Class sizes on the rise at WLU
Earlier this month when the MacLean’s annual university rankings came out, Wilfrid Laurier University ranked third highest in terms of the largest first and second year classes, and fifth highest for the largest third and fourth year classes in the country. However, with Laurier advertising itself as a smaller, community-like university, these rankings came as a surprise to some people.
The rankings showed that the average first and second year classes at Laurier hold roughly 94 students each, whereas third and fourth year classes are capped at roughly 35 students. The only school to beat Laurier in both of these categories was the University of Toronto.
When asked if these rankings adequately reflect Laurier, Deborah MacLatchy, vice-president, academic and provost, said that they were fair.
“I assume that MacLean’s applies the same parameters to all the universities as they submit their data, but the universities do submit their own data so part of that would be to make sure that they are comparing [properly],” she said. “I’m sure they do their best, but it’s still probably challenging given all the data.”
“One great thing about Laurier is that we don’t have any large classrooms, other universities can have auditoriums teaching classes with 1,000 seats … so students aren’t in as big of classes at Laurier,” she continued.
MacLatchy also emphasized that the MacLean’s rankings do not take into account that many large lectures at Laurier break down into labs or tutorials, which help provide students with a smaller setting to learn. These tutorials, according to MacLatchy, greatly influence the ways in which students are able to engage with their course material.
“I think that the biggest difference [with tutorials and labs] is the way that teaching and learning is done,” she explained. “Because the big thing about teaching in larger classes is ensuring that what is being done in the large class is suitable for that class size — you can’t teach a class of 100 the way you would teach a class of 25.”
Pat Rogers, assistance vice-president of teaching and learning at Laurier, echoed many of MacLatchy’s comments regarding the importance of proper teaching methods within larger classes since lecture sizes are increasing in all faculties.
“It’s one of those things that none of us really wants,” she said. “[But] what is large to one person is small to another.”
She explained that since many professors are now facing larger lecture classes, they are beginning to adopt new teaching methodologies in order to stimulate their student’s interest and attention while in lecture, as well as their learning experience overall.
“It’s not necessarily the way you want to teach, and it is harder in some areas than others,” she continued.
One professor who, according to Rogers, is taking great strides in adopting new teaching methodologies for larger lecture classes, is Stephen MacNeil, in Laurier’s chemistry department.
MacNeil has been speaking about the flip-classroom model, where students listen to part of a lecture online at home, do their readings and then go to class and break down into groups to discuss specific topics at a more in-depth level than what they would experience in a traditional lecture.
Despite professors making attempts to better accommodate larger class sizes, MacLatchy still emphasized the small-university feel that Laurier gives off.
“I think it has to do with the community that develops at Laurier more so than the absolute number,” she said. “But I think that we provide a lot of that same community.”
However, MacLatchy doesn’t think that Laurier’s rising population will make the campus seem physically larger since the campus is so compacted.
That, coupled with opportunities such as first year seminars and learning communities, will make Laurier seem smaller than it actually is.