Teaching Low Enrollment Courses

October 17, 2021

As COVID-19 restrictions lift, many universities are seeing decreased enrollment numbers. As a result, some courses that are normally filled with students may struggle with low enrollment levels this year.

Teaching a low enrollment course takes a different skill set than teaching a full lecture hall. Learning how to manage teacher and student expectations in a low enrollment course can help you have a successful year despite smaller class sizes.

What Counts as a Low Enrollment Course?

Although the threshold may change depending on the size of your university, low enrollment courses generally have fewer than ten undergraduate students or fewer than five graduate students.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Smaller Class Sizes?

Having a small course size provides a mixed bag of benefits and downsides. One the one hand, a smaller class size can foster a more intimate classroom experience. Teachers can get to know their students, and students can get to know each other. Group discussions flow more easily as a result of less competition and more comfort within the group.

However, there are some downsides to smaller class sizes. Studies show that high enrollment science courses can improve students’ abilities to interpret data and think scientifically

How Can Student Expectations Change with a Smaller Class Size?

Students may expect more from you when you’re teaching low enrollment classes. There’s no excuse for not knowing everyone’s name, for example. Students may also be more inclined to hang back after class to ask follow-up questions about the lecture.

Students may also expect more individualization in smaller classes. In a lecture hall with 200 students, it makes sense that you can’t cater to the learning styles of individual students. With reduced class sizes, you’ll be expected to pay close attention to each student’s needs and adapt your teaching style accordingly.

How Can Teacher Expectations Change with a Smaller Class Size?

When you’re teaching small classes, every student counts. Participation in an individual lesson may not have been a big deal for each student in a larger class, but the absence of even one voice can change the dynamic of a small class. As a result, teachers in low enrollment classes may be more inclined to make attendance and active participation mandatory, graded aspects of the course.

The increased intimacy with your students can make it easier to identify the obstacles that each student is facing. Instead of expecting a certain portion of your students to do poorly each semester, you can pull aside struggling students early in the semester and come up with a plan to help them succeed in your class.

Teaching low enrollment courses doesn’t have to be a negative experience. If you adjust your approach to fit your class size, you can turn a low enrollment course into a positive experience for both you and your students.

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