Preparing a New Class

We are officially on day three of the new fall semester. This is the first semester in my life that I am not in the classroom as a teacher or a student. It is a little strange. Especially with the flexibility of my time. However, it does not mean I am not involved with teaching at all. I am one of the teaching supervisors/assistant for the teaching mentor for my department as well as a fellow for GrATE.

In my department we have a well-structured program of teaching apprenticing leading to independent graduate instructors. There is support, guidance, and oversight every step of the way when teaching within the department. I appreciate having this, as there are always people to go to and discuss teaching challenges and ideas. My role in this as a senior graduate student and assistant to the teaching mentor, is answering questions, providing feedback on syllabi and course sites, and generally keeping track of what is required by the department and university. As I keep saying to people, for some reason I have the institutional memory and understanding of policies where I am often the contact person for quick questions.

Within the role a fellow for GrATE I hold office hours in the GLC every Tuesday afternoon. I only had one person join me this week and it was a new student from my department who needed assistance with the LMS, Canvas. There is an interesting thing with the transition to Scholar to Canvas, and probably between any LMS’. Some people jump on the bandwagon quickly and are willing to give it a try and use any new technology to the best of their abilities. Others are slower to transition and really don’t want to. But that is an aside.

The start of any semester has people who have never taught before or never taught at a specific institution before. There are learning curves, such as figuring out a new LMS. But last week when we were speaking at the GTA Workshop, a lot of the new graduate students were wanting to know the first steps of preparing for a new course. The student who joined me in office hours is in the midst of helping a new faculty member prepare a course while also working with a returning faculty member in a different class. This GTA has a great view of what it takes to prepare and how once you prepare, it becomes easier and easier over time to get ready for a new semester.

At this point in my career (year 4 of my PhD work), I have prepped for three new courses and am getting ready to prep for my fourth new course. The pattern I tend to take when preparing for a course I have never taught before includes:

  • Seeking out syllabi and information from those who have taught the course before me. This primarily includes from within my own department, though it can include seeing what those teaching similar courses outside of Tech do. There are a lot of syllabi available online, which is useful to update assignment ideas and see which textbooks are being used. At some point, hopefully, GrATE will have a repository of syllabi as well.
  • Start reading through the textbooks. For some courses I have had a choice as to which textbook to use and some are standardized within the department. I have worked with both systems and don’t particularly have a preference. Mostly because, with the standard textbook, the number of different options I’ve seen don’t compare to what was chosen before my time.
  • As I work through the textbook(s), I am also updating or creating any slides and lectures I am planning on having. Again, this depends on what has been done before me in my department. Some courses have a more complete shell for us to launch from than others.
  • Thinking about, updating, and creating assignments for both in-class and out-of-class. Writing out the instructions and rubrics for assignments is helpful for me to do before updating the syllabus.
  • Update the syllabus. This includes updating any information that may have changed—office location changes, websites that are out of date, policies that changed over the summer, etc. I also update the assignments and the point system I am using for that semester. Each semester this gets more and more refined, even when teaching different courses, much of the information is similar across syllabi.
  • Creating the course site. One of the aspects of Canvas that I appreciate is that the course site shell is already created for us with the roster included. That has saved at least an hour or two of headache and fighting with technology. I also appreciate that with Canvas we can link information every time we use it, so students are always able to access what we need them to, no matter where they are on the site. The entire course set-up takes some time, but it still is less time than our previous LMS. If you need assistance with the course site, there are wonderful people all over campus who are great resources!
  • At that point, I am ready for the semester to begin! I typically prepare the first week’s announcements and/or anything particular I plan to do the first day of class (shifts for online teaching and in-person teaching). Of course, there are always things you are shifting throughout a semester, but you should be on solid footing to continue on with the semester!

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