*Planning for the functions of content coverage in your courses
Currently many faculty see the function of content is to build strong knowledge foundations. While we all agree this is important, the more comprehensive functions of content should be to develop learning skills and learner self-awareness as well as to build knowledge. As you are planning your specific teaching and learning transactions for next semester (this is not just what you will cover, but how you will get the students to learn the content) think of approaches that do not separate learning strategies from content. The implication of this is that teachers cover less, but students learn more.
*Setting the right tone for your class, getting to know your students
Early on in the semester, have a discussion with the students (can be in small groups, with summaries reported back to you) about what they expect in a class. What have they liked or disliked about classes in the past? Ask whose responsibilities is it to establish or maintain such a climate or a policy? This short discussion can give you insights into how to improve your class and promotes learning centered teaching.
*Still time to revise your syllabi
As the first week of the semester draws to a close, it is a good time to make a few changes in your syllabi. Before doing so gather some data from your students. Perhaps they would like to see the test dates or due dates for assignments modified a little bit to ease their overly heavy days. Do the students understand what is expected of them? Perhaps you need to elaborate on what you want them to do. After seeing who is registered for the class, do you need to modify the schedule a little? Perhaps you need to spend more or less time on the introductory material at the beginning of the semester. Did enough copies of the textbook arrive at the book store or do you need to modify some early assignments? These are the types of minor modifications that you can make now and will go a long way to improving student learning and satisfaction in your course.
*Thinking about trying some thing different next semester
Are you thinking of trying something different in your courses next semester? Perhaps you are thinking of trying a different way to assess students, a new policy, or trying a different teaching and learning transaction. If you are ready, pilot test this new strategy in one of your courses this semester for the next few weeks. Then gather feedback from the students as to how you can improve it and did it lead to greater learning, student satisfaction, engagement with the subject matter, etc.
*Looking at your policies
As you preplan your courses, or educational programs, please take a close look at all of your policies. As you review each policy ask yourself, “How does this policy help students to take responsibility for their own learning?” Alternatively ask yourself, “how much does this policy encourage students’ dependence on us for their learning and their decision making?”
When you are considering textbooks to use in connection with your courses, first consider what and how the content is taught. If you find several textbooks that are consistent with what you plan to teach, then look at the additional instructional materials that you and the students can use that go along with this textbook. Publishers of large sellers are developing excellent electronic cartridges that have many presentation software for the figures in the book, self-instructional materials, self-assessments, web links, 3rd demonstrations, etc. Some of these cartridges can also get you started with Blackboard very easily.
*Consistency of standards across instructors or courses
Students often feel that they have been unfairly treated if they think that their peers had it better with another teacher or if another instructor in the same course was easier. As we have multiple sections of various courses or multiple instructors for a course, we should strive for consistency among instructors within the same course or different sections of a course. Departmental meetings might be an appropriate place to discuss the level of expectation that we want to achieve with our students as well as expected content to be covered. For example, what should the pass cut off point or standard be or how much should a student have to do to pass a course? What is the expected item difficulty that we are striving for? Do we want most of our students to get an item right or only 50%.
These discussions will show how different we are now and what we can do to strive for more consistency. They might even lower the complaints of our students.
*Helping students to feel like they have some control might raise course evaluations
All people, but especially adolescents, like to feel that they have some control over their lives and thus their courses. If you allow students to have some say in determing course policies (such as expected course behavior like attendance, lateness, etc,) they probably will come up with the same rules you would impose, but now they feel they made the rules themselves. Further if you allow them as a group to help you determine deadlines for assignments (within general guidelines), or dates within a week for tests, you might make their lives more manageable.
Students might not resent the deadlines or dates as much if they helped to select them.
*Insuring students get the big objectives for the course
About half way through the semester it is a good idea to reflect and take stock on the progress being made in your courses. For each course ask yourself if the students are realizing the overall objectives, not just the day to day content objectives. Are you preparing students for the more advanced courses that follow this course? Are you spending enough time with students or emphasis to help them gain the thinking skills, values, learning to learn skills, etc. that are important for this domain? If you need to make mid-course corrections, you can do so.
