Spring Cleaning

spring cleaning checklistIt was spring cleaning time at my house last weekend, complete with an elaborate 30-point color-coded checklist taped to the refrigerator that was pleasing to no one in the family but me.  By the end of the day, though, we all noticed how much the quality of light in the living room had been improved just by washing windows that hadn’t been cleaned in years for a while. Here’s a modest checklist for spring cleaning your courses:

  • Review and update Student Learning Outcomes. Of course, some of these are determined by departmental and/or General Education requirements, but where you have options, consider what you really want students to remember from the course when you run into them five years from now. Is the course set up to focus on and achieve those most meaningful ends?
  • Replace outdated materials. Readings and films that were cutting-edge in the 1990s can be hard to give up, especially with limited budgets for replacing them.  But a couple of hours spent seeking out fresher content pays off well in student engagement and our own sense of currency. (And eliminates those cringe-worthy moments in class watching videos with Clinton-era soundtracks.)
  • Improve accessibility.  Whether it’s reformatting an article PDF, or adding a statement about accommodating students with disabilities to a syllabus, making our courses more universally accessible is the right thing to do, and it’s not very difficult. Help is available from both TLP’s accessibility guide and the Accessibility Resource Center’s faculty support services.
  • Plan ahead for funding next year’s projects. There are good campus sources of faculty funding for course innovation, conference travel, and research, but you have to be ready when the calls come.  Don’t get caught by unexpected deadlines. We’ve put together a handy one-page Faculty Funding Sources at a Glance; post it prominently and get the jump on next year’s proposals.

*  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

 

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Final Due dates

due datesAs due dates for final papers and projects approach, how do we respond to students who ask us to review drafts before turning in the final product? We know that writing is a process, and that formative feedback is critical to student learning. Many of us build in intermediate due dates along the way—project proposals, annotated bibliographies, outlines, drafts, etc.—to help guide students to successful outcomes. The Good Teacher in me knows this, and is gratified when students embrace the iterative write-and-revise process.  The Overworked Teacher in me sighs when yet another student email comes in asking, “Can you look this over before I turn it in?”

What’s the difference between helpful, directive feedback and feedback for a student looking for grade insurance or a copy-editing service? When does the extra review shift from productive to double-the-work exploitative, and how do we help students see the difference? Check out the recent entry on this topic from the advice forum in Vitae, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s career site. The range of answers is interesting, and offers some good practical tips for managing these requests. Not surprisingly, the major takeaways involve setting reasonable limits (I liked the “Rule of Three”) and making the role of (and process for receiving) feedback clear to students from the beginning of the course.

*  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

 

These students want off the bus

It’s Week 12 and tomorrow is tax day Tax Day; we may be forgiven a certain lassitude.  At this point in the semester we and our students can feel like travelers stuck on a bus trip that is taking way too long.  No matter how fascinating we all found each other at the beginning of the journey, things may have gone a bit stale. Here are few quick tips for re-energizing your semester.

  1. Try something unexpected in class. One instant way to change the energy in the room? Music.  Choose a piece of music to have playing as students enter the room—to hint at the topic of the day, to reduce anxiety before a test, or to reboot after a unit break.  When I team-taught a super jumbo version of an introduction to religion class a few years ago, my colleague and I selected pieces to set the tone for our alternating lectures, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” for my religion and gender session, k. d. lang’s “Constant Craving” for his on the Buddhist Four Noble Truths. It was a great way to build an affective relationship with so huge a group.  Or ask your students to build a musical soundtrack for the topic under discussion, as this high school history teacher does.
  2. Shake up your relationship with classroom technology.  If you regularly use clickers, video, live Tweeting, or even just humble PowerPoint, try going dark for a session.  Or the reverse: fold one digital element into an otherwise low-tech class. (The incomparable and indefatigable Instructional Technology Consultants in TLP would be glad to help you think though an activity.)  How would learning be reshaped by changing the way you, the students, and the course material interact?
  3. Feed your mind. We work at a university, where smart and creative people are doing smart, creative things every day.  This is the forest all around us, but too often we can only see the giant task-shaped tree right in front of us.  Check out the University Calendar, which you can conveniently filter according to your own proclivities: arts, athletics, lectures, tours, you name it. Tomorrow’s Middle East Studies Symposium and next week’s Turner Print Museum Student Print Exhibition do not relate directly to my area of teaching or research, but I suspect they will make me proud of our students, teach me something new, and help me remember why I chose an academic life—all of which are likely to make me a better teacher.

* Authored by Dr. Kate McCarthy.