… the state of Arizona now boasts the largest human-designed chasm in the world.

Gaze in wonder at the gap between the University of Arizona’s students and their professors in redesigned Centennial Hall:

Incoming UA freshmen — already paying the highest tuition in university history — could find themselves sitting in some of the largest classes in the country this fall.

After promising that state budget cuts in the past year would lead to larger class sizes, University of Arizona officials will offer three classes in Centennial Hall, the largest of which will seat 1,200 students.

Officials plan to spend roughly $300,000 to retrofit the 2,500-seat performance hall with Wi-Fi, computers and projection equipment that will have to be mobile to accommodate the hall’s primary purpose of hosting music, dance and other cultural performances.

… Those involved say the courses will be successful despite their large size because of the quality lecturers heading the classes and a new pilot program to help mentor and support students.

However, an administrator who’s helping organize the plan admitted that it’s not ideal.

Another administrator who recently was removed from the project and an outside teaching expert also cautioned there’s a lot that could go wrong.

Chief among their concerns: Centennial’s seats don’t have lap boards, meaning students won’t have a place to take notes. There also is the difficulty of holding the attention of hundreds of laptop-toting students in a large hall, said Joni Finney, a teaching expert and vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

“The tendency is to reduce excess expenses and pack them in like a cattle car, and whoever makes it out, makes it,” she said. “That’s really not doing students any kind of service.”

… “My biggest concern [one professor remarked] is not keeping their attention on the lecture, but what they would be doing on their laptops,” she said. [Bit confusing there. If you’re worried about what they’re doing on their laptops, aren’t you worried that their attention is not on the lecture?  Or are you worried that while they’re listening intently they’re also pleasuring themselves?]

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8 Responses to “Already Home to the Grand Canyon…”

  1. Bill Gleason Says:

    • "Eroticism and Love in the Middle Ages": The 1,200-seat lecture examines how courtly love was portrayed in literature, the arts, philosophy and religion during the Middle Ages. [Centennial Hall Course]

    Pleasure indeed…

    My son went to the U of A in the early nineties. (He was an English major.)

    Sad to see what is happening to what was once a wonderful university where the undergrads were treated a lot better than they apparently are now.

  2. david foster Says:

    Just for fun, let’s do a little math….

    Say an excellent tenured professor costs $180K, fully loaded (salary + benfits) And say he teaches only two lecture-style classes, for two semesters a year.

    The total instructional cost for each class will be $45K. How does class size affect cost per student?

    45 students…$1000/student
    90 students…$500/student
    180 students…$250/student
    360 students…$125/student

    …thus, there are considerable dollar savings in having a lecture class with around 200 students, but after that, the savings become pretty trivial.

    Hard to see what the point of a 1200-student class would be, other than to put on a show for politicians (bad politician! see what you made us do! bad politician!) And I haven’t even factored in that $300K for retrofit capex.

  3. Bill Gleason Says:

    Ah, but you’re looking at it the wrong way…

    Let’s say we charge students $250 for the course, probably way low.

    Then the money after the 180th student is "pure profit" for the university.

    I know, I know there are other costs. But I believe the above little example is the driving force for large classes at universities. It isn’t that the incremental cost per student is trivial after 200, it is that large classes are where big bucks can be made.

  4. david foster Says:

    Bill..what would be a realistic number for price per course at a university like this?

  5. Bill Gleason Says:

    Ah, David you know me too well?

    About two cents…

  6. theprofessor Says:

    Yes, but the university undoubtedly can produce a bureaucrat who will testify that even these monster courses lose tons of money.

  7. Why the hostility toward academia? « Insomniac memos Says:

    […] that transform the classroom experience into an online data dumping experience; claims that 1,200-student lecture halls bristling with clickers and PowerPoint and laptops provide a valuable educational experience […]

  8. University Diaries » “Cramming hundreds of students into rows upon rows of auditorium-style seating while they listen to a professor’s voice over a speaker system does not allow for the individualized instruction officials hope to provid Says:

    […] but small’s a matter of degree… The University of Arizona has a 1,200-person lecture hall. So maybe administrators at the University of Maryland think a 500-person lecture hall is small. […]

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