*Allowing students a little say over deadlines and getting them to get in the habit of using the Blackboard/Listserv for your course
When you give out your syllabi on the first day of class, tell students that you are willing to take their feedback on the due dates of some or all assignments (within a limited time period), or the actual dates of exams (if you have flexibility) electronically between the first and second class. Then post the relevant feedback questions on your chat room, discussion board or class listserv. Tell students they can only respond electronically until the second class and you might want to limit how many times they can respond to the question.
Asking for feedback and the possibility of making minor changes (based on the voice of the majority) to the schedule helps students to feel part of the decision making in the class and may cut down on complaints or excuses later. Make sure you tell them it is majority rule with your ability to overrule them.
Giving students a very early assignments (and one they might want to do) on Blackboard or other electronic discussion format you will be using insures that they know how to access it, sign in and you might get them in the habit of using this non-class discussion venue frequently. If you find the technology is not working you will know about it very early in the course.
*Time to refresh your course
Before offering a course again, it is time to refresh it. Consider the following:
Have you included the recent developments in this discipline?
Does your textbook now offer a course pack that has many worthwhile self-instructional and self-assessment activities? You might want to include some of them in your course requirement.
Look at what your students really need to know to succeed in more advanced courses or careers that follow from this course and make sure it is emphasized.
How are you fostering student learning?
What learning activities would help students to master the difficult concepts and skills of the course.
Remember you can not continue to add without taking out or reducing emphasis.
*Spend time thinking about the courses you are teaching now
Before you get involved with the grading of exams and final papers and before you are thinking about next semester’s courses, spend time reflecting and writing about this semester’s courses. Go through all of the material you gave students especially the syllabus, assignments, etc. Think about timing – should you have moved things around, emphasized 1 topic more and another less. Were your directions clear or did you have to explain something to many different students? If so, re-read them now and make changes based upon the students’ questions. Did your evaluations (exams or projects) meet your expectations and the objectives for the course?
Write your reflections on how to improve or change the course now and put these notes along with the folder and computer files you keep for these courses.
*Excellent, free web-based instructional materials available for the sciences and health sciences
I found out about an excellent collection of free, web-based instructional resources in anatomy, on various diseases, organisms, chemical and drugs, analytical, diagnoses and treatment techniques, biological sciences, psychology, physical sciences, and health care. As the collection is continuing to grow, you will need to recheck the site over time. Check http://www.healcentral.org or http://www.healcentral.org/index.jsp
Let me know if you use anything from this national digital library and how it worked.
*Helping our students to become self-directed learners
As teachers we all know that the subject matter has more content than we can possibly fit into the time available for the course and what makes it worse is that the content is growing daily. How can we solve this problem? One option is that we all could talk faster, but that probably won’t do it. A real solution involves the following:
Learn how to restrict the content we expect our students to learn and provide the scaffolding to allow for further learning
Help our students keep on learning the subject after the course is over.
The is the only real chance we have to go beyond the basics with the students.
Have to find ways to make this subject interesting and inspiring so they will want to keep on learning
*Planning for new courses or revising courses on the basis of program learning outcomes
Many programs have developed or revised learning outcomes. This was done before looking at course learning outcomes intentionally. Now that the program learning outcomes are completed it is a good time to look at where there are holes or duplications in where these outcomes are met. It is probably appropriate for all of the faculty within a program together to review the program and course learning outcomes to see where changes should be made to courses. Revised courses or new courses should flow from areas identified as needing more or less focus on the learning outcome identified by the program.
*Helping students to get the essential long-lasting lessons from your course
As the semester winds down, help students to emerge from the day-to-day aspects of the course to see the essentials, long-lasting lessons from your course. Help student to see what you want them to always remember from your course by developing a handout, including such a discussion at the end of the course, giving them a directed assignment or questions on the final relating to these essential lessons. Once you have decided what are these essential long-lasting lessons, check for consistency of what you are saying now and the goals of the course. If they are not aligned, redo your goals for the next time you teach this course.