View Full Version : How were your college classes taught?

02-02-2011, 01:42 PM
I want to prepare my daughter for the rigors of college classes. We are couple of years away. I took business classes at night, it was all book work. I hope some of you all attended bigger colleges and universities. How did the teachers teach? For example was it lecture and then student research paper due? Different subjects book work? What was your average day of classes like? I am exploring the idea of setting up some of her junior and senior high school classes in college teaching format?

02-02-2011, 02:09 PM
Does your daughter have the opportunity to take community college classes? That would certainly get her feet wet and she could rack up some college credits.

I'm not sure if my college experience is typical, but my freshman humanities and social science classes were large lectures where the professors when through the subject matter (3 hours per week). There were also weekly "discussion" classes held with a teaching assistant that were smaller and allowed the students to ask questions and discuss the material (1 hour per week). Some classes only had exams and some had both exams and several research papers throughout the semester. Upper level classes ("seminars") were small classes with a professor on a narrower subject (20th Century philosophy, African colonial history, etc.) that usually only required research papers. In most classes, the teacher provided a syllabus with a list of readings required for each class. Sometimes there were smaller papers or quizzes to make sure students were attending classes and doing the readings. At my college, a full-time student typically took 16 credit hours per semester (four classes, three to four hours each class per week). Classes met one to three times per week.

That's the best my memory can provide at the moment!

On a semi-related note, I was listening to a program on NPR about high stress levels in college students. One caller noted that he didn't really learn study skills in high school and he was having a hard time in college. Skills like taking notes, making an outline, finding reliable sources for research papers (not just googling the subject!), and the proper way to quote or credit those sources within the paper would be valuable for your daughter to know.

02-02-2011, 03:33 PM
I want to prepare my daughter for the rigors of college classes. We are couple of years away. I took business classes at night, it was all book work. I hope some of you all attended bigger colleges and universities. How did the teachers teach? For example was it lecture and then student research paper due? Different subjects book work? What was your average day of classes like? I am exploring the idea of setting up some of her junior and senior high school classes in college teaching format?

I taught at a community college for eight years (English). The format varied depending on subject, department, and teacher. Mostly you'll find lectures, exams, and essays. If the teacher is more creative, they'll have small group exercises or media research assignments (a sociology professor might ask students to watch 'reality TV', do some research on media studies, and write an essay on their findings). There might be presentations (individual or in a group), creating a survey and compiling statistics, or just lots of reading and lots of quizzes. I always leaned toward the more creative, thought-provoking assignments.

Our students took 5 courses, 3 hours each, for a total of 15 (12 was minimum and 18 was maximum). Classes met 3 hours a week for about 15 weeks. There was also a wide variety of grading techniques, from points systems to standard letter grades to sliding scales based on class performance. I would always work in attendance and participation grades as well.

Finally, research and documentation styles (MLA, APA...) are very important, no matter what the subject. Some teachers didn't care, but most were sticklers for it. Definitely give her some practice with this.

Hope this helps.

What subjects does she enjoy most?

02-02-2011, 04:00 PM
I went to a relatively prestigious small liberal arts college - Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. It's part of a consortium of other colleges - liberal alternative Hampshire College, giant state university UMASS, high end prestigious Amherst College, and fellow women's school Smith College. I took classes at every single one. Here's what I learned. No two schools are the same. Really. Most classes were lecture at all the schools, but the expectations, the culture, the attitudes, the number of people in a class, etc. were all really different.

I think the best preparation for any college is solid writing skills, thinking skills, organizational skills, research skills and a generally rigorous secondary education.

What sort of school does your dd want to attend? I think mostly the preparation for college is universal, but if she's getting ready for a small liberal arts school or a giant university or an alternative school... well, it could make a different in your approach.

02-02-2011, 04:32 PM
You mentioned bigger colleges and universities. I was a GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistant) at two large state universities and a professor at a small four year liberal arts college. What I would add to what has already been said is that professors almost always appreciate visits from their students. When a professor has 200+ students in a freshmen level lecture course it's easy for the student to feel more like a number than a person but believe it or not most professors do care. They tend to be very passionate about their subjects, unlike many high school teachers, and they actually like it when students come by to ask them to clarify something or (even better) talk more about something that caught their interest. Professors have office hours and almost no one ever comes to see them but your daughter should take advantage of the opportunity, if for no other reason than to have one on one time with someone who knows a lot about the subject. She should do this BEFORE something bad comes up, like needing to miss an exam because she was ill. It will help if they have seen her before and know she's putting in some effort. They will likely meet her more than half way.

