McKeachie’s Teaching Tips and mind mapping help us consider issues involved in developing a syllabus

A major focus of class today was discussing how McKeachie’s Teaching Tips can provide advice on and insights into planning an undergraduate course.

First the topic was discussed in small groups of three or four. Then we reconvened as a class, and I used mind mapping on the whiteboard to look at the many issues that relate to curriculum development and, in particular, to planning a syllabus.

After about 30 minutes, we’d covered the board with issues ranging from selecting a textbook to grading to determining what teaching methods would be most effective.

We also discussed  how developing a syllabus and creating lesson plans at the university level are similar to and different from teaching and planning in K-12 and how that can be different in other countries, as we have class members from Argentina, Egypt, Germany and Korea.

In addition to thinking about McKeachie’s tips and syllabus planning, I hope the class members considered how they could use mind mapping in their own teaching.

I took the photos with my iPhone. This larger photo is composed of three photos, using the AutoStitch Panorama app.


Developing lesson plans should be based on accomplishing student learning objectives

You can develop a well-thought-out course syllabus but the class-by-class meetings (or the lesson-by-lesson development of an online course) are what is going to determine the effectiveness of the students’ learning experience.

Here’s where the lesson plan comes into play.

The lesson plan lets you map out an approach to meeting the learning outcomes for each class meeting.

Lesson plans can take a number of approaches – from a list of questions to guide the class discussion to PowerPoint slides to present information. But the foundation of the lesson plan should be student learning.

It can be tempting to take the approach of structuring a lesson based on covering the content in a particular chapter or explaining a concept. But the key for you as the teacher is to determine: What is it that the student should be able to do/think/know?

Once you’ve determined that, you want to plan a lesson that makes that learning happen.

So start with the student learning objectives. List those for each class. You may have one to four objectives per class meeting. Fewer if the objective is more complex, more objectives if the concepts are easier.

Once you’ve determined the learning objectives for a particular class meeting, you will develop a plan to make that happen.

Two of my favorite educational leaders who have studied effective instruction are Madeline Hunter and Robert Gagné. Penn State has a useful website on lesson planning that briefly explains each of their approaches to structuring lesson plans.

Gagné’s Events of Instruction
Madeline Hunter’s Seven-Step Lesson Plan

What both of those models provide is a template for structuring a lesson. Both take the approach of:

  • Getting students interested in what is to be learned
  • Reviewing previous learning
  • Presenting the learning
  • Having students practice with new learning
  • Assessing learning
  • Providing students with feedback on their learning

You won’t include all of those components in every lesson. But both Gagné’s and Hunter’s approaches to structuring learning are good reminders of why the approach of teaching for a month before providing students any opportunity to demonstrate what they are learning isn’t as effective a learning approach as providing students with regular and on-going opportunities to demonstrate learning and receive feedback.

Using their models to planning a lesson makes for a much more student-learning-driven approach than just opening up PowerPoint and creating slides (even good slides).

In class, we’ll talk about different approaches to creating lesson plans.

Developing a college course: You’re part of a big picture of curriculum procedures and accrediting standards

When you develop a course syllabus, you are part of a much bigger process that includes your own department’s curriculum, the university’s curriculum guidelines, and accrediting standards.

At the University of Florida, every college is required to develop measureable student learning outcomes (SLOs) and to collect data on every student in the college. This new requirement is due to an upcoming accrediting assessment of UF in 2014 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Faculty are to use the student results of the assessment of the SLOs to evaluate and improve teaching and learning.

As a college, we also have accrediting standards from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), the accrediting component of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Communications programs are evaluated on nine accrediting standards. Standard 2 is Curriculum and Instruction.

Take a quick read though Standard 2 — professional values and competencies and the indicators for assessment — and consider those factors in relation to the course that you would like to teach.

The curriculum of communications programs has become a hot topic of discussion in the last couple of years. Programs are grappling with how to respond to the changes going on in the media industry. Some say that time spent on teaching hardware and software takes away from teaching the fundamentals. Others say that the changes in the media industry have changed what the fundamentals are.

Read An Open Letter to America’s University Presidents that was written by the leaders of six major grant-awarding foundations that have been funders of initiatives in communications and higher education. The letter was published Aug. 3, 2012, and has caused some lively debate.

Also read “Not So Fast,” one of the many responses countering the letter.

