May 26, 2006

Our once a term dose of Asch

Although I'll probably be accused of shilling for the administration, I would like to point out why Joe Asch's criticisms in today's D mischaracterize the actual situation at Dartmouth.

He has 5 points he wants to pick at: large classes, a dearth of humanities students, teachers not teaching enough, more about teachers not teaching enough, and club sports not getting enough money from the College. I'll just address the large classes issue now, maybe the rest later.

"Dartmouth students should expect to find themselves in classes with less than 20 students only "about a third" of the time."

Smaller class sizes is nothing but a traditionalist talking point. It doesn't really solve anything—a tremendously large class can be amazingly beneficial to a student, and a smaller class can be amazingly inefficient and dull. Just because there are fewer bodies in a classroom doesn't mean your class experience will invariably be better. There are a number of professors at Dartmouth—Pulju, Pease, and Witters come to mind—who are absolutely incredible in a large class at not only disseminating information and material effectively and meaningfully, but also at forming a connection with the students of that class. Not all students will actually engage with the class or with the professor, but guess what, that happens in smaller classes as well. I have been in one class of 5 and even in that class, 60% did not participate fully in discussions—it was pretty much just one other student, the professor, and I in conversation. Small class, big class—it makes very little difference if the teaching is good and the materials are good—the motivated students form a meaningful relationship with the prof and with the material, and the rest get basically whatever they want out of it. When big classes are bad, it's not because they're big, but because they are poorly taught.

I would add only two caveats: a) not all profs are good at teaching big courses, and not all students are good at learning in big courses. But this works exactly the same way for smaller courses. b) This all may not apply as well to classes outside of the humanities and the soft sciences, where I have experience, but I still feel good classroom experiences are dependent on good teaching and motivated students and those two things are not causally linked to class size in most cases.


  1. Anonymous3:13 PM

    I feel that one of Joe's main points was the mischaracterization of the class size situation at Dartmouth by Folt.

  2. yeah, and i agree with that--she did mischaracterize the class size situation, and I'm not defending her. i'm saying that asch takes smaller class sizes to be intrinsically good (or better), and they're not, in fact. Some classes simply need to be big, and that's not a bad thing.

  3. Anonymous4:42 PM

    Our once a term dose?
    Man you've just had some off terms. He hadn't written in so long i assumed he was dead.

  4. Actually, that's not true. He last wrote on March 1, 2006.

    That op-ed can be found here.

    Before that, he wrote on January 16th, meaning winter term actually got two doses of him. Before that, he wrote on both November 2nd and September 29th of 2005, meaning he's got fall term covered and that I was wrong--it's more like he's slacking off this term and it's usually a twice-termly dose of Asch. But you get the point.