Laboratory Class Size

David W. Kramer kramer.8 at OSU.EDU
Mon Oct 27 14:36:33 EST 1997

Thanks for making my Dean look so enlightened!  We haven't had problems
with this.  Perhaps it's because our class size is limited by the number of
chairs, microscopes, etc.!  In my intro plant biology course for non-majors
the lab has 38 spaces at the lab benches.  When the student spaces are
full, they're full.  [We allow registration to go to 40 because there
always are some "no shows."]  Upper level labs would have smaller limits
but still based on physical facilities... not on whims of the professor or
the dean.  You can't have 40 students in a lab with 10 microscopes!  Give
the Dean a choice:  Cut the enrollment to fit the physical realities OR buy
equipment and build labs and hire lab assistants to fit the larger
enrollment.  Given those choices and the realities of equipment costs in
science compared with equipment budgets, the Dean will opt for realistic
class sizes.  Having been a Dean... I saw some Deans take this extreme
position to force faculty to really think about the economics and the
academics simultaneously and to challenge what they are doing.  Some
faculty, fresh from graduate school, want to operate very small classes on
esoteric topics.  This does not fit with the economic realities of most
undergraduate liberal arts institutions.  It often does not fit with the
academic goals either.  All of it can be resolved if the faculty and the
Dean have a face to face meeting and honestly try to understand one
another's position.  And don't forget to bring students into the
discussion... they are among the first to complain when lab space/equipment
is insufficient to support their learning.  If faculty are afraid that the
students will recommend eliminating the labs, it's a good sign that the
labs are not fulfilling a useful purpose in support of student learning
(now we're into another thread!).

>Our new Dean (former Sociology professor) is
>rattling the saber about increasing class sizes.
>Biology offers laboratory courses with every one
>of its courses for the bio major. We have historically
>limited enrollment to 15 students per class...some
>have even fewer (Electron Microscopy =3D 5).
>Our new assistant professor has proposed an
>entomology course with laboratory with n=3D15 to
>fit in with our traditions (past practice). The
>Dean refuses to approve the new course unless we
>put the class size up to 24.
>My question is, does anyone know of special
>defenses for limiting lab size to lower numbers
>in the case of an entomology course?  The obvious
>ones of increased faculty/student contact, the
>higher ratio of essay and thought questions on
>exams, the improved chance for independent research
>questions in the lab, and so on all fall on deaf
>ears.  The safety concerns seem less obvious than
>for, say, biochemistry/biotechnology courses.
>Thanks for any ideas you might have that we can
>argue with our Dean.
>Ross Koning                 | koning at
>Biology Department          |
>Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
>Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479
>Electronic services composed and served from =95Macintosh hardware.

Dr. David W. Kramer
Department of Plant Biology
Ohio State University at Mansfield
1680 University Drive
Mansfield, OH  44906-1547
(419) 755-4344  FAX:  (419) 755-4367
e-mail:  kramer.8 at

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