Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An ounce of prevention...

Are you feeling a bit frantic? Is the beginning of the semester making you want to cry out for help?

Then you're not alone. Both new and experienced instructors and TAs alike tend to greet the new semester with a mixture of excitement and dread. If you're like me you probably enjoy the promise of a fresh start - the chance to fix past mistakes and try out new ideas. But at the same time you're probably also wondering how you're going to manage your teaching and all of you other commitments (and still hopefully have time for some sleep). You may be asking yourself, "So how far ahead of the students should I be in reading the textbook?". Or you may have found a new mantra - "Please don't let WebCT go down. Please don't let WebCT go down." (Of course, replace "WebCT" with any technology you rely on but aren't quite sure how it actually works, and certainly don't know how to fix it should you - or your students - run into trouble.)

As always, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Organization, as in many facets of life, is key. Take time each day to review your "to do" list and prioritize your tasks. Make sure you plan at the beginning of each week (or the end if you like to rest easy over the weekend) what needs to be done and set aside time to do it. Don't forget to schedule time in for grading and course preparation, and don't allow meetings or other commitments to flow over into this time. Also, be sure to look over your syllabi and try to judge when students will be most likely to need to visit your office or flood your inbox with emails. It's a safe bet that even if your office hours are usually a ghost town, right before and after exams or major assignments you will need some time to deal with student questions (and possibly complaints).

I know that many of us are now teaching more classes than before due to the combination of budget cuts and increased enrollments. This may mean that even those who were organization dynamos before are now having to rethink their strategies. Feel free to contact the Center for Teachign & Learning Excellence to schedule a consultation to review your courses and brainstorm ways you can streamline your prep and grading. Takign an hour out of your week to plan ahead is sure to pay off in the long run.

Taking some steps towards increasing the efficiency of your teaching means you'll get more bang for your (time and energy) buck. At the very least, I promise you'll sleep better. As soon as you finish tomorrow morning's lesson plan.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/aheram/ / CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


If you are new to the blog (and perhaps to the University of Utah as well), I'd like to wish you a warm WELCOME!

For everyone else WELCOME BACK!

It's the beginning of Fall semester already - can you believe it!?! This year we have a great selection of services for you to take advantage of. Here are a few highlights:

The Annual TA Teaching Symposium - Every year we are joined by faculty and senior graduate students from across campus to provide a day of break-out sessions on teaching topics designed especially for new TAs. You can see the whole program and check out materials from this year's event here. To gain online access to videos of previous sessions, email us at info@ctle.utah.edu.

The Teaching Workshop Series - Each month we have another free workshop. This year, many of the topics were chosen by YOU. The first workshop will be September 25 on the topic of Ensuring Integrity with Student Work. Click here for more details and to register.

FREE & CONFIDENTIAL Mid-term Evaluations - We can visit your classroom and provide you with feedback, discuss the class with your students, or collect feedback from students online. We offer a wide variety of evaluation options to best meet your needs. We follow up with a one-on-one consultation to provide you with resources and answer your questions. Great for the beginning TA or the seasoned professor!

For a full list of our services, please see our website. And be sure to check back here for teaching tips, announcements, and reflections on teaching.

We can't wait to work with you this year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Semester Top Ten

Recently the University of Utah Daily Utah Chronicle asked readers to name the Top Ten Tips for Incoming Freshmen. They posted their list on Facebook.

I want to know, what are your top tips for new instructors? What do you wish you had known before stepping into the classroom on the first day?

To provide new Teaching Assistants with some tips before they begin teaching, we are again hosting the Annual TA Teaching Symposium, lovingly referred to as "ATTS". You can check out the program on our website at www.ctle.utah.edu/ATTS. We also have videos available from previous sessions. Email us at info@ctle.utah.edu to gain online access.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Getting ready...

It's that time again! Summer grades have been posted, Fall syllabi have been copied (or preferably posted online - save a tree!), lesson plans are ready to go.

What? You mean you haven't done any of this?

Getting into the swing of things for Fall can be difficult, whether you're wrapping up from teaching a summer course or are coming back from vacation. But now is the time to get all of that work done, as a well-prepared course is sure to run much more smoothly than one you've jumped into on the first day back. (For you vacationers, think of the difference between a well-prepared dive and a belly flop!)

So here's your back-to-school checklist:

1) Prepare your syllabi. Use the handy syllabus guidelines found here. If you have questions, or just need another set of eyes to look things over, email your syllabus to us at info@ctle.utah.edu. A trained consultant will review your syllabus and send you feedback.

2) Check out your classroom. It's just awful to get stuck with a classroom that doesn't have what you need. Check out the rooms you will be teaching in and make sure they have the seating capacity, room arrangement, and technological support you need. Don't just look to be sure everything's there - play with the lights and the audiovisual equipment to make sure everything is in working order. Figure out who you need to call to fix things last minute or change the temperature in the room. If things are really bad, find out if there are any other rooms available that better fit your needs.

3) Prepare your lesson plans. I always like to go into the new semester with at least a few weeks of lesson plans ready to go. Lesson plans are important to get you off on the right foot, and keep everything running smoothly all semester. Don't know how to create a lesson plan? See our website for some helpful tips. Also, be sure to work in a couple of ice breakers so you can get to know your students early on in the semester.

4) Prepare your course website. Just about every course has some online materials, even if it's just a link to the syllabus and reading list. Get your website ready and ask a colleague or one of our staff members to review the site and make sure it's easy to use. If your course is fully online, make sure you have someone tour through it and give you feedback before it becomes available to students. Don't know how to put together a website? Check out the Technology Assisted Curriculum Center (TACC) - they offer beginner workshops and one-on-one help.

5) Send a welcome email to your students. Tell them a bit about yourself. Let them know if they need to prepare anything for the first day (e.g., buy the textbook and other materials, print the syllabus, visit the course website). Welcome them to thte course and let them know how excited you are to meet them all!

6) Breathe. The beginning of the semseter, especially Fall, can feel a bit overwhelming. But with a little preperation, you can actually walk into the first day of class calm, cool, and collected.

If you need more help getting ready for the first day, register for our workshop Preparing for the First Day (faculty only), or for the Annual TA Teaching Symposium (graduate students and undergraduate TAs only). All workshops are free for University of Utah faculty, students, and staff.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/52636849@N00/ / CC BY 2.0