Practical Tips For Semester Preparation

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

As a new adjunct working at a local community college ten years ago, I remember thinking “where in the world do I begin?”. I was luckier than most. My faculty mentor handed me a textbook and a copy of her syllabus to help me get started.

But too often, new faculty or adjunct faculty are assigned to classes without any further instruction. It appears that if you are a professional in your chosen field, if you hold a degree or work in the field, then you are equipped to teach in higher education. However, anyone who has taught a class knows this is far from the truth. Teaching requires preparation and planning…endless planning.

If you are teaching a class for the first time, there are some things that you can begin to do now to prepare for the upcoming semester. Here are four things to begin to focus on:

Syllabus

The course syllabus is the “road map” for the course. This important document communicates expectations to students. The more detailed your syllabus is, the less room there is for confusion. The syllabus should include:

  • Instructor Contact Information/Office Hours
  • Textbook Information/Additional Readings
  • Topics
  • Objectives
  • Assignments
  • Course/Classroom Policies

Objectives

Course objectives should be measurable or observable statements that can answer the question “Are the students learning?”. You may be given the course objectives…..you may not. Either way, an understanding of the importance of objectives is essential as an educator. This first step to planning your semester is determining what they students need to know, when they leave your class.

This requires considering several things….

What class did students take previously? What are you building upon? What information have they already gained?

What class will they be taking after your class? What do you need to prepare them for?
What are the most important concepts/topics in your class you are teaching? How will you measure if students are learning these concepts?

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Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

Once you determine what students need to learn, you can begin writing objectives. Bloom’s Taxonomy uses action words to describe cognitive processes that student will encounter as the interact with the course material.  The action words provided by Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to write measurable objectives. By writing measurable objectives at an appropriate level for the students you are teaching, you can now determine the type of assessments you will use. These become your assignments/assessments.

This does not have to be complicated but it does need to be carefully considered. Because your objectives should drive the course. They will lead you to create lectures, select a textbook, write assignment descriptions, and create assessments.

If you are not sure if objectives are included, ask another faculty member at the school. Ask a department chair, the dean, or someone in your department who can help to guide you. If you are aware of other instructors are teaching the same class you are teaching, you may wish to collaborate on writing the course objectives – or see if they have some objectives that you can review and incorporate or work from – modify or add to.

Just remember – each objective must be assessed – in a tangible way.

Assignments

How will you measure student learning?
Quizzes/Exams
Papers
Projects
Presentations
Discussions Questions

Each assignment or assessment must align to a course objective. Assignments and assessments should not be randomly selected. By aligning assignments and assessments to course objectives, students can identify the reason or purpose for each assignment or assessment.

Book Selection

IMG_1671Select a book that complements the course objectives that you identified. The book should provide information on topics that you will cover. However, the textbook should not drive the content of the course. Rather than selecting a textbook and then building your class around the textbook, develop your course and select a book that complements the topics and objectives you have identified. Keep in mind that a textbook can be supplemented with journal articles and other readings or materials.

Contact various academic publishers and request desk copies of books that are relevant to your course content. Some publishers I have reviewed and used include Cengage Learning,  McGraw Hill, Pearson, and W. W. Norton & Company. Publishers will have websites that you can explore. Locate textbooks that may be useful and contact the publisher to request copies. Explain to the publisher that you are searching for a textbook for the course you are teaching. Most publishers will offer desk copies (free instructor copies) for you to review.

It may also be helpful to talk to other instructors who teach similar content to find out what books they use in their classes.

We will continue to work to provide guidance on semester preparation as the new academic year draws near. We also encourage you to review previous blogs such as:

Practical Planning Tips: Creating a Semester Schedule

Tips for Preparing to Teach a New Class

5 Tips for Preparing for Next Semester

Blended Learning

Stay tuned for future blogs on preparing and planning balanced lessons, implementing active learning strategies, and preparing powerpoint presentations.

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