Grand Cinema used to gauge UNL's need for large lecture hall

A theater inside the Lincoln Grand Cinema. The downtown Lincoln theater will be used to gauge the need for a large lecture classroom on campus.
A theater inside the Lincoln Grand Cinema. The downtown Lincoln theater will be used to gauge the need for a large lecture classroom on campus.

Next fall, UNL faculty and students will help evaluate the pros and cons of large-enrollment classes. One section of Psychology 181, one of UNL’s most popular courses, will enroll as many as 400 students, almost double the size of the largest sections now offered on campus.

The twist: the course will meet at the Lincoln Grand Cinema, 1101 P St., in downtown Lincoln, about three blocks south of campus.

The theater is able to accommodate up to 400 students, but it is expected that between 300 and 350 will register for this section, which is a foundation course for psychology and attracts a lot of first-year students.

Lance C. Pérez, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said UNL has chosen to rent the theater because there are no suitable 400-seat classrooms on campus. Faculty and programs have been asking for a larger venue in order to meet increased demand for some courses, he said. The university initiated this pilot to better understand the challenges and opportunities associated with a large classroom before considering a similar on-campus facility.

Debra Hope, professor of psychology, has experience teaching this course, and has expertise in teaching large sections. She agreed to participate in the large-section experience because her current pedagogy could be scaled up from the 100-150 student sections currently taught to 400 students. The psychology course already incorporates smaller recitation sections.

Hope said she currently teaches two 150-student sections back-to-back and she knows her enthusiasm lags by the end of the second lecture. Having one larger section allows her to concentrate more fully.

The largest on-campus auditoria present insurmountable problems. Kimball Hall, with just under 600 seats, is not ADA-friendly; it houses valuable musical instruments and access would be restricted during course time; it limits time the School of Music could use the stage, which can be difficult when preparing for major productions; the seats are old; and the bathrooms, in the basement, are inadequate. Kimball also lacks the proper type of projector. The Lied Center also presents scheduling difficulties and is not conducive to classroom experiences due to its large size (2,200 seats).

UNL officials will evaluate the course during the semester to gauge the quality of the student-learning experience, the challenges large sections may present for instructors and the merits of offering some courses in this format, Pérez said.

The data will inform decisions about whether to build a 400-seat classroom/auditorium and what types of configuration and technology would be best if this type of classroom is ever built.

“We will evaluate the educational experience, the seating, the lighting, the technology needs, etc. Nationally, larger course sections are becoming more common,” Pérez said.

Hope said that when she came to UNL 20 years ago from State University of New York at Albany, she was surprised there were no large lecture halls. At Albany, some halls held 600 or more students, she said.

She feels the educational experience will be enhanced in the large class; her current pedagogy accommodates large sections and she plans to do some updating this summer. Having one section will actually allow her to do some more creative activities in class, she said.

UNL has tested the walk time to the theater and judged it feasible for students to walk to the theater in the 15-minute passing periods on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The course will meet in the morning.

“The Grand Theater is ADA-friendly,” Pérez said. The university is also developing a “desk” that students can use for a writing surface.

No word yet on whether popcorn and other concessions will be sold.

- Kim Hachiya, University Communications

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