New study examines effects of interaction, connection in classes

Courtney Lewis

A Lee, a freshman in the College of Liberal Arts, said the size of her classes and the size of the University has a negative impact on her education.

“It’s too big for me,” Lee said. “I can’t learn anything in large classes.”

Lee said she spent her first year searching for a smaller university to transfer to. She said in a smaller school she hopes to feel more connected to her academic community.

Creating a more productive classroom environment could be more beneficial to Lee, according to the results of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health released Thursday.

Students who feel well received by their teachers and with their peers were found to be less violent and suicidal. They also tended to have a reduced risk of substance abuse and pregnancy.

The congressionally mandated, federally funded study is based on the surveys of 71,515 students in grades seven through 12 collected during the 1994-95 school year. Surveys were returned from 127 schools across the country.

Other findings concluded that while students in larger schools felt more dissatisfaction as a whole, the size of the individual classroom did not have as much of an impact.

In a well-managed classroom where students have more interaction with the teacher, students felt more connected to the school, despite the size, the study showed.

University professors Clea McNeely, professor of pediatrics and adolescent health, and Robert Blum, director of the University’s Center for Adolescent Health and Development, were part of an additional study featured in the April edition of the Journal of School Health along with the Add Health findings.

The study determined no students from the schools surveyed felt complete connection or disconnection. Blum and his colleagues reported the average level of school connectedness is 3.64 on a scale of one to five.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have 20 or 30 kids in a class. It doesn’t matter whether the teacher has a graduate degree,” Blum said in a written statement. “What matters is the environment that a student enters when he walks through the classroom door.”

While smaller classes offer more opportunity for interaction between students and faculty, Darwin Hendel, professor of education policy, said class size has to be considered relative to demand.

Students can still benefit from large classes through breakout sessions and discussion groups, Hendel said.

Feeling connected to professors is a problem for Natalie Ledesma, a CLA freshman.

Ledesma said she enjoyed the material taught in her roughly 700-student psychology class but would have learned more with fewer students to distract her.

“With a larger lecture hall, it’s so easy to skip class,” Ledesma said. “You can usually get all the notes online.”

Hendel said WebCT and e-mails from professors can help students feel more connection with their classes but it’s difficult for faculty to manage e-mails for large classes.