Students in the traditions and cultures 104 class Eroticism and Love in the Middle Ages agreed on one point when asked about the class Tuesday morning. Their professor, Albrecht Classen of the German studies department, is doing the best job he can in a new and tricky situation.
Classen is one of several distinguished professors teaching more than a thousand students in Centennial Hall this fall. ""It's daunting,"" he said. ""I try to make the class as personal as possible.""
Rather than using mechanical aids such as clickers, Classen said he is going with very simple mechanics. He said that interactive technology takes away from the class and he will stick with what he is best at: talking about his passion.
With an hour and 15 minutes to lecture every Tuesday and Thursday, Classen has more time to go in-depth and address students' questions via microphone. He said that the class setup gives him and students the opportunity to improvise. ""We are all trying something new here. I don't have as much time to meet with students individually but I feel that the longer classes provide for better discussion,"" he said.
However, despite Classen's enthusiasm for the material he teaches, students brought up numerous concerns.
Prior to the start of class, a group of freshmen congregated outside the building, trying to find out who they were supposed to be working with in their class discussion groups.
Samantha Becker, an English freshman, said the class is interesting, but it is hard to coordinate group work when the only contact with her group members is through e-mail. ""I am in a group with 10 people I have never met and not everyone wants to do the work,"" said Becker. In addition, Becker pointed out that the large class size prevents some students from attending study sessions for the exams. She said numerous students couldn't attend the first exam study session because it was full.
Several other freshman students expressed similar concerns about the size and organization of the class. Cai Gutman, an undecided freshman, said the online assignments only require students to skim the surface of the material. ""The expectations for the class were set too high,"" he said. ""There are too many students for the professor and TAs to give good feedback."" Trevor Ulmer, an undecided freshman, called the class a ""clusterfuck.""
Classen admitted that grading and organization are challenging aspects of the class. He said students are divided into groups of 10 to discuss and analyze the literature, and then are expected to submit their work electronically. Each member of the group writes about a different aspect of the text and each group is assigned a leader to coordinate the work. At the end of the term, students have to write a three-page paper with their group members on what was covered in the class.
Janna Schaeffer, a German studies graduate student and TA for the class, said the new student discussion groups are the biggest change from last year. ""When I taught Eroticism and Love in the Middle Ages previously, there were only 300 students, so the TAs were able to lead the discussion sections,"" she said.
While students are perturbed by the lack of TA discussion groups and impersonal grading system, Classen said that those students who want to get something out of the class shouldn't let the large class size bother them. ""I look at what I am teaching as being fundamental to the way students will live their lives,"" he said.
Whether or not students will take Classen's words to heart remains to be seen.