Making Bigger Better in Online Learning

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Understanding critical determinants of class size on online student engagement is obfuscated by a literature that: is unspecific about what constitutes small, medium and large class size; and largely out of date in conceptualizing large class augmentation strategies. Making Bigger Better suggests tighter definitions for class size categories and explores up-to-date learning design strategies for large classes.


Jason Ostrander, Ph.D., MSW, BSW is an Assistant Professor and MSW Program Director at Sacred Heart University's Department of Social Work. He has a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Elms College, and both a master's and a doctorate degree in social work from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. He currently teaches on-ground and online courses in policy, research and integrative practice. His scholarly work focuses on political social work, political participation of social workers, social and economic justice, program evaluation, and policy implications relating to marginalized and oppressed populations. Dr. Ostrander currently serves on the Research Committee and Advisory Board for the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work where he is also a training consultant. Dr. Ostrander’s practice experience comprises political social work at the local, state, and federal levels. This experience includes serving as a congressional aide to a former U.S. Congressman.

Extended Abstract

The literature in online teaching is aging and includes a confusing range of definitions of “small,” “medium,” and “large” class sizes. Yet the literature is aligned in concluding that bigger classes create more significant challenges in achieving optimal student interaction and engagement, both among peers and with professors. This Discovery Session clarifies critical understanding within these two areas of concern:

Part 1. Understanding What’s “Optimal” for Online Classes.

 This discussion draws on literature supporting the class size and optimal engagement, interaction, and student success in online learning. Part 1 indexes data supporting optimal outcomes as they are associated with class sizes, then recommends “definitions” for class size, from small to medium to large.

Part 2.  Making Bigger Better

Building on definitions established in Part 1, Part 2 describes effective learning design and augmentation strategies for “large” classes to ensure optimal student interaction and engagement. Extrapolated from the literature but tried and tested in current online “classrooms,” Part 2 addresses a full range of state-of-the-art strategies associated with student success in larger classes, including:

  • Expectations of and development support for faculty
  • Using Artificial Intelligence technology to address students’ discussion and assignment questions
  • Creating embedded Virtual and/or Augmented Reality case studies and documentary material to assure student interactivity with the curriculum
  • Using (how and how many) Teaching Assistants to supplement faculty availability to students

As well as how to cope with “lecture” sized online classes (50+ students) using adaptive augmentation and engagement strategies put in practice by the presenters.