DCAL’s Gateway Initiative: Big Courses That Feel Small

Small class size: It’s one of Dartmouth’s strengths, of which students and faculty are proud. Small classes allow for individualized attention and feedback and let students develop close relationships with intellectual mentors who are top scholars in their fields.

But even at Dartmouth, not all classes can be small. Larger undergraduate classes are what Lisa Baldez, director of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), and Josh Kim, director of digital learning initiatives, call gateway courses—introductory survey classes that fulfill major and distribution requirements and open doors to deeper study.

 

Rebecca Biron, professor of Spanish and comparative literature and dean of the College, works with instructional designer Ashley Kehoe on a new Gateway course that Biron will teach next year. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Last year, in collaboration with the Office of the Provost and Academic Computing and with funding from an anonymous donor, DCAL launched the Gateway Initiative—an effort to redesign large, introductory courses to allow more interaction between faculty and students.

The first Gateway Initiative courses were an introductory genetics course; a survey of ancient Greek and Roman culture; introduction to calculus; and a Russian class that explored Slavic folklore traditions.

“It’s not that these classes were somehow broken,” Kim says. On the contrary, he says, judging from student evaluations, “Some were among the most highly reviewed courses we had. But faculty see the Gateway Initiative as a way that they can meet their own teaching goals. The question was: Are there ways we can have these larger classes feel like smaller classes?”

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