Originally publichsed in Inside Chico State (December 4, 2003 Volume 34, Number 6), page 2 [http://www.csuchico.edu/pub/inside/04_jumbo.html] and is also archived at: http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/InsideChicoStateDec2003.html.

Motivating and Engaging Students in 'Jumbo' Classes (and smaller classes, too)[1]

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz/Professor of Anthropology
California State University, Chico/Chico, California 95929-0400
Telephone: 530-898-6220 [Office]; 530-898-6192 [Dept.] FAX: 530-898-6824
e-mail: curbanowicz@csuchico.edu and home page: http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban


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.

-- Harlen Adams (1904-1997)

I have been a member of the faculty since 1973 and have taught our "jumbo" Anthropology 13 (Human Cultural Diversity) course since 1989, with enrollments ranging between 67 and 175 students. I have taught in Ayres 106 (with comfortable seats) as well as Glenn 212 and Plumas 102 (with traditional desks). Each classroom results in different interactions with students. I have taught a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule and Tuesday-Thursday. A 50-minute class has a different rhythm from a 75-minute class: the total minutes for the course throughout the semester may be the same, but the dynamics differ because you interact with the MWF students 45 times and the TR students on 30 occasions.

On the first day of class, I ask students for information (hometown, travel experience, etc). I provide the same information, including my birth date, home phone number, and my response to the question: What experience (personal or worldwide) has had the biggest influence on your life to date? Students have been affected by death, disease, divorce, and disasters, and many have traveled and have seen cultural diversity around the world. On the second day, I summarize their responses, pointing out the diversity within the class. For me, anthropology is as simple as the ABCs: the Appreciation of Basic Cultural Diversity Everywhere!

I structure the course and view the syllabus as a "contract." I create a Web Guidebook with lecture outlines, film notes, and terminology. The printed version is sold by the Associated Students Bookstore, and the Web version is updated throughout the semester to keep the course current. I have profited from TLP and CELT Conferences and, working with TLP, discovered a free program to create "web self-tests" for classes. I start lectures with appropriate cartoons and recent news to set a tone and to provide relevant examples of the subject matter. I use a videotape snippet or complete video to supplement my lecture, and discussions occur at the end of class. I also lecture as Charles Darwin in the first person. My students appreciate the work that goes into classroom presentations.

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, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (NY: Scholastic Press, 2003, page 826.)

Our students are young adults who are with us for an adult education, and I treat them with respect. I keep in mind that I was born in 1942 and graduated high school in 1960. I was an 18-year-old at New York University when I flunked out and enlisted in the United States Air Force for four years. I show every class my transcript: if I flunked out, so can they.

Most of my students are 18, born around 1985. If memory culture doesn't kick in for 10 years, students have few cultural memories prior to 1995! When referencing events, we must remember that what is "yesterday" to us is "ancient history" for students. This includes the first President Bush and President Reagan. For these students, there has never been a time without cell phones or computers, Paul Newman has always made salad dressing, gas has always been unleaded, and students have always had pin numbers. Howard Gardner wrote: "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." We must construct overlap, or associations, or points of reference with the students, since we are getting older and they are getting younger (and "older" at the same time).

My suggestions for motivating and engaging students for any class are the following: simply be yourself, be organized, be prepared, and be honest! Your attitude is all important. If you treat students with respect, and as (young) human beings, they will treat you with respect as an old(er) human being. We can make a positive difference.

A teacher affects eternity; he [or she!] can never tell where his [or her] influence stops.
-- Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

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1. This is a version of a presentation made on Oct. 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. The complete paper, with references, is available at www.csuchico.edu/~curban/BSSLargeClasses.html. To return to the top of the page, please click here.