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.

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5 tips for structuring and grading group projects

Being able to work effectively in a team setting is an important skill in many jobs. So to help students develop the ability to work in a team, many college courses incorporate group projects. If you’ve used a group project in a course you’ve taught, you know that successful group work doesn’t just happen. Krystin Anderson offers advice on how to develop effective group projects.

by Krystin Anderson

Krystin Anderson

Krystin Anderson

So you want to use a group project for your students.

If you feel some apprehension about using group projects, you are not alone! Group projects can cause anxiety for teachers and students alike, both of whom are afraid that what is meant to be a positive, collaborative learning opportunity will become a nightmarish conflict of personalities and interests resulting in tears and failure.

(Click College Rant: I hate group projects for one student’s musings.)

However, group projects offer opportunities for students to complete something they could not on their own, not only because of the time constraints within a semester but because a single student may not have the all skills that a group of students could bring together.

Group projects also help students learn how to work in groups and to become interdependent—a skill most media professionals use frequently throughout their careers.

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Changing your course syllabus as you are teaching the course

by Julie Dodd

How much can I change the syllabus while the course is underway?

That’s a question that I’ve been asked when I lead workshops for teaching assistants and new faculty.

uf-syllabi-websiteEspecially when you are teaching a course for the first time, it’s difficult to know if you are creating the right course design.

  • Do the students have the academic background that you thought they would?
  • Have you allocated enough time for major assignments and projects?
  • Did you include enough time in class for you to present the key concepts and to provide time for students to engage in active learning activities?

You get weeks (or maybe just a few class sessions) into the course and realize that you would like to change the syllabus.

I’m a big advocate of syllabus assessment and redesign. However, I’d strongly recommend that during the term you are teaching the course, you should give careful consideration before making any significant changes to the course, such as eliminating a major assignment or test or adding an additional unit or project.

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Teaching strategies: Responding to Hurricane Florence (and other disasters)

by Julie Dodd

As a professor at the University of Florida, I’ve experienced several major hurricanes  during the academic term and know how such disasters can impact students and course plans.

Hurricane Florence imageI’d like to offer a few suggestions for instructors who are now dealing with the impact of Hurricane Florence — or for instructors who have to deal with other kinds of disasters that affect your students and your classes.

Keep up to date with your university’s policies regarding the emergency.

Universities typically are prompt in sending announcements to faculty about developments in response to a disaster – when the university is closed, what resources are available, etc.

If you’re an adjunct faculty member or a teaching assistant, you may not be receiving those announcements. Be sure to check the university’s website and ask a faculty member to keep you up to date with developments.

Realize that a major disaster, like Hurricane Florence, will affect students in many different ways — from emotional to financial.

Students in the path of a hurricane may have had their apartments or residence halls flooded and lost all their belongs, including laptops, textbooks and class materials.

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Teaching advice: Syllabus design and strategies for starting the school year

A view from the back of Carlton Auditorium during the orientation for UF’s new teaching assistants.

by Julie Dodd

Julie Dodd at UF TA orientation

In small classrooms or large auditoriums, I like to include ways for students to be active participants in class. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

“A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Classes.”

That was my topic for the the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of Florida.

More than 400 new TAs spent the day at the orientation that was designed to help them be better prepared to take on their new teaching duties when classes start next week.

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Effective transitions between classroom activities

by Julie Dodd

As instructors, we’re often so focused on the content of the lesson that we don’t think about the importance of structuring effective transitions between different segments of the class.

students editing in computer lab

Having students work in pairs or small groups promotes active learning. But it’s important to plan your transition between activities to make good use of class time.

A reader of my blog who is a math teacher noted that lack of smooth transitions can lead to losing class time or even losing students’ attention for the rest of the class.

That comment motivated me to share some tips about structuring transitions between classroom activities.

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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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