New year and new semester offer opportunities for teachers, students and administrators for change and improvement

Happy New Year!

The start of a new year and a new semester is a good time for those of us in education — as teachers, students or administrators — to reflect on the previous year/semester and make resolutions for improvement.

So here are a few suggestions.

1. Be willing to make some changes.

This would seem like an obvious resolution for anyone involved in education — students, teachers or administrators. However, changing can be difficult. First, you have to acknowledge that you need to make a change. Second, you have to determine how to make the change. And then, you have to make the change.

Last semester, my lecture assistant Paige and I discussed including a discussion activity in our course e-Learning site before one of our reporting assignments. I’ve not done that before, but I do think the discussion (with the comments being available online after the live discussion) would be helpful in answering student questions about the assignment and giving students another forum for discussion. OK, this semester, we’re going to try it.

2. Be realistic about the time involved in teaching tasks.

This is especially true (and often very challenging) with a new teaching task.

Last semester when I taught the graduate course on teaching (Mass Communication Teaching), the major project for the course is for each student to develop a syllabus for an undergradute communications course, an annotated timeline (objectives and activities for each class meeting), two lesson plans, and one big assignment (an exam and answer key or project description and grading rubric). On the day the project was due, I asked them to share their observations about the assignment. Almost every one of them said that they were amazed at how long each of those tasks took to complete. “I had no idea how much time was involved in developing a syllabus” was a typical comment.

But often you don’t know how much time a teaching task takes until you are doing the task yourself — creating a blog for a class, developing a 50-item multiple-choice exam, etc. One way to help be more realistic is to ask someone who has experience “doing” that task. And remember that most teaching tasks do involve a learning curve.

Our college is investing tens of thousands of dollars in the Center for Media Innovation and Research (see previous post). But if the CMIR is going to be viewed as a collegewide program, more than a handful of faculty members must be using the center for their classes and/or class projects. In order for that to happen, those faculty who are interested in using the center will need to be trained on the equipment and the equipment’s applications. Operating the studio television camera, the video wall or the sound booth will take hours of instruction and practice for us as the teachers before we will feel competent and confident in using the center with our students.

So where does that time come from if we don’t get a course reduction or have that count in place of  research and acdemic writing? That’s where administrators need to be realistic about the time involved for faculty in developing new teaching skills.

3.  Be patient with your students.

In working with teaching assistants, I sometimes hear the frustration in their voices as they talk about having to explain some concept again and again. I remind the TAs (and myself) that we may have explained a concept (such as how to write a summary lead) fifty times. But each time may be to a different class or a different student. Even when we’re explaining a concept multiple times to the same student, we need to remember that sometimes previous learning or a student’s learning style may require multiple repetitions and multiple approaches.

I’ll get a chance to start practicing patience with students tomorrow, as I’ll be meeting with the 250 new students in Writing for Mass Communication.

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