Teaching & Planning Tips

Teaching

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Borrow and modify content, especially well-tested homework, assignments, and projects. 
  • Visit your classroom once before the start of the semester. You own it for the duration of the class, so do what you can to make it a good learning space for your students. Think about whether you can create a seating arrangement conducive to active learning.
  • Try not to lecture for more than 15-20 minutes at a stretch. Research shows that students learn best by doing. Give students something to DO between bursts of lecture, for example:
    • Solve a problem in groups of three or four students.
    • Initiate a class-wide discussion of pros and cons of an approach.
  • Create opportunities for students to learn from each other. Assigning collaborative learning homework or assignments where possible can help build community as well as strengthen students’ understanding.
  • Write down learning objectives for every class: Avoid thinking, “I must cover topics X and Y.” Instead, try “What key concepts or skills do I want students to have learned by the end of the class in the broad areas of X and Y?” Then, consider what you can have students DO in class to help them learn X and have them finish the remaining pieces in Y by themselves.
  • Start a class with something interesting. Avoid saying, “Well, last time, we talked about X.” Instead, for example, find an interesting question about X: “Why does…?”
  • End every class with a summary. Tell students what you had expected them to learn, and tell them what’s due. If there is material online that students need to see, tell them before you leave. Alternate this with asking the students to summarize. For instance, they could do this in teams of four; you will call on a team spokesperson and write down key points contributed by each team.
  • Cue the most important concepts with meta-level language and encouragement. For example, say, “Here is the really interesting thing, the cornerstone of this whole argument …” or for difficult concepts, “A lot of students find this difficult at difficult at first, and are able to master this with a little effort, so pay extra attention …”
  • Show your personality. Avoid formal, stilted lecturing. Instead, speak conversationally and let students get to know the real you – they will respond better.
  • Get to know the students by name. If you have fewer than 50 students, memorize preferred names by the 4th week. With more than 50 students, you can use a seating chart and ask students to sit in designated seats, with name tents.
  • Be consistent in keeping your office hours and set a reasonable email policy. You should not have to respond with long essay-type emails. If you are going to be away, make reasonable arrangements (e.g., a TA or colleague, an asynchronous assignment posted online, an online class in Blackboard Collaborate).
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with teaching. Like research, all good teaching involves a degree of experimentation.
  • Set challenging homework and assignments but reasonable exams. Give students three times the time you yourself need for the exam (yes, you should take the exam and time yourself), and only allow 10-15% of the questions to separate the A’s from the B’s.
  • Use Blackboard efficiently. Blackboard can help you with mass announcements, tracking submissions and grades, automated test deployment/grading and more–learn to use the features that suit your needs. The Instructional Technology Lab offers support and training.
  • Clarify academic integrity issues. Design assignments that are difficult to plagiarize because they ask unique questions and are well-scaffolded. Refer students to the GW Code of Academic Integrity, and set your own if need be. If you are going to allow teamwork and collaboration, spell out the rules.
  • Take advantage of faculty development programs and services. The Faculty Development Department offers faculty-led programs and consultations for course/assignment design and teaching.

In General

  • Don’t be on your own. Get mentors for at least a few years, for both research and teaching. Meet your mentors often – it is not a sign of weakness.
  • Manage your time carefully:
    • Mark off course prep time that is manageable (see “don’t reinvent the wheel” above).
    • Do some research every day, even if it is to skim through a paper you would like to read.
    • Set aside time to meet with mentors and peers at least once a week, to talk about your experiences, ask for help, or merely riff on ideas.
    • Try to block out some time each day, even just a few minutes, for “quiet time”, during which you turn off email and devices, and focus on research. If you have your research time set, you can feel more comfortable with the time devoted to teaching.

References

Barkley, E. (2009). Student Engagement Techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for New Faculty Members. Allyn & Bacon.

Centra, J., et al (2006). “Enhancing Your Teaching Through the SIR-II Report: Suggestions for Improvement,” a best-practices guide compiled by Princeton’s Educational Testing Services.

Felder, R. (1994). Things I Wish They Had Told Me, Chemical Engineering. Education, 28(2), 108-109. 

Felder, R. (1998). The New Faculty Member, Chemical Engineering Education, 32(3), 46-47. 

McKeachie, W.J. (2002). Teaching Tips (11th ed.). Lexington, M.A.: Heath.

Reis, R. et al (1998). “Faculty Time Savers,” Tomorrow’s Professor Series at Stanford University. 

Sandretto, S., Kane, R., & Heath, C. (2002). Making the tacit explicit: A teaching intervention program for early career academics. The International Journal for Academic Development, 7(2), 135-145.