My homeschool is a small liberal arts college in central New York. At my school, most classes have between 10 and 40 students. I have taken one class with roughly 80 students. Small liberal arts college often pride themselves on students being able to form meaningful relationships with their professors and classmates because of the class size. Throughout my educational journey, I have always attended small schools where my teachers knew a bit about me on a personal level. This is one of the reasons why adjusting to my classes at the University of Westminster was exactly that, an adjustment.
With the exception of one class, where we wore name tags each week, my instructors did not make much of an effort to even remember our names. I thought at first that it didn’t make much of a difference because it was such a large university that instructors would probably only know students for a short while anyway. However, I realized that this may be far from the truth given how focused the British university system is. By the time students start university, they already know what their major or course will be, and they take all their classes in that area, so it is likely that they will have the same instructor more than once. This lack of emphasis on personal connections kind of lowered my investment in my courses, because the classroom lacked a community feeling. To be fair, many if not the majority of my classes at Hamilton lacked a community feeling for me, but at least my professors knew my name.
Another major adjustment for me was gettin used to the lecture and seminar class format. At my homeschool, most of my classes have been small discussion based classes. This usually meant that the class would read some texts before class and then we would discuss the pieces with each other and our professor, as well as maybe doing some other activities. In my time at Hamilton, I have only had one lecture based class — it was not my favorite. At Westminster, all four of my classes incorporated lecture. The first hour or so was dedicated to a lecture on the week’s topic. This was hard for me to adapt to because I had become accustomed to a more interactive learning style. Save for the one entirely lecture based class I had, other classes at Hamilton that incorporated lectures in my experience also broke up these lectures with interactive activities like discussion questions, or peer shares.
I struggled with staying attentive during my lectures, and I could not decide if taking notes was a good idea because it helped me stay more focused on the information in the slides rather than what my instructor was saying. What I did appreciate was that the lecture was always followed by a seminar which more closely resembled my classes in the States. These two components together however presented a challenge because at home the average length of a “long” class is 1 hour and 15 minutes, meeting twice a week, while my shortest class at Westminster was 2 hours long, and longest was four hours long — though these classes met once a week. Meeting once a week also contributed to my inability to make meaningful connections with my instructors and classmates. The fact that Westminster is not a residential university contributed to this as well, because most students just came to class and returned home. A few weeks into school I asked one of my classmates who was a full time student how I could print my readings and he told me he had no clue because he only came to uni for class.
To add something more positive about the adjustment, I had a unique experience with one of my classes where each week our class was lead by a different instructor. The class was about globalization, so with each topic within globalization we had a new instructor whose area of focus was related to the topic at hand. I appreciated this constant introduction of new voices and perspectives into our classroom. My LGBTQ Studies course was conducted similarly. An additional positive change was experiencing learning outside of the classroom setting. Three out of my four classes planned things like museum visits, and one even took us on a scavenger hunt. So while there were aspects of schooling at Westminster that I truly struggled with, or simply did not like, there were others that I know I will find myself missing when I’m back at Hamilton in the fall.