Professors cope with increased class sizes

By | April 25, 2012 | News (2)

As the semester is coming to an end, many students are left with a lingering stressor: term papers, an assignment demanding to both students and professors.

Over the years, California State Universities have faced budget cuts resulting in shortened staff and increased class sizes. The size increase has not only affected the amount of student-teacher interaction, but has significantly added to professors’ workloads.

To fulfill the writing requirement of general education courses, professors assign term papers. These papers are often 1,000- 2,000 words — at times more. With classes that hold 200-plus students, grading each term paper is a difficult task for professors.

Professor Mark Baldis has been on the teaching staff for 12 years, and has witnessed the class size increase. He teaches a general education Olympic Games course and must tend to more than 200 students.

“I take the maximum number of students that McLane 121 will hold, which is 267 students,” Baldis said.

Baldis has found the task of grading numerous term papers to be manageable, but admits needing help.

“Usually I take a portion of the papers and grade them, but I have a graduate assistant who assists in grading the papers,” Baldis said.

Rose Bueno is one of the 267 students enrolled in Baldis course. She said in terms of giving students adequate feedback, it depends on the teacher.

“I feel what really matters is how much they care about their job even when they have 200-plus students,” Bueno said.

While some teachers do obtain assistance, other teachers grade single-handedly.

Also on staff for 12 years, Professor Frederick Ringwald is currently teaching one major course and one GE astronomy course. He is left to cope with a total of 180 students and does the grading job entirely.

“If I spend ten minutes grading each student’s homework per week, that comes to 30 hours a week just for grading,” Ringwald said.

With the combination of time spent teaching, grading and researching, Ringwald said 100-hour workweeks are not uncommon.

Because of the heavy workload, he is unable to give each of his students as much feedback as he’d like.

Kelley McCoy is in her sixth year of teaching, and is primarily responsible for the upper-division GE courses, media stereotypes and international mass communication.

McCoy’s media stereotypes course was converted to a large-lecture class last semester. This course used to be held in a more intimate classroom setting, but is now in a lecture hall with 118 students.

“The sheer numbers haven’t necessarily affected my ability to give thoughtful feedback on papers, but they’ve definitely impacted my ability to do so in a timely manner,” McCoy said.

Aside from grading term papers, McCoy discussed another difficulty that is caused by the size increase. Many courses, such as media stereotypes, depend on the exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences to work well.

“Most students are too intimidated to open up and talk about tough issues like race, gender and sexual orientation in a class with more than 100 other people,” McCoy said.

In November, election polls will open and voters will determine the passing of Gov.  Jerry Brown’s tax initiative. If it does not pass, Fresno State will face even more budget cuts, leaving students and faculty to adjust once again possibly even larger class sizes.

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