October 14, 2013
By Bryn Harris
As an early career scholar or as a seasoned instructor, course preparation can be a challenging task. Much of this challenge comes from the fact that course preparation never feels “done.” There are always more articles to read, grading rubrics to expand, or modifications to make based on continuous feedback. In the absence of a clear plan, time spent in course prep can overcrowd other important activities. Below are some recommendations for making course preparation manageable, and protecting time for other tasks that important to your success:
· Schedule it! Time management may be my answer to a lot of things, and this is one of them. Allocating specific time from our schedule to course preparation makes us more purposeful in our preparation and thus, more efficient. Some people use kitchen timers or an alarm on a cell phone for a physical and auditory reminder. You might also consider limiting course preparation to certain blocks of time or days of the week.
· Make revisions right away! Take notes during or immediately after class on the things that went well and things that need to be improved. In addition, I like to make notes of all the activities I do, how long certain activities took, and feedback from students within these notes. Make course revisions as quickly as possible, immediately after class being the best time.
· Use technology! While it can take some time to learn new technologies, judicious use of them can improve efficiency. For example, you may consider creating a short video on a tablet about a question that is asked a lot so students can refer to it on their own time. Or you may consider using Google Drive or Dropbox to save course material so it can be accessed anywhere at any time. Lastly, you may want to check out such resources such as Evernote (www.evernote.com), Explain Everything, (www.explaineverything.com) or Google Apps (http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/education/) to find a plethora of ways to facilitate simple technology integration and other solutions to your course needs. If you plan on using a novel application as part of an in-class activity, make sure you test it out in the classroom before class. It working on your home computer does not guarantee it will work with the projector and wireless in your classroom.
· Take advantage of university resources! Most colleges and universities have faculty development centers or teaching resources. While there are days it can seem difficult to take an hour to attend a presentation, these trainings can be highly valuable. In addition, faculty members should learn about the other campus resources that may be beneficial such as the Writing Center, Office of Disability Services, and the Academic Advising services. There are other professionals on campus that can assist students, so use them! Lastly, faculty members should consider collaborating with the campus library. Librarians can inform you of new books and articles related to your course and resources for students.
· Ask for help! New faculty members often report feeling overwhelmed by course preparation tasks their first, second, and sometimes 5th semester of teaching. It is very common to feel this way. I have found that once I have taught the same course 4-5 times I start to feel more confident in my teaching, course activities, and assignments. Preparing for a course for the first time is incredibly draining and can easily take precedence over other required tasks because you have to be ready to teach each week. Course preparation does get better over time! Experienced faculty members can provide support and mentorship to new faculty members by sharing or reviewing syllabi, observing classes, and meeting with the faculty member to review lesson plans and course feedback.
· Teach early in the week if you can- it forces you to be efficient, and leaves the rest of the week for other tasks.
· Take notes- use Adobe to highlight and make notes on the important features in your reading. This improves your efficiency in reading them on subsequent occasions. The same can be done with texts if you use the kindle/iBook version.
· Use the notes feature in PowerPoint to remind you what you were thinking when you made the slide a year ago. Be kind to your future self! Charts are a good place to use this strategy. Bullet the important points you want to make. You can make notes on anecdotes or examples so you don’t have to reinvent them each year. You can come up with new ones of course, but having the old ones helps you improve them each time.
How are you efficient in course preparation? Please share your tips with us!