Dear Dr. Kirk:
I enjoy your articles immensely. I have a question that I haven't seen addressed in your "Ask-Dr-Kirk" e-letter. I am teaching a 'tiny' (4 student) undergraduate section this Spring ("Crime and Victims"). We all say we want smaller classes, but this presents itself as a challenge to me. With such a small group I'm somewhat nervous about what the dynamics will be and how best to approach the semester with them. My materials are prepared for a class of at least a dozen, but this term, for a variety of reasons, there are only 4 in the class. I'm thinking of doing it even as a one-on-one kind of tutorial/independent study approach, but I'd rather not have to do that. If you have covered this situation before, I'd love to know some of the feedback you've gotten. I can't seem to find any articles online in general periodicals which address this question. Thanks--and keep inspiring us!
Dr. John R Gehm (University of Sioux Falls)
Dear Professor Gehm,
Thanks for the positive feedback. Re your question, we think we would like smaller classes but there really needs to be a critical mass! I haven't had a class quite that small but occasionally will have one of 12 or 14 students.
Some of the challenges are that you usually get through the lecture materials faster; you have more class time as presentations and discussions don't take as long; absences are more notable; and it can be difficult to do some of the group activities. In addition, I think it's harder to keep a serious learning environment as the class tends to be so informal.
I would develop a list of activities and application exercises for those days that you finish up early. I also might treat the students as teaching assistants or interns. The students could bring in relevant newspaper or journal articles, do internet research, interview people in the law enforcement field, etc., and "teach" the rest of the students. They could also develop a class portfolio of informational sources and maybe write their own cases/scenarios that could be used as teaching tools.
With your permission, I am putting your letter on the blog. Has anyone else out there experienced such a small class size or have any ideas of what Dr. Gehm could do?
Good luck with your class. Let me know how it goes.