What else comes to mind is to be sure your daughter has some exposure to college level classes and expectations BEFORE she goes. I attended a college prep school where the last two years of high school were basically the first two years of college. It was very demanding but I was grateful when I got to the university. Almost all the others in my freshmen level classes where in a state of shock because they were completely unprepared. They didn't know how to take notes during a lecture, they didn't know how to read quickly for content, they didn't know how to do research or write papers, they had very few organizational skills. This was twenty years ago and in the years since the expectations have eased a great deal because so many students come to college without the necessary skills that things have been considerably dumbed down, but then again the expectations of high school students is even lower than it was twenty years ago so I think we're in the same boat, just at a lower level. Sad, but true. Anyway, I would recommend enrolling her in a couple of college classes at a local community college, if you have one nearby. She can do this during the summer. Even if she only audits the class she'll get a feel for what it's like. You can also help prepare her by engaging in Socratic discussions with her or enroll her in online classes which use this format. Upper level undergraduate classes (and graduate classes) often take that form. Some of the freshmen-sophomore classes do, depending on size and subject.

Large universities have many helpful features that most students don't even know about. Attending orientation is a good way to find out about what's available. Many students don't know, for example, that there are usually writing services available where a grad student in English will proofread their papers for them. They also provide services for students with special needs. There are many of these things out there but the student usually has to seek them out. They don't come to the student and say, "Hey, do you need some help?"

Some students are a bit shocked by the fact that no one makes them do their "homework" or go to class. Public schools have so spoiled students that they are accustomed to having their mom sign their homework assignment sheet and teachers hound them to turn in papers. That won't happen at university. Most professors will not even bother to take roll. Some do, some don't. They'll hand out a syllabus on the first day of class which will have all the readings and assignments on it. They won't check to see if anyone read the chapter last night. There might be a quiz, there might not. If someone doesn't turn in a paper they aren't going to mention it or ask the student to please turn it in for a late grade or anything else. The student is expected to be responsible for their own assignments. Oh, and another thing: when they get there they are used to having chapter tests once every week or two. In college there are typically two exams, a midterm and a final. That's it. If they don't keep up with the readings and review their notes every day they're sunk. There's no way to cram several weeks' worth of notes into a one or two night study session. One helpful thing with taking notes is recording the lecture. She must ask permission before doing this. Some professors will not allow it, others will but she doesn't want to be caught doing this without permission! My strategy was to record the lectures, go home and type them word for word into the computer that day. I'd print them out and highlight the points that I thought were important and might show up on a test. I'm a visual person so typing it out, highlighting it, reading it, and even writing out the highlighted portions helped. I also outlined the chapters and kept notes on important things there. I knew people (auditory learners) who would just listen to the lecture over and over but that didn't work for me. Finding a study partner is really important, too. If your daughter can find someone in the class with good study habits to meet with once a week or so they can quiz each other, etc... Some classes will form a study group but I remember these mostly in upper level and graduate classes.

I hope this helps.

02-02-2011, 04:41 PM
You might be interested in this documentary called Declining By Degrees: Higher Education at Risk. You can view it instantly on Netflix if you have an account.


02-02-2011, 05:57 PM
I also have taken classes at many different schools. At PSU, my early lecture classes were 400 students. Basically he went over the same material you just read in the chapter, assigned problems (but didnt collect them), and gave tests. Math classes had a weekly session w a TA (most of whom baresly spoke english), where you could ask questions about the homework assignements. These classes were required so attendence counted towards your grade.

I also took writing classes at PSU - very different. Up to 40 kids in a class, written assignments depending on class every other week or 3/semester, no tests in most of them.

I took a stat class at PSU where we had a quiz every 4 weeks and for your final grade he would drop your lowest quiz, and the quiz average was weighted the same as the midterm and final.

I took classes at New College USF where classes were small enough that class participation was counted towards grades, and I generally had to write 3 papers (total, among my classes) each week, anywhere from 3-15 pages each.

I took programming classes at a community college - there you had to have read the chapter in order to keep up with the instructor's lectures. You were graded on your completed projects plus a test. I took programming at PSU as well, same thing but the lectures werent really as dependent on your reading, iir.

