This week for my second journal I've been thinking about students at a big university, as I've now found myself. I went to a small private liberal arts school, of about 2 thousand. I am now at a huge public University of over 20 thousand. At Puget Sound, my largest class was probably 50, (and I only ever had one class this large, and ironically it was a biology lecture) my smallest class was about 8. I'd say that most classes were around 20 students. This creates a special environment where all of my professors know my name, and I got a lot of individual attention. When the class is that small, as a student, you are very responsible. Responsible for being present, responsible for having done all the work and always having an opinion. And while this small environment was prefect for me, it may not be what everyone is looking for.
During the first week of class I didn’t send a lot of time on campus if I wasn’t in class, at work, or studying for class. This was my second week of school and I felt a little less overwhelmed by classes, and I spent some time on campus during the day. I spent some time observing other students. And there are so many of them. I can't help but feel very anonymous on the OSU campus. I rarely see people I know, and when I do its considerably exciting. At Puget Sound, I couldn't go anywhere with out seeing everyone I knew. And even if I didn't know names I knew faces. And I miss that. I think that the anonymity of a big school could be both exhilarating and terrifying. But maybe it gets smaller? I'm not sure.
This week, for my assistantship, I sat in on a biology 211 lecture. There are two lectures, with a total of over 1000 students enrolled in the class. This is half the size of my undergraduate institution! The lecture I went to had 600 students registered. I'm not sure how many seats the auditorium in Miliam holds or how many were actually there. But 600 students. I sat in the upper balcony very far from the professor. There is no one up there to monitor what the students are doing. One of the biology TA's I work with was observing form the upper balcony, but he didn't seem to be there in a disciplinary function. From where I was sitting I could see about 4 open laptops. And of the two screens I could see, one was following along with the black board presentation and one was playing some kind of game. Right in view of everyone around him! The student sitting directly next to me was taking notes and following the lecture, but also texting on his phone. While I clearly know all of these things are issues, I've never experienced any of them before. I am only one year out of college; I expected to still have a good sense of the "student experience." But some combination of the extra 20,000 students at OSU and the 5 years that now separate me from a college freshman leave me feeling clueless. Student trends move fast. And as an aside (but on the same point) spell check does not recognize "texting" as a word. With the technology college students have in their lives, their lives move at lightning speed. How do I even attempt to keep up?
Sitting in on the lecture leads me directly back to where I was last week: assumptions. During the lecture the professor gave a quiz question and gave the class permission to speak to their neighbor. The question was based on the lecture I had just heard, but I hadn't really been paying attention to the biology. I'd been absorbing the environment, the professor's style of lecture, and what the students around me where doing. The young man next to me asked me what I thought about the quiz question, assuming I was a student. I truly had no idea at all, so I threw the question back to the young man. What do you think the answer is? And he said "E." I told him I thought that might be right (still having zero idea) and finally he talked himself in the right answer, which was "D." I didn't tell him I wasn't in the class because it was unnecessary, but it was rather humorous to bluff my way through a biology question.
I know part of the reason we have so many school in the US, is that every school is not right for every person. Yet I continue to feel like I’m on another planet, as far as being a student goes. And I’m hugely glad to be experiencing something different, if I’m going to work in student affairs, I should be aware of all types of institutions and how the affect the students.
In the coming weeks I plan to investigate what some of the issues students at a big school face might be. Currently I have no idea. I plan to do a little sleuthing. If I spend some more time on campus, and go to more campus activities, and I think some things should start revealing themselves to me. What is it that makes OSU special? And what kind of educational experience can an undergraduate student really expect to get here? I’m ready to find some more questions and answers.