Amid our last bits of grading, the last thing we’re probably thinking about is our next semester. The time to review our courses and prepare for our next classes will be here before we know it! Here are some ideas to make this process less daunting and spark a little inspiration.
When a student is done with your course, what should they be taking with them? What goals did you set for yourself and your students? Were those goals met, and how do you know if they were or weren’t?
Backward design helps us answer these questions. This process involves reviewing our goals, identifying evidence of us meeting our goals, and designing our course accordingly. Start with your course objectives and student outcomes. How did those go? Perhaps those are set by your department or college, but if you can change them, what would you do? Then, think about what you’d want to see from your students to show they are meeting these goals. Should they be able to write up results? Do they need to know APA formatting like the back of their hand? Putting a language to those expectations can help you select what activities go into your course. From the examples above, a paper would be a beneficial assignment for the course. These then give assignments and activities a purpose and meaning that can help both you and your students through the slow (or terribly fast) parts of the semester
No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
Lean on your colleagues and mentors. They can be a goldmine of great ideas and seasoned advice. You don’t have to develop the latest and greatest in learning technology in one summer. Collaborate and collect materials that have worked well before (and pass them to the next generation!)
Deep breath. Get a good meal. Get a good night’s sleep. Then, open up the student feedback from the last term. We care a lot about teaching and often dread hearing that something didn’t work well or otherwise reading grievances. That said, there are likely good ideas in those comments and/or validation that things are going generally well.
Rest and Restore
We’ll state the obvious. Things have been hard. Burnout is rampant, and connection on campus is not like it used to be. Find ways to re-ignite that spark that put you in the classroom in the first place. Since you’ve looked through feedback to incorporate into your course (!), you hopefully found a couple of comments that were beneficial. Copy them into a document. Look back at emails of someone saying you helped them out a lot or that a class really inspired them. Copy that into a document. In all, curate a place where you can hold space for the good things about being a psychology teacher. Students pick up on that spark, and (from the feedback I’ve gotten!) it’s meaningful for them.
The Half-Life Rule
A good rule of thumb to follow, though not exclusive to teaching and course preparation, is the Half-life rule. The rule goes as follows: When you think you’ll be done with something, you will only be halfway finished. I know some graduate student instructors may not be as fortunate to have months for course preparation, but the half-life rule can be applied just as easily on smaller scales. If you keep in mind that preparation takes longer than one might anticipate, you can better manage your time and not be in a position of creating slides the night before each lecture.
The Final Exam: The Possibility of Selection
When designing a course, it is important to consider providing students with the power of choice when it comes to assessments. Granted, this avenue will not be viable for everyone; however, designing a course that allows for students to select the ways in which they are assessed is a factor that should be given consideration. Whether you present the option for a term paper, a presentation, or an exam featuring multiple-choice and short answer questions, consider allowing your students to choose the way in which they are assessed. This will ultimately allow students to gravitate toward their strengths.