Larger classes take hold at Laurier
With classes now underway, the effects of the 2009-10 funding cuts can be seen in classrooms at Wilfrid Laurier University, as several academic departments have been forced to reduce their numbers of part-time staff.
As a result, class sizes have increased and the number of classes offered each semester has decreased.
“My own view is that our administration is not seeing the academic side of things clearly,” said professor of sociology Garry Potter. “I don’t think they properly have their eyes on the ball as far as academic planning goes.”
With fewer professors teaching at Laurier, it is not possible to hold as many different classes during the academic year and it is also more difficult to host multiple sections for each class.
By combining sections and reducing how many courses are offered, the number of students in each class has increased to accommodate everyone enrolled at Laurier.
“The numbers that we have right now, it looks like the average class size has gone up about five per cent, and that’s in the in-person classes. For the online courses they’ve gone up a little bit as well,” said vice-president: academic Deb MacLatchy.
Although initial registration proved to be difficult, the departments have done their best to accommodate students in the classes that are available.
After the government came through with more money than was expected, some of what was initially cut could be put back, and a few more classes opened up.
“Even though seats have gone up, we’re still under what expected enrolment was for class per professor,” said MacLatchy.
In larger classes this means that there is less opportunity for students to engage in discussion and participate during class time, which can also mean a more distant relationship between students and professors.
While the university does not expect a five per cent increase to greatly disrupt how classes are run, professors and students who are directly affected by the changes have expressed concerns.
“There is a lot of educational research that basically says that size does matter and that basically smaller, more intimate settings work much better,” said Potter.
“I have a subjective feeling that it is just a little bit harder when we have just that little bit more.”
“Smaller classes are probably better because then it’s more personal,” said first-year business student Andrew.
“I guess you can always adjust to it, but I think it still will affect the quality [of education].”
In addition to concerns of over expanding classes, several students also stated the difficulties they had with getting into the courses that they both wanted and needed.
“I personally didn’t [have trouble] but I know one of my friends … couldn’t get into the communications classes, which is her major,” said first-year communications student Kristen Curry.
Despite efforts to predict which classes students will enrol in and what areas of study will be the most popular, faculty estimates are based on the previous year.
“The trends do change over time, where students are interested in going and what they want to take, so every year there’s a lot of science but there’s also little bit of magic and creativity involved in trying to guess where students want to go,” said MacLatchy.
As well as the difficulties around students being unable to get into desired courses, there are also problems surrounding the fact that the growing trend of interdisciplinary studies is becoming impossible.
It is increasingly difficult for students from one discipline to take courses from another, even if the two are closely related.
This is because spaces in each class must be kept for students of that specific major and so the number of prerequisites needed to get into specific classes have increased.
The culture of Laurier is changing as registration increases and resources decrease.
The atmosphere on campus has already been altered with the yearly increase in the number of students, and it is only made more obvious by bigger classes.
“Laurier has had a reputation for a very, very long time as being a special community centered place; small classes, small intimate atmosphere and I think to some degree it still has this reputation, but the reality of it is no longer true,” said Potter.