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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

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.

Continue reading

Attending new teacher orientation — maximizing your experience

by Julie Dodd

UF TA Handbook 2018-2019

That auditorium looks like C130 in UF’s Chemistry Lab Building — one of the 17 auditoriums I’ve taught in as a UF faculty member.

Thousands of teaching assistants across the country are getting ready to start a new academic year. [More than 136,000 teaching assistants were employed in the most recent count by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.]

Many of those teaching assistants are new and will be attending orientation sessions as part of their preparation.

For more than a dozen years, I’ve been a presenter at the University of Florida’s orientation for new teaching assistants, sponsored by the Graduate School and the Teacher Center. I really enjoy helping the more than 400 new TAs each year be better prepared for success in their teaching.

Here are five suggestions for how to maximize your experience as you attend a new teacher orientation. 

#1 – Consider the questions you have about teaching in general and your teaching assignment.

You’ll be more engaged in the sessions if you consider those sessions as a way of answering questions you have about teaching. So before going to the orientation, make a list of questions you have…and then add to your list as other questions occur to you as you participate in the orientation.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading