Is Bigger Always Better?

Is bigger really better? Well, a bigger piece of cake is better than a tiny slice, and a larger paycheck is better (sometimes way better) than a skimpy one. But, is a bigger class superior to those smaller? No. In this case, smaller reigns supreme.

I’m currently in my last semester and taking two English courses that are, by all means, on the opposite ends of the “learning” spectrum. One is a second year course, with enough students to pack an auditorium, and the second is a 20-student seminar, apparently the last of its kind in the English department. Given the fact that I’ve been here so long already (and I emphasize “so”), I feel like I’m able to say, from all the different kinds of courses I’ve endured and survived, that there is nothing quite like the seminar. I’ll explain.

Yes, there are many students who relish in the ambiguity provided by the larger, first and second year courses. You can go the whole semester without anyone even knowing your name, and if you don’t show up –ever—well, it wouldn’t matter, especially if there aren’t any participation marks and if you can manage to learn on your own. But, I don’t like these larger courses. For one thing, because they are lower level, the material isn’t as specific as I’d like, and therefore there is less room for creative independence. But, perhaps more importantly, I really dislike being in a room full of people where we are constantly shuffling seats every class and you never get to know each other.

The seminar, on the other hand, is the best kind of course I’ve taken here. It’s smaller (now English seminars average 40 people), you see the same students each class, and you can get to unearth the mind of your professor. The material is much more specific (I’m taking Americans in Paris) and therefore much more interesting. Unlike larger classes where you can hide, there is no such opportunity in the seminar. You are inclined, if not forced to participate because it is such a big chunk of your mark; however, this is not necessarily bad. Sharing ideas is pertinent to the university experience, and, in my opinion, way more exciting than hearing a professor speak to you, rather than with you, for two hours.

Furthermore, in the age of technology, combined with the ambiguity of larger classes, one can simply doze off during lecture and rouse themselves three hours later unaffected, in the intellectual sense, of course. In the seminar, at least in mine, technology is forbidden. My professor has outlawed all technology, but he will only allow you to use your laptop if you provide him with a written letter stating your abandonment of said technology in class. Scary? Yes. Useless? No. Paying attention in class enriches the experience, and not to mention watching others update their facebook feed is quite annoying (and pretentious).

I implore you, take a seminar. I had to take some because I’m in the Specialist Program, but I took more than I needed because it’s such a fine learning experience. See, learning can be fun!


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