I think the key is that your child has to want to succeed. Most teens will, at some point, realize what they want for themselves and take responsibility for doing it. If she isnt there, no amount of 'prep' will really matter. and if she is there, she'll figure out what she has to do. IMO

02-02-2011, 11:43 PM
Thank you all for your information. It helps a lot!

02-03-2011, 03:46 PM
I attended Indiana University and this post above describes my classes perfectly. Large Lectures (300+), I always sat up front. Smallish disscussion groups. A few small classes of around 25 students, i.e. Eng 101, French class (dropped after first week). What I wish I knew then was better studying practices, note taking, and that many of the Prof's really do want to spend the next 20 mins. chatting about whether "Decartes really believed in God, or was he afraid he end up like Gallileo". I got an A in an art history class when I only deserved a B (too many missed classes) because I talked to my Prof daily.
A typical week would be 3-5 hours a day in class (hopefully M-Th), then another 3-5 hours studying, or writing. My first year, Sem I - Bio 101, Psych 103, Eng Comp 101, Hist 103, and that french class. Sem II was Geo 101 (rocks for Jocks) Sociology 101, Econ 201, Math 111, Hist 104. I started out the year wanting to be a Science major, ended up a History major.
If you contact your local CC or Univ. see if she can audit a class just to get a feel for it.

02-03-2011, 04:24 PM
Depending what field she's interested in, make sure she knows how to read for information. Humanities classes can often require lots of reading (like hundreds of pages), multiple that by two or three classes, add in a science class that requires very technical reading and you could be lost before the second week.

02-05-2011, 04:24 PM
I went to college so long ago, that I doubt it looks the same today as when I went. But...

It really depended on the class. I went to a fairly large state university (Florida State). The liberal arts and required courses were quite large. It was usually lecture-research paper-test. No one knew anyone else - students or teachers. The classes for my major were much smaller and more personal. The professor actually recognized you, even if he or she couldn't remember your name. The prof still lectured, but there was sometimes time for Q and A or class discussions. There were usually several smaller papers due in addition to a big research paper. There were still tests.

This was long before personal computers were common and when professors, not their grad students, were much more hands on (told you it was long ago :D )

03-14-2011, 01:55 PM
I think the biggest adjustments to college are:
1) class:work ratio: esp in ps, kids spend 7hrs in class and 1-2 hrs homework; a college frosh may spend 3hrs/day in class and 4-6hrs of homework (incl reading). The rule of thumb was 2-3hrs of out-of-class work for each hour of lecture. Learning to read a textbook, and "F=ma" as "force equals mass times acceleration" is a must.
2) lack of accountability: as others mentioned no one will say boo if you skip class, don't turn in work; or fail a test.
3) competition: most programs you start as a pre-major for 2 years then apply to your department. If your program is in demand that may mean your frosh class has a GPA set a 2.5 but you have to get at least a 3.2 to get into your program. One pre-engineering class I took only 6 out of 65 students were awarded the 3.2 or higher they needed to get into my department. Ouch!
4) high pressure exams. In Sci and math a typical grade will be set 10% on homework, 20% each on 2 midterms and 50% on the final. Term projects were often 10=20% of the final grade.

DEFINITELY stress talking to the profs. If dc takes a CC class, make going to office hours part of their hs work. They will get more from the class, are more likely to have a sense for what will be on the tests (what matters to the prof), and a prof will often give a nudge on grading to the students they know.

One calculus class I took I muffed the first midterm, then aced the second and final. When I went to see if final grades were posted, I know the highest I could get was a 3.4. The grades weren't posted yet, but the prof looked it up. I had a 3.9. I was confused but not about to say anything. The prof must have seen I was surprised, looked in his book and chuckled, "oh, you really messed up on the first midterm but aced everything else, so I threw out that midterm." Yeah, they can do that. :D

Stella M
03-14-2011, 05:11 PM
My experience was not typical as we learnt mainly in a small tutorial situation - about 12 of us with 2 main lecturers. Also, very little of what we did was research based; mostly we were producing our own creative work. So I guess my experience is of zero help to you - sorry!

With my girls I'm starting early with time management - planning out what you need to do and how it fits in with all the other things you need to do.

03-14-2011, 11:06 PM
My university experience (I have a Bachelor of Science in Human Social Services) was mostly lecture, bookwork and test taking or paper writing. I think the most important skills to have for college are self motivation and time management.