Develop proposal for undergraduate course you want to develop

New teaching assistants and new faculty members often start learning about the values of and problems of a syllabus when they are handed a syllabus and told, “Here’s what you’ll be teaching.”

Sometimes that’s literal — As a teaching assistant, you are given a syllabus and that’s what you are to follow. Having the syllabus already prepared can save you from making literally dozens of decisions about the course.

Sometimes you are given the syllabus to serve as a foundation for the syllabus that you will be developing for the course.
You want to be able to develop your own syllabus — recognizing how your course fits into the curriculum and bringing your own strengths to the course.

As part of your teaching portfolio, you are developing course materials for an undergraduate communications course — the syllabus, an assessment activity and evaluation criteria, and two lesson plans.

You’ve already been thinking about what course you’d like to develop. What you need to do for class for Sept. 17 is to develop a written proposal for your course. Here’s a Word document that provides a structure for your proposal — mmc6930_course_proposal
Download the form, type in the needed information, and bring the printed proposal to class on Sept. 17.

Once you have the course determined and the proposal written, you can begin thinking about planning your syllabus:

  • Identify syllabi online for similar courses.
  • Answer the questions (above — in image) about how a syllabus can help your students and help you.
  • Check the links I’ve provided on the blog (UF resources) for information that you will include in your syllabus.
  • Read the chapter in McKeachie’s Teaching Tips about developing a syllabus.
  • Read a post I wrote about creating a syllabus.
  • Develop a list of questions you have about creating a syllabus.

60 Minutes tells story of Kahn Academy and potential impact on teaching and learning

From Kevin Hull

Here is the link to the 60 Minutes story on the Kahn Academy that ran last Sunday.

The link has both the written article, and a link to the video story.  I would recommend watching the video because it is interesting to actually watch Mr Kahn put his videos together.  It was neat to see how kids seem to be responding to the videos and it is forcing teachers to look at the classroom differently.

‘Rebooting the Academy’ — How could innovations impact you teaching in higher education?

I hope that reading “Rebooting the academy: 12 tech innovators who are transforming campuses” is encouraging you to think about some of the traditional approaches of higher education and how some of those approaches could/should be changed.

I’m asking you to write a five-page paper responding to the book as a graduate student who is considering a career teaching in higher education (syllabus, p. 4). You’re writing your response to me but can consider your audience to be both graduate students planning a career in high education and those teaching in higher education. So we have a level of awareness about higher education teaching, learning, policies and politics.

As you read the book, you’ll see that the 12 innovators discuss a wide range of higher education issues. Some of those topics include:

  • Rethinking the traditional 50-minute teaching format to becoming 10-minute video instruction on a specific topic.
  • Making textbooks more affordable by having universities work out purchasing contracts for digital books.
  • Making college more affordable with online courses
  • Incorporating the technology students have (cellphones) into teaching and learning
  • Changing the academic publication cycle

You may want to comment on the book overall or selected articles. Writing in first person is appropriate. Remember that the emphasis is to be on the book itself. Your written response should not become your personal commentary on higher education.

One possible approach for your response paper is to look at the book from the perspective of our conversation in class about goals for the course. Many of the topics raised in our class discussion are addressed by the “Rebooting” innovators. How would their innovations affect you as a graduate teaching assistant and/or a college faculty member?

Here is the list of the topics you identified that you considered important issues for the discussion of teaching and learning:

  • Integrating technology use
  • Promoting professional development
  • Dealing with diversity
  • Teaching differences between lecture and hands-on teaching
  • Teaching compensation
  • Classroom management – Controlling your classroom
  • Pacing of instruction – Realizing that students may be learning at different rates.
  • How flexible should teachers be – responding to student issues
  • Evaluation – Different ways to evaluate student performance
  • Keeping the class current – especially as assigned texts may not be up to date
  • Teaching outside of your specialty
  • How to approach difficult content
  • How to deal with different classroom environments
  • How to develop curriculum
  • How to manage classroom expectations
  • How to grade fairly – and be able to finish on time
  • Engaging students in class
  • Engaging student in critical thinking
  • Bringing technology to the classroom
  • Keeping the classroom fresh
  • Balancing goals of curriculum with student needs and interests

In our next class meeting, each of you will be a one-minuter presenter on one of the “Rebooting” innovators. Your objectives are to provide the class with a reminder of the person and what his/her innovation is and then to pose a question to start a discussion of the implications of the innovation for teaching in higher education.