In October, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, got a quirky request on YouTube. A hyperactive instructor in a plaid jacket posted a video inviting her to do a Skype interview with his “World Regions” geography class at Virginia Tech.
Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate often compared to Nelson Mandela, might have ignored this plea were it not for how the video ended. The camera pivoted from the instructor, John Boyer, to an auditorium filled with some 3,000 students. They leapt from their seats, blew noisemakers, and chanted her name as if the Hokies had scored a touchdown.
It worked. On December 5, Ms. Suu Kyi, who last month won election to Parliament after spending much of the past two decades in detention, took questions from Mr. Boyer’s students via Skype. “I cried a little bit,” says Alex Depew, a senior. “I’m not gonna lie.”
The moment marked the biggest coup yet in Mr. Boyer’s experiment with supersizing the classroom. Conventional wisdom deems smaller classes superior. Mr. Boyer, a self-described “Podunk instructor,” calls that “poppycock.” He’s exploring how technology can help engage students in face-to-face courses that enroll from 600 to nearly 3,000 students.
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