Planning is key step for effective teaching — advice to new teaching assistants

University of Florida's New Teaching Assistant Orientation

More than 400 University of Florida graduate students attended the New Teaching Assistant Orientation, held in Carleton Auditorium. Photo by Julie Dodd

by Julie Dodd

The more than 400 new teaching assistants at the University of Florida have been busy preparing for the start of school by attending the New Teaching Assistant Orientation. I enjoyed being part of the team of faculty members, administrators and teaching assistants who made presentations for the orientation.

My presentation was “A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Class.” You can download the PDF handout of the slides (5MB) – dodd_2014_UF_TA_orientation_slides

[You can check the UF Teaching Resources tab at the top of the blog for a list of links to helpful teaching resources, including syllabus policies and the UF Undergraduate Catalog.}

I appreciated everyone participating in the short peer-to-peer discussions on topics related to teaching. Thanks to those of you who asked questions, which included:

  • What activities can you use to learn student names?
  • What are tips for international teaching assistants for whom English is not their first language?
  • What advice do you have for how to avoid discipline problems that can be caused by cellphones?

Preparing for the presentation is always helpful for me, as talking about planning for teaching success helps me in my own class planning.

Thanks to Drs. Paul Duncan, Winifred Cooke and Rhonda Moraca for coordinating such a helpful program. For more information on support for teaching assistants (including the “Teaching at the University of Florida” handbook), check the UF Teaching Center.

9 tips for improving your course syllabus — and the way you teach the course

by Julie Dodd

students editing in computer lab

Think about how you can get your students more actively engaged in class. Peer work can be a way of helping students better understand course content. Here students in a writing course I teach, provide feedback on a writing assignment.

Colleges and universities around the country will be starting a new academic year in the next few weeks. Students and their parents will be arriving on campus with carloads of boxes to move into residence halls. Campus maintenance crews are preparing the grounds, and construction teams are trying to finish campus remodeling and building projects.

And faculty, adjuncts and graduate students are planning their classes. Now’s the time to do some thinking that can improve the course — making it a better learning experience for your students and a better teaching experience for you.

1. Reflect on how the course contributes to the students’ big picture of learning

Salman Khan, in his One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, reminds us as educators that students become more engaged in learning when they see the value of the course beyond preparing for an exam or completing a graduation requirement. Especially if you are teaching an introductory course, help the students connect with the value of that subject area. Your approach to the course could help some students decide to take more courses — or even major — in the field. For the other students, they will have a better understanding of the concepts as they connect to life issues.

2. Align SLOs with course content – readings and assignments

Especially the first time you teach a course and especially for new faculty members, the tendency is to select a good textbook and then structure the course to match the textbook chapters. Start first with what the Student Learning Outcomes are for the course – which you may be determining but also may be determined by the overall curriculum structure. In Understanding by Design, Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe explain the process for mapping out a course — starting first with the student outcomes and then designing appropriate activities and assignments.

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3 tips for teaching large classes

by Ilyoung Ju
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Ilyoung Ju

Ilyoung Ju

The number of large classes at universities has been increased due to the efficiency and the financial pressure of budget cuts from state legislatures. For this reason, it becomes important for instructors to have an ability to teach in a large class setting.

Teaching a large class can have several challenges:

  • Involving students in active learning.
  • Personalizing the class environment.
  • Working with diverse students’ needs and backgrounds.
  • Managing classroom disruptions.
  • Adapting one’s teaching style to the large lecture situation.

Here are some tips for being more successful in teaching a large class:
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8 technology tools college teachers can use

by Jieun Chung
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Jieun Chung

Jieun Chung

College teachers’ approach to teaching has changed due to the increase in technology tools available.

So, why do teachers use technology?

Technology can help demonstrate points and material in a more helpful way. Teachers can present their lectures in various ways. Also, technology encourages students to share their thoughts both during and outside class.

Students can access various contents by using technology, which promotes students’ opportunities to expand their knowledge, devote more focus to the course material, and experience increased motivation to actively learn.

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Grading rubric provides clarity for instructors and students

by Greenberry “Tripp” Taylor
Master’s student, University of Florida

Greenberry "Tripp" Taylor

Tripp Taylor’s teaching assistantship is working with undergraduates in the Innovation News Center.

Having a checklist usually makes things simpler and more efficient. For example, if you go to the grocery store with a list, chances are you can make it in-and-out quickly because you know exactly what you’re looking for.

This is a good way to think of a rubric – a very advanced, evaluative checklist used by instructors. Just like a grocery list, instructors can take time and think about what objectives they want an assignment to have. Having set expectations can help eliminate subjectivity, and also shave some time off the grading process.

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3 strategies for promoting discussion in college classes

by Huishan Wang
Master’s student, University of Florida

When I taught class in Mass Communication Teaching, we talked about the experience we’ve had with class discussions, the relationship between discussion and active learning, and the advantages and disadvantages of discussion.

To demonstrate one discussion strategy, I used an activity — the Fishbowl — to discuss more about the discussion teaching strategy.

Use Fishbowl strategy as way to encourage discussion

The class was divided into two groups. Three of the class were with me in the inner circle (the Fishbowl), and the others were in the outer circle. The inner circle participated in the discussion that I led, while the class members in the outer circle took notes based on the discussion, which included noting the discussion’s content, any problems or things are interesting to them, or any comment on this Fishbowl activity.

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7 tips for writing cover letters for faculty jobs

by Julie Dodd

Your letter of application (or cover letter) is a key part of the faculty job application process. The cover letter is how you introduce yourself to the search chair and the search committee. The letter should convey your interest (and enthusiasm) for the position and provide an overview of you, referring to your vitae and online portfolio where more information is provided.

Here are some general tips for writing a cover letter.

Tip #1 – Be sure to use the format for a business letter.

Because most of our communication is now done with email and social media, writing business letters is a new format for many who are applying for jobs. You can find many examples online. The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) provides tips for academic cover letters and a sample letter.

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