I can still recall the day I walked into Convocation Hall (or Con Hall) for the first time. It was my very first class as a student at the University of Toronto. Walking in, I was surrounded by hundreds of other first-year students about to explore the wonders of ecology and evolutionary biology. As those doors swung open, that feeling of excitement about my first day of university turned to anxiety when other students pushed me aside to get the seats closest to the front. It was a frightening sight: a room of over one thousand people whom I had never met! I was used to the comfort of high school class sizes, with a maximum number of students being around thirty students, all of whom I had known for years.
As I took my seat, I opened ACORN on my phone and checked to make sure I had no other classes in Con Hall. Yes, I already hated this building on my first day of class! However, that feeling of resentment soon turned to appreciation. There is something marvellous about sitting in a room of hundreds of other people, all coming together to learn about the wonders of sociology, cell biology, anthropology or any other subject. I had this chis change of heart once I realized that you can still make a meaningful impression on your professors and succeed in Con Hall courses. And what I’ve learned is applicable to any large classroom environment with over a hundred students.
The one aspect that made me resent large classroom environments, Con Hall especially, was the feeling that I would never be able to get help outside of lecture. I believe this feeling stems from the idea that in such a large classroom, why would a professor even care about my academic challenges? I soon realized that this is far from the truth. Fortunately, all my professors from large classroom courses have had office hours, either directly after lecture or on a different day.
If you’re in such a situation, check your syllabus, email your professor, or just ask for the help you need. Lose any misconceptions you might have that these office hours are useless for getting help on your coursework because of competition with other students. This is far from the truth! Last semester, I struggled with genetics and desperately needed help understanding the complexity of pedigrees. Eventually, I asked my professor a few questions before class and it was probably evident that I was struggling. She suggested that I stay for office hours since there would be more time then. But when the rest of the class shuffled out of Convocation Hall at the end of lecture, there were about fifteen of us remaining for office hours… but the professor helped us all! I went home that afternoon with a newfound understanding of pedigrees and imprinting. Had I not stayed, I probably would have struggled for the entirety of my final exam.
If you are looking to make more of a personal connection with your professor, I’ll admit you have to get creative. If you wanted to know, for instance, how they navigated their career path, after lecture is not the best time to chat. I think of Con Hall professors as minor campus celebrities, since the large class size makes them well known and in demand. But you can still get to know professors in large classroom environments on a personal level: it just might take more time. If you really enjoy a professor’s lecturing style, it’s likely that he or she teaches other courses, and if you end up in their area of study, you’ll probably have a chance to take a class with them in later years in a smaller setting.
Of course, if you’re not content to wait that long, you have to think outside the box. You can take the alternate route of seeing if there any networking opportunities to talk to them outside class. As a science student, I have noticed that many of the various Life Sci student unions offer monthly events for networking and research experiences. These are typically advertised on Facebook or social media platforms; if you want to see if your program has a subject-specific student union, the Arts and Science Student Union has a page of all the course unions (www.assu.ca/course-unions/).
Finally, the topic of friendships in large classroom settings. It isn’t impossible to make friends in Con Hall! With so many people, take the chance and talk to the people next to you. As the semester settles into its groove, we students are creatures of habit! Thus, we tend to sit in the same spots. As you find your favourite spot in Con Hall, you’ll soon be well acquainted with the people around you if you can find a way to break the ice. It can take a little more effort than your seminar classes, but it’s worth it!
As you progress with current classes in Con Hall or other large lecture halls, I hope you’ve gained some insight on how to maximize your experience! What is your best tip to surviving the enormous lecture halls of U of T? Leave me a comment below!