5 New Year’s resolutions for college instructors

by Julie Dodd

As you start a new term as a teacher, you should be considering what your goals are for this new term.

Let me offer a few suggestions:

#1 – Don’t set too many goals for yourself.

If you are getting ready to teach a course you’ve taught before, you’ve probably identified a number of areas that could improved. You want to include a group project. You want to develop your own test questions instead of relying exclusively on the test bank provided with the textbook. You want to include more relevant video clips. You want to update some of the examples you use in class.

All of those can be worthy goals, but you need to consider the amount of time that is involved in each of those improvements.

For example, including a successful group project is much more than simply adjusting the students’ grades to incorporate that assignment. You will need to read about structuring group projects and then make additional small-stakes assignments that lead toward the final group project. You’ll need to include class activities to build group teamwork skills. [Read a previous post about strategies for designing group projects. ]

group project critique

A critique session with the instructor, a subject area expert and classmates is part of the group project experience for Morgan Yacoe’s Art, Body, Health: Visual Arts and Healthcare Collaboration course at the University of Florida.

You want to make improvements to your teaching, but don’t take on so many goals that either you are overwhelmed or you don’t do a good job in what you set out to improve.

#2 – Make changes that promote the most student learning.

For example, you could decide to redesign your presentation slides. Maybe you received feedback in your end-of-term evaluation that you’re the color scheme of your slides was hard to read or that you put too much information on your slides.

Improving your slides would promote increased student learning. So spend the time to change the colors, increase the point size and/or reduce or add to the text on the slides. But be strategic. Changing slides to add non-essential graphics or animations may seem like improving the slides but won’t be increasing student learning and can take a lot of time. [Read a previous post on using the tips in Slide-ology to improve your teaching presentations.]

Sometimes you have a really good idea for improving student learning while the term is underway. I’ve written a previous post about taking on a course change during the term.

#3 – Find ways to streamline communication – especially what is repetitive communication.

If you’re like me, you find yourself answering many of the same questions multiple times. You know you explained in class the specifics of an assignment, but as the deadline nears for the assignment, you are receiving inquires about the assignment via email or through the course management system for the course. Even though the assignment may be spelled out in a handout or the syllabus, students still have questions they expect you to answer.

One approach is to set up a Q&A section in your course management system (CMS) where you post the questions you receive and your answers. Then promote the site in class and through communications you send to your students through the CMS. As you receive new questions, you can post them and your answers. You’ll have those Q&As to use in following semesters.

TextExpander was another helpful tool for me in answering those often-asked questions. Once you write an answer, you set up an abbreviation. Then when you answer that question in a following email, you type the abbreviation, and your response appears. You can customize the response, but the majority of the response is written.

Both of these approaches save you time and keeps you from being annoyed by answering the same question over and over again.

#4 – Learn more about best teaching practices

Many college faculty are so involved in the content of their subject area that they haven’t delved into the vast amount of research available in best teaching practices. Make a commitment to learn more about great teaching that you can incorporate into your own teaching.

Teaching workshops at your institution

Most colleges and universities have a center or a program to help faculty be more effective teachers. Check out what is available at your institution.

For example, at the University of Florida, several resources are available to help improve teaching.

Summer workshops for faculty

Consider attending a summer workshop for faculty. I’m listing three workshops, but many others are available. You can search online for workshops targeted to faculty in your discipline, new faculty, mid-career faculty, etc. The workshops let you learn from leaders in teaching and network with faculty from other institutions.

Best Teachers Institute  – This summer program is based on the best teaching practices Ken Bain identified in his extensive research on best teaching. If you can’t attend the workshop, you can read his “What the Best Teachers Do.” [Read a previous post about incorporating those teaching best practices in your teaching.]

Associated Colleges of the South Summer Teaching Workshop – The workshop is held at Sewanee, the University of the South, and is for faculty who teach in ACS institutions. Faculty must be nominated by administrators to be considered for the workshop.

Teachapalooza – This workshop is subject-specific  for communications faculty hosted by the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Teaching resources available online

Most professional organizations for faculty include a teaching component and include teaching resources online. Check your professional organization’s website. Here’s an example from one of my professional organizations.

AEJMC Teaching Help – Created and maintained by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Standing Committee on Teaching, the site provides links to examples of syllabi, rubrics and assignments.

# 5 – Appreciate what you have accomplished in your teaching.

If you are interested in being an effective teacher, you’ll always be thinking of how you could improve your teaching. But you want to consider what you already are accomplishing in your teaching. For example:

  • You used videoconferences to include a guest speaker in class who would never have been able to be there in person.
  • You incorporated Think-Pair-Share activities to get the class more involved.
  • You moved from having the textbook dictate the design of the course to using it to support your design for the course.
  • You sought assistance from the student resource support in your college to work more effectively with a challenging student.

Each accomplishment becomes part of your teaching tools as you become an even more effective teacher.

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