Recent science, including an article in the American Educational Research Journal, points towards that fact that smaller class sizes correlate towards greater student engagement and achievement, especially in subject areas such as math and science.
However, what about a smaller class size makes it more effective, and what does that mean for the average college student?
One of my professors at college thinks very highly of himself, and constantly demands attention in his 300-student-organizational-behavior course. One of the ways he does this is by walking all around the classroom as he speaks, making us follow him with our eyes as he treks all the way up to the top level of seats and all the way back to the front of the room. At first I found this slightly annoying; why not just stay at the front next to the PowerPoint slide and explain the lecture material.
However, as I thought about it, I began to understand. By psychically moving closer to the students, this teacher is forcing the students to pay more attention than they would otherwise.
Psychologically, when a relative stranger approaches us head-on, we begin to engage in the fight-or-flight response. This causes a slight increase in adrenaline which makes us feel more awake and attentive than usual. Therefore, by walking around and approaching students, my teacher was forcing them to become more engaged.
So much for sleeping through class.