Small class sizes are crucial for academic improvement

A huge incentive for a larger price tag on private universities is smaller class sizes and a higher student-professor ratio. Yet at universities across the nation, students find themselves in general education or introductory classes of 100 students or more. Not only can these classes scare students away from subjects they might otherwise excel at, but the students also do not absorb information in the same way that they could in a small class setting. For this reason, universities with the resources of a school as large as USC, should continue to make progress to introduce active-learning techniques to replace large lecture-style classes.

In recent years, USC has made an active effort to restructure the courses that students take, especially during their freshman year. These have included the recent reform of the general education courses, with GE seminars which are capped at 19 students, two-unit freshman seminars and the expansion of the Thematic Option program.

USC has worked toward creating a more intimate learning environment that has the resources and opportunities of a large research university. Students are often pleasantly surprised that a school with the undergraduate size of USC can provide these small classes. However, general education courses, which USC requires quite a few of, remain predominantly large and
lecture hall-style.

According to a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, “undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, active learning methods.”

In an article from the University of Vermont, Dr. Charles Prober, senior associate dean for medical education at Stanford University said, “Even if we [have] the best lecturer in the world, the number of students who choose that [educational] delivery method is low.”

When the professor likely doesn’t know their name and they can easily attain notes from peers, many students fail to see the value in attending these classes. While some professors have been successful at facilitating conversation and student participation in these type of classes, the content of other classes inhibits the discussion and project-based learning for which experts have advocated.

Physicist and education professor at Stanford University Carl Wieman describes active learning as a “focus on projects and problems.” Weiman said he “orients his philosophy around helping students learn how to ‘think’ inside a particular scientific discipline.”

Lecture-style classes have been largely centered around memorization and templates, rather than absorption and critical thinking. This style of teaching limits discussion and the development of critical thinking skills that shape the intellectual curiosity and abilities of students.

At a school that prides itself on students’ pre-professional excellence, USC has made a significant and successful effort to encourage students to explore courses and subjects outside of their schools. The general education program is absolutely essential to this.

According to the University of Laverne, 50 to 70 percent of students will change their major at least once, and having a general education curriculum allows students to take other courses without feeling like they are wasting units. However, the general education structure can continue to be reformed to ensure that students are absorbing the same amount of information, whether it be an intro class or an upper division seminar. GEs should not be seen as just a hurdle to get to the interesting and relevant classes — even if a GE is not in a student’s chosen academic path, it should still be useful.

USC has the resources to invest in the restructuring of the curriculum, and will find itself at the cutting edge of education if it revitalizes the current archaic system. The changes that have been made thus far have proven to be effective and popular among students. Integrating more innovative teaching techniques will only further the University’s momentum in recruiting high-performing students. New revolutionary classrooms will make strides in preparing students for the real world, rather than teaching them how to slide under the professor’s radar.