Tips for designing a college course

by Julie Dodd

Designing a course is one of the challenging and rewarding parts of teaching and can enable you to combine successful learning ideas and approaches from other instructors with your own teaching insights and skills.

Let me suggest four strategies for developing college courses and recommend readings that can help you dive deeper into thinking about instructional design.

#1 – Consider the big picture of your course

Before you select a course textbook or start inviting guest speakers, step back and consider the big picture of your course.

collage of book covers on teaching advice

Add these four books to your reading list to help you develop strategies for designing courses and improve your teaching.

Start with the goals of the course.

Those may be provided in the form of Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), which are a list of what students should be able to do by the end of the course. Sometimes the goals are included in the college’s or department’s curriculum standards and sometimes stated in the syllabus that has been used previously for those teaching the course.

If you teach a course that is part of a sequence of courses, you can talk with an instructor of the course students take following the course you are teaching to see what the expectations are of students coming into that course after completing your course. (And those should align with the SLOs for both courses.)

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End-of-term debriefing on big-picture learning

by Julie Dodd

students taking exam in auditorium

At the end of the term, teachers (and students) can get caught up in rush of final assessments and grades. That’s important for officially completing the course, however, we can end the term thinking of the details of the course rather than the big-picture learning experience of our course.

Taking time in one of the last classes of the term for a reflection activity can help both us as teachers and our students have more of a sense of closure and accomplishment.

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Tips for choosing college textbooks for classes you teach

by Julie Dodd

An important part of your success as an instructor is based on the books and other materials you select for students to use as part of your course.

Good textbooks and online readings can help students be both better prepared for class and provide some of the instruction.

Barnes & Noble screen capture

Barnes & Noble and Follett are two of the companies that operate many college bookstores. As of March 2018, Barnes & Noble College operated bookstores on more than 780 campuses in the US.

Selecting a weak textbook or requiring too many textbooks can lead to students being overwhelmed which can be reflected in the students’ participation in class, academic performance, and the evaluations they give you at the end of the semester.

Let me offer ten tips for selecting textbooks and other course materials (i.e., online readings, textbook online resources).

Tip #1 – Determine the purpose of the textbook

Remember that the book is not the creator of the course – you are. The book (or other materials) should support your approach to the course. Finding a textbook that will include everything you’d want – and in the way you’d want it presented — probably will be impossible, unless you write the textbook yourself.  Look for materials that support what you are doing that provide a good background, examples and illustrations.  Consider the following questions when considering a textbook:

  • Does the book provide foundation information for the course?
  • Will the book provide assignments, exercises, labs, or case studies for student practice or assessment?
  • Does the book provide a point of view or different points of view that contribute to a broader understanding of issues involved in the course?

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Designing effective in-class activities for college classes

by Julie Dodd

In-class activities can be a great learning strategy for the college classroom, but the effectiveness of the activity is based on a number of decisions that you, as the instructor, need to make.

partner activity in classroom

Students work in pairs to practice a skill and get feedback from classmates.

I thought about what makes a classroom activity work well or not work as well as it could when I observed teaching assistants nominated for the Graduate Student Teacher Awards Committee.

In a previous blog post, I’ve written about tips for having successful in-class activities  — “10 strategies for active learning in college classrooms.”

Let me comment on a few of those strategies in terms of classes I’ve observed.

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Importance of diversity in college classes

by Julie Dodd

Recognizing and incorporating diversity in your courses and your teaching strategies is important for 21st Century educators.

Nicole Dan presenting at UF's Asian American Student Union Unity Conference

Nicole Dan makes a presentation at the Asian American Student Union Unity Conference at the University of Florida. The conference provides the opportunity for all of the AASU sub organizations’ boards to gather to get to know each other and discuss the upcoming semester.

Diversity is more than racial, ethnic, gender and age differences. The National Education Association provides this definition:

Diversity can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. The dimensions of diversity include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status.… While diversity itself is not a value-laden term, the way that people react to diversity is driven by values, attitudes, beliefs, and so on. Full acceptance of diversity is a major principle of social justice. 

Nicole Dan and I talked about diversity in course design when she assisted me with creating materials for the online version of Multimedia Writing (JOU3109). She had been a top student in the face-to-face version of that course and had taken several online courses herself. I wanted to have her input as I repurposed my classroom version of the course into making an online course. She would provide a helpful student perspective and also her own views on how diversity is recognized in a learning situation.

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Tutoring helps college students & their instructors

by Julie Dodd

study group at UF Teaching Center

Study groups at the University of Florida Teaching Center provide students with the opportunity to work on questions they have about course material. Photos from the UF Teaching Center

Most of us who teach undergraduate classes realize at some point during the term that some of our students are not likely to complete the course successfully.

From the student perspective, not only does a low grade impact the student’s GPA but potentially the student’s scholarship, outlook on college, and choice of major.

As instructors, we also know that we don’t have enough time to provide the additional one-on-one assistance needed by those struggling students – helping some master the fundamentals of the course content and helping others be more effective in their approach in studying for exams.

Many colleges and universities offer free tutoring services, recognizing both the students’ needs and the limited time instructors have to provide additional support for every student.

The Teaching Center is the tutoring resource at the University of Florida, providing a range of free tutoring services.

I talked with Dr. Winifred Cooke, Teaching Center Director, about the Teaching Center’s services to help students.

“It is surprising. Good students are the ones who come in for tutoring, not the weak ones,” Dr. Cooke said. “The students who have a B+ but would like to earn an A or students who have a C or B- and want a B or B+ are the ones who seek extra help – not the students who are in danger of not passing the course.”

That’s where instructors can help, Dr. Cooke said, by identifying those students who are having difficulty in the course and encouraging them to seek additional help. Instructors can encourage students to come to office hours but also can direct the students to utilize the resources available through the Teaching Center.

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Adjusting your teaching outlook for classes during Thanksgiving week

by Julie Dodd

Jeanine Capo Crucet NYT commentaryIf you’re a college faculty member, adjunct faculty or teaching assistant, I’d encourage you to read Jennine Capó Crucet’s New York Times commentary about the challenges that Thanksgiving presents for First Generation college students  – How First-Generation College Students Do Thanksgiving Break

Her commentary made me think about adjustments I’d made in my syllabus and teaching outlook during the week of Thanksgiving.

Some students will be in class because they don’t have other options. These students can’t afford to travel home for Thanksgiving and, in some cases, need to stay in town to work. They often are annoyed when their classes are canceled during Thanksgiving week when the university still is open and classes are being held.

Other students, as Crucet noted in her commentary, can only afford to travel home if they book flights for several days before Thanksgiving. So those students will miss class during Thanksgiving week.

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