WILL BE living 5 or 10 years from now? On August 25, 2008 or August 25, 2013? DOING WHAT? (Please use the reverse side of this page for this response and if you wish to elaborate on any response.)


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GOAL: To identify your communication behavior at work.

METHOD: Look at the first column, then identify which of the fur statements best describes you at work. Circle only one box on each line.

REMEMBER: This is "generalized & flexible. Not 100% accurate. Use as a guideline - not gospel!"

Pace of Speech
Very fast
Designer Clothes, Classy Dressed, Formal
Bold Colors, Trendy Informal
Muted Colors, Casual Good Looks
Conservative, Classic Dresses, Businesslike
Communication Style
Direct, To the Point
Animated + Excitable
Casual, Personal
Specific, Concise
Motivated By
Thrives On
Pressure, Change
Stimulation, Fun
Togetherness, Support
Accuracy, Information
Expression of Anger
Impatient, Aggressive
Easily Frustrated, Can Get Explosive
Gentle, Gets Flustered
Slow To Anger, Rational Approach
Work Style
Intense, Driven, Does Several Things at Once
Likes Freedom, Talks a Lot, Lots of People, Interaction
Easy Going, Cooperative, Willing To Be of Service
Thorough, Attention to Detail, One Thing at a Time
Work Area
Work is in Priority, Orderly, Organized
Interesting Things, Gadgets
Sentimental Momentos, Souvenirs, and Photos
References are at Fingertips, Lots of paperwork in Piles
Work Pace
Work fast - A whirlwind likes change
Faster - Bores Easily, Moves From one thing to the Next
Rarely in a Hurry, Dislikes pressure
Methodical - Steady Stream of Work
Wasting Time
Reinventing the Wheel
Being Wrong
Group Role
Leader, Needs Control
Rapport Builder, Needs to be the Center of Attention
Peacemaker, Needs to feel Included
Information Provders, Needs Focus and Direction
Want To Be Appreciated For
My Productivity
My Contribution
My Involvement
Quality of my Work
Like To Get Rewarded With
Listening Pattern
Can Be a Poor Listener, May interrupt
Listens, Reacts to What you Are Saying
Good Listener, Cares
Listens, but May Appear as Though They Are Not
Body Language
Leans Forward - Deliberate
Leans Forward - Lots of gestures
Leans back - Facial Expressions
Leans Back - Limited Gestures
Eye Contact
Some Eye Contact - Looks Around A Lot
Very Limited
Tone of Speech
Can Appear preoccupied
Animated and Enthusiastic
Friendly and Responsive
Reserved and Occasionally Cautious


[1] © [All Rights Reserved.] For a presentation on October 30, 2003, for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences "Conversation on Teaching Large Classes" sponsored by the "Best Teaching Practices Committee" of the College at California State University, Chico. To return to the beginning of this page, please click here.

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© [Copyright 2003: All Rights Reserved] Charles F. Urbanowicz

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