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College lecture class formats

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College lecture classes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Strategies for selecting the best section depend heavily on the type of format. This page reviews the main formats.

Based on size, classes can be divided into two broad categories:

  • Large lecture class (60+ students), typically taught by a senior professor, with smaller recitation sections run by TAs.
  • Small or mid-sized class (10-50 students) that may be taught by a graduate student, adjunct, post-doc, or tenure-track or tenured faculty. In some cases, the problem sessions and office hours may be held by the instructor, and in other cases, by a TA specifically assigned to the course.

In the case of multiple sections of the same course (i.e., the same course number), the following classification is useful:

  • No coordination at all: Instructors are free to assign their own text, examinations, and course structure, subject to some very loose guideline. This is often seen for upper division courses in many universities.
  • Coordination only for broad syllabus: The textbook and syllabus are pre-determined, but instructors are given flexibility to make minor deviations, choose the pace of coverage, assign their own homework, grading policy, and tests, and assign final grades by themselves. This is seen, for instance, for most of the mathematics courses taught at the University of Chicago.
  • Common final test: Instructors are given a syllabus and text to follow, and are given flexibility in their pace of coverage, but their students are tested at the end based on a common final test, with instructors grading each other's tests.
  • Common homeworks: Instructors are given a detailed syllabus with rigid guidelines on pacing. Homeworks are common, so all instructors need to cover material at the appropriate pace so that all students can do the assigned homeworks.