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Students: 'Not all classes are small'

By Alanna Robertson-Webb
On October 20, 2011

Average class sizes at Norwich range from 20-25 students, say many Norwich students, but this number conflicts with the Norwich website's claim of 15 students on average.

Linda Yeomans, a staff member in Norwich's registrar's office, said the average class size advertised on the website depends on the department heads. "The number of students who get in any course is decided in the academic schools by the academic program chairs," Yeomans said.

Some courses need to be kept smaller, she said. "There's a certain understanding such as in English courses, especially anything that's with writing," she said, adding that the courses "will be maintained at a lower class size because they're skill-based."

The NU admissions webpage says the school typically has 15 students per course, which "allows for an unlimited amount of personal attention" between students and their professor.

Some students disagree. "I came to Norwich because I like small classes," said Lindsay Evans, a 19-year-old sophomore communications major from Canterbury, N.H.

Evans says she has never been in a course that has "gone below 20" students. She says she is slightly dissatisfied with Norwich class sizes. She prefers smaller courses because they allow her to feel confident about getting the help she needs.

"In a small class I can still communicate with the teacher and he can get to know me, and my grading is based off of that." Evans said, "In a larger class you're just a number."

Brett Cox, an associate English professor and chair of the English department, works hard to keep classes small in his department.

"We strive for small classes in the English program," Cox said, "We never have any large lecture sections where you have 80 or 100 students."

Cox said a cap, the term for the number of students allowed into a class, is how Norwich keeps control of class size.

"We maintain caps on all classes. We are willing to be flexible up to a point in urgent situations. For example, if a student needs a specific class to graduate on time and there are no other options," Cox said.

Some students, like Stephen Mikolaitis, a 20-year-old junior international studies major from Nazareth, Pa., said that class sizes at Norwich are fine.

"Most of my class sizes this year have been a moderate size," Mikolaitis said, "and I'm pretty happy with that."

Mikolaitis concurs with the Norwich webpage that students receive plenty of individual attention from their professors. "You still get the professor's one-on-one attention," Mikolaitis said. However, he said the webpage could use a little editing.

"It seems like there's a lot of stuff on their webpages that aren't updated," Mikolaitis said, "They need to do a remodel of the site on a lot of stuff because times have changed and the university has increased in size."

Mikolaitis said that "for big classes like my biology class it's mostly note-taking so (a large class size) works there, but I can't picture that working in my German class where you need to do the one-on-one time."

Daniel Lane, an associate English professor at Norwich, said that the webpage's stated average of 15 students per course is correct. "The purpose (of the average) clearly is to try to market the one-on-one instruction. And with the classes that I teach I feel that I can deliver on that promise," Lane said.

Yet Lane also said, "In the English department most class sizes range from 20-25. The writing classes are generally about 20 students, and the literature classes range from 22-25."

He said the 20-25 student count is small in comparison to other colleges with huge lecture classes, but conceded it's a higher number than what the website states.

"The learning and instruction that goes on with smaller class sizes always benefits both the quality of the materials covered and also the students. I'm not as effective with 30 students as I am with 25," Lane said.

Steven Grindle, a Norwich math professor and instructional developer, agrees with Lane. "My ideal size is 12 to 15 students, but 20 is a perfectly legitimate class size as well, it's just a little harder. Anything over 25 is hard to deal with because there're just too many people and I can't give that much individual help."

Grindle added, "The more I can interact with students in smaller groups the more I get to know them, and the more I can assess whether they're getting the material or not."

Lane said he prefers smaller classes because "the students in a smaller class setting are better able to engage in small group activities and receive more individualized instruction than students in a larger class setting."

In bigger classes it can take Lane up to a week to grade 30 papers for a class, where if he had 20 students he could do it in a weekend.

Victoria Webb, a 1987 Norwich alumni from Montpelier, Vt., thinks that the course sizes should be even smaller and that the webpage's comment about the amount of attention students will receive from a professor is inaccurate.

Webb said, "When I was at Norwich the class sizes were always too large. I was never in a class with less than 19 students, and the professor was always overwhelmed when he had to grade our work. That meant he sometimes wasn't as thorough as he would have been otherwise."

She said, "The webpage should be altered so that it specifically states the average for each department, not the school's average because that can give students a false impression."

Webb added that "15 students may be the dead average for class size, but the department heads should say that 20 is a more likely number than 15 if they keep it as an overall average."

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