1.3 What Is College, Really?

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe differences between large and small college classes and discuss the implications for learning.
  2. Describe different skills needed for online courses.
  3. Know how to learn your college’s policies and understand their importance.

Big Classes, Small Classes

While most high school classes are fairly small, many college classes are large—up to several hundred students in a large lecture class. Other classes you may take will be as small as high school classes. In large lecture classes you may feel totally anonymous—even invisible—in a very large class. This feeling can get some students in trouble, however. Here are some common mistaken assumptions and attitudes about large classes:

  • The instructor won’t notice me sitting there, so I can check e-mail or read for a different class if I get bored.
  • The instructor doesn’t know my name or recognize me, so I don’t even need to go to class as long as I can borrow someone’s notes to find out what happens.
  • I hate listening to lectures, so I might as well think about something else because I’m not going to learn anything this way anyway.

These comments all share the same flawed attitude about college: it’s up to the instructor to teach in an entertaining way if I am to learn at all—and it’s actually the college’s or instructor’s fault that I’m stuck in this large class, so they’re to blame if I think about or do other things. But remember, in college, you take responsibility for your own learning. Sure, a student is free to try to sleep in a lecture class, or not attend the class at all—the same way a student is “free” to fail any class he or she chooses!

Image of a student in Rawls College of Business being attentive in class.

Figure 1.5 – In a lecture class, avoid the temptation to engage in other activities that will distract you from paying attention.

If you dislike large lecture classes but can’t avoid them, the best solution is to learn how to learn in such a situation. Later chapters will give you tips for improving this experience. Just remember that it’s up to you to stay actively engaged in your own learning while in college—it’s not the instructor’s job to entertain you enough to “make” you learn.

There is one thing you need to know right away. Even in a lecture hall holding three hundred students, your instructors do know who you are. They may not know your name right away or even by the end of the term, but they see you sitting there, doing whatever you are doing, looking wherever you are looking—and will form a distinct impression of you. Instructors do have academic integrity and won’t lower your grade on an exam because you slept once in class, but the impression you make just might affect how far instructors go out of their way to offer a helping hand. Interacting with instructors is a crucial part of education—and the primary way students learn. Successful interaction begins with good communication and mutual respect. If you want your instructors to respect you, then you need to show respect for them and their classes as well.

Online Courses

Most colleges offer online courses or regular courses with an online component. Many different variations exist, but all online courses share certain characteristics, such as working independently and communicating with the instructor (and sometimes other students) primarily through written messages. If you have never taken an online course, carefully consider what’s involved to ensure you will succeed in the course.

  • You need to own or have frequent access to a recent model of computer with a high-speed Internet connection.
  • Without the set hours of a class, you need to be self-motivating to schedule your time to participate regularly.
  • Without an instructor or other students in the room, you need to be able to pay attention effectively to the computer screen. Learning on a computer is not as simple as passively watching television! Take notes.
  • Without reminders in class and peer pressure from other students, you’ll need to take responsibility to complete all assignments and papers on time.
  • Since your instructor will evaluate you primarily through your writing, you need good writing skills for an online course. If you believe you need to improve your writing skills, put off taking an online course until you feel better prepared.
  • You must take the initiative to ask questions if you don’t understand something.
  • You may need to be creative to find other ways to interact with other students in the course. You could form a study group and get together regularly in person with other students in the same course.


Image of the Rawls College of Business Testing Center.

Figure 1.6 – Online courses are increasingly common at colleges and require independent learning.

If you feel you are ready to take on these responsibilities and are attracted to the flexibility of an online course and the freedom to schedule your time in it, see what your college has available.

Class Attendance and Promptness

In some classes at some colleges, attendance is required and absences can affect one’s grade in the course. But even when attendance is not required, missing classes will inevitably affect your grade as well. You’re not learning if you’re not there. Reading another student’s notes is not the same.

Arriving to class promptly is also important. Walking into a class that has already begun is rude to the instructor (remember what we said earlier about the impression you may be making) and to other students. A mature student respects the instructor and other students and in turn receives respect back.

College Policies

A college campus is almost like a small town—or country—unto itself. The campus has its own police force, its own government, its own stores, its own ID cards, its own parking rules, and so on. Colleges also have their own policies regarding many types of activities and behaviors. Students who do not understand the rules can sometimes find themselves in trouble.

The most important academic policy is academic honesty. Cheating is taken very seriously. Some high school students may have only received a slap on the wrist if caught looking at another student’s paper during a test or turning in a paper containing sentences or paragraphs found online or purchased from a “term-paper mill.” In many colleges, academic dishonesty like this may result in automatic failure of the course—or even expulsion from college. The principle of academic honesty is simple: every student must do his or her own work. If you have any doubt of what this means for a paper you are writing, a project you are doing with other students, or anything else, talk with your instructor or check the Student Code of Conduct (https://www.depts.ttu.edu/dos/handbook.php).

Colleges also have policies about alcohol and drug use, sexual harassment, hazing, hate crimes, and other potential problems. Residence halls have policies about noise limits, visitors, hours, structural and cosmetic alterations of university property, and so on. The college registrar has policies about course add and drop dates, payment schedules and refunds, and the like. Such policies are designed to ensure that all students have the same right to a quality education—one not unfairly interrupted by the actions of others. You can find these policies at the Office of Student Conduct (https://www.depts.ttu.edu/dos/handbook.php).


Key Takeaways

  • Even in large lecture classes, attendance is important, along with forming a good impression and paying attention.
  • Online courses offer another option in many colleges but require a certain preparedness and a heightened sense of responsibility.
  • To avoid inadvertently finding yourself in trouble, know your college’s policies for academic issues and campus behavior.

Checkpoint Exercises

  1. For each of the following statements, circle T for true or F for false:

    T F If your instructor in a large lecture class is boring, there’s nothing you can do except to try to stay awake and hope you never have him or her for another class.
    T F In a large lecture hall, if you sit near the back and pretend to listen, you can write e-mails or send text messages without your instructor noticing.
  2. List three things a college student should be good at in order to succeed in an online course.




  3. Use your imagination and describe three different actions that would violate of Texas Tech’s academic honesty policy.




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RaiderReady: Unmasking the Possibilities of College Success Copyright © 2018 by Texas Tech University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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