A traditional learning environment is one in which most of the content is delivered in face-to-face meetings.  Wayne State classifies a course as traditional if students and instructors meet in the same physical space for 100% of the instructional time.  However, instructors may utilize a learning management system (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas) to post course materials, such as the syllabus, handouts, and assignments.  Traditional learning environments come in many forms, including lectures, studios, labs, and discussion sections.

Large Lectures

Teaching a large lecture can seem like a daunting task.  You may have several questions, such as:  How can I engage so many students at once?  How can I effectively assess their learning?

Start by making the class feel small to reduce students' feelings of anonymity in your class:

  • Have students leave the first day with the contact information of at least one other student.
  • Break students into groups and play the "name game."
  • Do a first day survey to get to know your students; then, when students schedule time to meet with you outside of class, read their survey responses to get to know them before the meeting.

Utilize technology to help engage your students.  Student response systems, or "clickers," encourage the students to be engaged during class and also provide a way for you to assess their understanding of the day's content.  Many other classroom assessment techniques can be utilized in larger classes so that you can continually gauge student learning.  For exams, the ideal questions are those that are both effective and easy to grade.  Effective multiple choice questions may take longer to write than essay questions, but will be much faster to grade.  Also consider questions asking students to draw simple diagrams, which can be easily viewed by you, or a TA, for the correct drawing.

The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has addressed some considerations for Getting Started with Large Lectures.


Studio classes typically involve longer class sessions (2-3 hours) and are designed to teach technical or process skills.  The lecture portion of the class is not separate from the hands-on activities, but is incorporated as a small part of the overall class time.  Instructors in studio classes tend to teach by example and then guide students through group or individual assignments.  Critique, whether by the instructor or through peer review, is often a component of studio classes.  To prepare for this, instructors may want to consider creating rubrics, teaching about constructive criticism, and building community in the classroom.

Cornell University has collected many helpful resources for teaching studios, including how to make your studio course effective and how to assess student learning in studios.

The University of Illinois describes guidelines for teaching in a studio class.


Lab classes allow students to be physically engaged with course material and relevant concepts in the field through active experimentation or exploration.  Although most labs involve students conducting experiments, the style of lab classes can vary widely.  Expository instruction is often thought of as the traditional form of lab, where students follow specific instructions in a lab manual and results are compared to an expected outcome.  Inquiry-based labs provide students with an open-ended problem or question to be answered.  Students engage in the scientific process and use what is available to design an experiment and answer the question, which may not have a specific expected result.  Discovery instruction falls somewhere between expository and inquiry; the instructor typically has an expected outcome in mind and guides the students to this result, but allows the students to make predictions and design the experiment themselves.

Our colleagues in the Center for Teaching Excellence at Cornell have some resources for teaching labs, including how to replace "cookbook" exercises and how to improve students' writing skills.

GTAs and other lab instructors may find the Condensed Guide to Leading a Lab from the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching helpful.

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