Most lecture classes come with certain assumptions: a sea of students, a sea of laptops, the ability to get behind in the readings without dire consequences. But if only 12 people sign up for the class, these expectations won’t match up to reality.
Natasha N. Dodge ’13 shopped English 141: The 18th Century Novel anticipating a standard lecture class based on its advertisement in the course catalogue.
“When I shopped it there were probably 25 people around the table,” she said. Only eight ended up enrolling in the course—all girls.
The professor of English 141, Melissa Ganz, a department fellow, is new to Harvard this year and wasn’t sure what the dynamic of the class would be. She ultimately shifted to a more seminar-style format by emphasizing discussion.
Despite the greater demands of a seminar, Dodge enjoyed what she said made for a more relaxed atmosphere.
“Sandy” U. Uwimana ’14 also acknowledged the benefits of her small lecture class, Culture and Belief 29: “Strange Mutations.”
“The professor seems much more approachable,” she said. “But initially I thought it was kind of awkward since there was so few people.”
This semester, Associate Professor Adelheid Voskuhl lectures twice a week to 16 students in History of Science 186: Technology in a Social World. Although she has taught the course twice before, the number of students has varied. According to Voskuhl, factors such as whether it is offered in Gen Ed, or whether athletes take the class in clusters, can make a difference in such a small lecture.
While Voskuhl admitted that large lecture classes allow her to get a message across to a broader audience, she affirmed that a smaller size is more effective and engaging.
“There’s a better connection to the students,” she said. “I try to allow more time for questions.”
Intentionally or haphazardly, these classes offer a blend of lecture and seminar formats that combine the best (and worst) of both worlds. A unique intellectual experience, to be sure—although those looking to hide in the back should probably steer clear. Finally, a precocious premed fled the scene after an encounter with a wide-eyed Brown student, but word on the street is more happened behind the scenes.