Bigger Is Not Better
THE RESULTS of a comprehensive College survey on undergraduate instruction are in, and they show that by and large students are not dissatisfied with the size of their courses. This has to be welcome news for the administration, long plagued by the popular opinion that students here suffer from a dearth of intimate instruction by senior faculty members. The College will now be able to revamp its admissions pamphlets and use the new data to try to dispell this unflattering image of being uncaring of students As far as the survey indicates, students think big is OK.
But administrators should not take the next logical step and assume that big is necessarily better. That students said they were satisfied with large lecture courses taught by senior faculty should not be a great surprise, it is a credit to the quality of the faculty here that student's appreciate their skills in any size forum. But why does it not follow that smaller classes with the same stellar professors would not be even more rewarding?
One particularly revealing statistic is the fact that only 6 percent of the average undergraduate's time is spent in courses taught by senior faculty members with less than 20 students. Most students have not had the opportunity to be taught in small groups and may, in fact, not know what they're missing. The conventional view in education is, after all, that students learn better in smaller environs.
This is not to say that the college has nothing to be pleased about; it can legitimately hope for some reduction of criticism of Harvard's teaching, as well as a diminution of the over-inflated myth of poor treatment of under grads here. However, while the results provide a fortuitous means of dispelling fears, they should not be taken as blanket approval of the current system Small is better is still a valid measure.