An Opinion Survey of SRU Students
conducted by Padma Anand and William Zeiger
for the University Forum
Slippery Rock University
The issue of class size arises because classes have grown in the University lately, as numbers of students have increased faster than numbers of faculty; and many studies link class size to quality of education. University faculty, represented by APSCUF, feel that class sizes have grown large enough to affect the quality of education at SRU. We decided to get a sense of the students’ point of view on this issue.
We wanted to know SRU students’ opinions on the subject of class size, particularly what were the advantages and disadvantages of small and large classes, in their view, relevant to their education. We circulated the attached questionnaire in Liberal Studies classes at SRU during the Spring semester 2007. The fifteen questions on the handout emerged from a pilot study we did the previous semester. The 600 questionnaires we received back represent approximately 7.5% of the student body, drawn from all majors and levels of students.
We began by asking students for their own definitions of “large” and “small.” Our results indicate that in the view of our students a large class has more than 50 students and a small class has fewer than 25. This last number is significant because, for example, it indicates that in our students’ view our present College Writing courses, which are capped at 27, are not “small” but “intermediate” classes.
The details of our students’ answers to the survey questions are on the attached print-out. The questionnaire asked students to evaluate each of fifteen factors according to whether it was (a) a major advantage of a small class, (b) a minor advantage of a small class, (c) neutral, (d) a minor advantage of a large class, or (e) a major advantage of a large class. In interpreting the results, we found that three of the factors received 50% or more in the neutral category. Two factors received 60% or more responses in the combined major and minor advantages of a large class categories. Nine factors received 60% or more responses in the combined major and minor advantages of a small class categories.
In descending order of popularity, these are the factors that students selected as advantages of small classes—
- The instructor gets to know the students.
- Students feel comfortable contributing to class discussions.
- Students make individual oral presentations.
- Students feel comfortable asking the instructor for help.
- It is easy to learn in this environment.
- The instructor gives timely feedback on assignments.
- Students can get to know each other.
- Students interact in small groups.
- Students can make up missed work if necessary.
The two factors students selected as advantages of large classes are—
- It is easy to skip classes if necessary.
- It is easy to schedule classes.
The factors that came out neutral on the survey are—
- It is easy to study for exams.
- It is easy to get good grades.
- The overall quality of instruction is good.
We find that these results strongly favor small classes. Even though “The overall quality of instruction is good” fell into the neutral range, it did so by a small margin: fifty percent of the students felt that this factor was neutral between small and large classes. Forty-nine percent felt that the advantage was with small classes. When we put this result together with the factor “It is easy to learn in this environment,” which 78% called an advantage of small classes, we conclude that while teachers of large classes may be as good as teachers of small classes, learning is still more likely in small classes.
Many of these factors relate to the University’s avowed desire to be a “caring community.” All of the factors that students listed as advantages of small classes seem also to be features of a caring community. The implication is that, in students’ views, the University fulfills its goal of being a caring community by offering classes with fewer than 25 students enrolled.
Another of the University’s avowed goals is to foster critical thinking. Several factors listed as advantages of small classes—promoting communication between students in the classroom and between teacher and students—are instrumental in fostering critical thinking.
The listed advantages of small classes also compare well with practices and conditions that accept and encourage diversity, another of the University’s values.
We conclude from this survey that Slippery Rock students value small classes highly—classes with fewer than 25 students. We note that the factors promoted by small classes dovetail with some of the University’s cherished goals. It seems clear, therefore, that in the ways outlined above, the University and the students share several values, and that these values can be attained by assuring that the students enjoy the benefits of small classes.