Professors come to grips with increased minimum class size

Basil the Bat Lord

How many students does it take to screw in a lightbulb? For Electrical Engineering professor Douglas De Boer, the answer depends on how many students enroll in Fundamentals of Household Electronics. If the class fails to enroll the new minimum number of students recently approved by administration, it will be cut from next semester’s course list.

Starting in spring 2017, all Dordt courses will be required to have at minimum one student enrolled in order to be considered a legitimate class.

According to provost Eric Forseth, the decided number of one student represents a shaky compromise between the majority of faculty and the administrative leadership.

“The professors were pushing for a one-fourths of a person minimum class size,” Forseth said. “But through many conversations and much prayer, they graciously consented to raise the class size to one student.”

President Erik Hoekstra declined to comment on the firestorm that resulted from the increased class size.

The balance between accommodating the enrollment of as many fractions of students as possible and ensuring good stewardship of both classroom space and a professor’s salary is always a touchy business.

“I wouldn’t say I am angry, but yes, I am angry,” Education professor Dave Mulder said. “Forcing a professor to cancel a class that sparks interest in less than a single full person should not have to happen.”

Mulder’s frustration is shared by many faculty, but his viewpoint is softening over time.

Though the initial pushback to the new minimum class size was fierce, most professors have resigned themselves to the reality of larger classes at Dordt and some have even gotten creative with ways to engage a whole person for a 50-minute lecture.

Theology professor Ben Lappenga is planning to relocate his office to the Fruited Plain and have class over coffee.

Environmental Studies professor Rob De Haan is already anticipating the spring semester and the opportunity to take his one student out on excursions into nature.

“I pulled the old tandem bicycle out of my garage and oiled up the chain last night,” De Haan said.

Students can be difficult to get to know in the class setting, and some professors find it easier to invite them to special events.

“If engaging one-on-one is too daunting,” said Math professor Valorie Zonnefeld, “do what I do: invite your husband along. Ryan and I spent our last anniversary dinner chatting with a Math Education major.”

Professors who teach classes that historically have averaged equal to or more than one student enrolled – such as upper level history, literature and theatre classes – are not worried about the confirmed change.

“I have experience teaching classes with at least one person, so it’s not such a shock,” History professor Walker Cosgrove said. “You just have to learn how to get to know a single student.”

Cosgrove encouraged professors who really try to get to know their student by name to rely on some tried-and-true methods for keeping a person straight.

“A seating chart can go a long way,” Cosgrove said.

Whether or not this minimum class size affects the culture on campus and Dordt’s reputation for a low teacher-to-student ratio remains to be seen.

This article wast taken from the Zircon issue of The Dordt Diamond

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