My favourite class this semester has been the severely underpopulated one. There are four students and one professor, so it’s actually a five-person class but four sounds so much more impressive like The Beatles, or ABBA, or ABS 496! And to be honest, in most classes, there are only four people in attendance because one person will usually not show up.
The first day of class the professor seemed pleased by the turn out which, at the time, was three students (one joined later and I’m guessing she wasn’t waitlisted on ROSI) and said that the class structure and style would be similar to a post-grad seminar. I’m happy that U of T didn’t cancel the course due to low enrolment because it has been one of the most memorable classes I’ve ever taken.
Since the class is so small, we’re completely mobile and have started a tradition of going outside for class. To actually move from the confines of a windowless prison-style classroom to sit outside in the glorious sun is amazing. Our classroom has been all over campus and sitting outside isn’t distracting but enhances the learning experience. Once we were sitting on benches in the courtyard of Knox College and a woman passing by shouted, “I’ve never seen a group of people work so hard! Right on!” Our class giggled and then predictably, went back to work.
Another aspect I love about being in such a small class is that it’s not intimidating to speak in front of classmates. Like Jennifer, I’m an introvert and speaking up in class for participation marks has never been something I enjoyed. Since we often remove ourselves from a cold classroom setting and drink coffee while we discuss and analyze our readings, everyone feels more at ease. I’ve also made the class laugh. Once for five minutes straight! I won’t reveal the unintentional joke I told but I’ve always felt that after that extremely long laugh at my expense, we’ve all been able to let our guards down and truly open up to one another.
It’s also a highly personal atmosphere. Yes, I realize I’ve only had to memorize the names of three people in my class but in some large classes, I honestly wouldn’t be able to name three students. My classmates and I have all exchanged one another’s phone numbers and will text each other if we’re running late. We even find ourselves texting one another after class about the readings we’ve discussed or something that was said in class that tickled our fancy. Everyone shares notes with one another and even though class is finished, we all wait for the last one (usually me) to pack up and head over to First Nations House together, still talking about what we learned.
Reviewing all of my blog posts this year, I realize how much I reflect on not feeling a sense of community in the classroom. ABS496 was different from the beginning. I know I have an advantage because the class is so ridiculously small, but I want everyone to know that it is possible to create a positive, healthy, respectful and community-based space for yourself in an undergraduate class. Next week is our last seminar, and at the risk of sounding sentimental, I’m really going to miss the coffee, conversation and especially, the friends I’ve made.