Oxygen Matters

The impact of class size on course quality is a topic that continues to spark debate, as evidenced by a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “Are Small Classes Best?  It’s Complicated.”

Well, now the issue has become even more complicated.  On Tuesday, the University of Oklahoma revealed that last fall it began using the aggregate body weight of students enrolled in a course, rather than the total number of students in the class, to indicate class size.  For example, a class in which the average weight of the 30 enrolled students was 140 lbs. would have a class size of 4200 (30 x 140).  This would equal the class size of a course with 21 students who averaged 200 lbs. each (21 x 200). 

According to Oklahoma Provost Kyle Harper, “research has clearly demonstrated that the amount of ‘available oxygen’ in a classroom is a key variable that affects student learning, due to inhaled oxygen’s relationship to cognitive processing.  The bigger you are, the more of this scarce resource you consume as you breathe in class.  Thus, we feel an ethical responsibility to establish upper limits for all of our courses.  This approach gives us great flexibility, since we can achieve a target class size in a variety of ways.  Ten students who average 150 lbs. each represent a class size of 1500, but so do 5 students with a mean weight of 300 lbs.  The data show that our students’ grades have increased over 8% since this policy was put in place in September 2017.  It’s all about the oxygen.”

The Provost acknowledges that the strategy does have drawbacks.  “The incidence of eating disorders on campus has increased 15% since last fall.  If you gain weight during a course, and the class exceeds its overall size limit, you will be dismissed from the course with a grade of TM (Too Much).  Some students who have put on pounds during the semester have even asked classmates to voluntarily diet, so that the former’s weight gain won’t bump the class’s total size beyond its prescribed limit.  As you might imagine, these conversations can get pretty awkward.”

In general, however, the Provost is pleased with how the system is working.  “Our students are now much more aware of the consequences of inhaling in public spaces.  At Oklahoma, our new slogan is: We learn together, we play together, we breathe together’.  I like that.”