Time to reboot and start the new semester
The Educationalist. By Alexandra Mihai
Welcome to a new issue of “The Educationalist”! It’s still January, and by now many of us are already snowed under big piles of work, just as the new semester is getting started and the pandemic decided it’s going to test our patience one more year. At this point, it’s really difficult to talk about innovation and personal development. Most of us are simply hanging on and trying to plough through what feels like endless tasks, day after day. So this week I’m not aiming to cover a new, exciting topic and lure you into adding something else on your list. Instead, I put together a list of 10 teaching-related things you could do at the start of the new semester. They range from very specific activities related to your course to broader pedagogical endeavours that you can of course continue throughout the semester. You can read this newsletter as a reminder, a “note to self”, a checklist and most of all a gentle nudge to reflect. For each point I linked some of the resources I’ve curated in the past, for easy reference. And at the end you can find five resources I wholeheartedly recommend you to keep near, at all times, as a source of inspiration. Happy reading and have a nice weekend!
Review your syllabi. Take the time to re-familiarise yourself with the learning objectives, content, assessment. Think of the best way to communicate all this to your students during the first class. You can read more about how you can refine your syllabus and find resources on how to make it more engaging, accessible and inclusive here.
Find out how many students you have in your course and try to adapt the classroom activities accordingly. The amount of group work and interaction depends a lot on the size of the class so now is the moment to make the last adjustments in order to make the most of the class time. Also, if possible, try to find out the room where your course will take place and design a setup that suits your teaching style and your course. Learning spaces are a very important part of the learning experience. If your course will take place fully online, take some time to familiarise yourself with the platform(s) used and think of how you can establish your online teaching presence (some ideas here).
Use this time to read more about the method(s) you will be using. Look for examples of other teachers using it and watch video tutorials to find inspiration. If you are interested in using collaborative learning, here are some design ideas and resources. You can learn more about Problem-Based Learning here and about Project-Based Learning here. Maybe you are curious about using ePortfolios? I have some ideas and resources for you here. If you are still teaching online and would like to try out some active learning, you can get some inspiration here. And here you can read more about using podcasts and other audio materials in your courses.
Look (again) into the evaluations of previous iterations of the course. You probably did this when drafting the syllabus but it’s a good idea to check students’ feedback again and try to think of ways of addressing it while teaching this semester. Remember though, each student cohort is different so stick to your teaching vision as much as possible, as this is the key to a successful learning experience.
Now that you’ve done the “hard work” (revising syllabi, evaluations, learning more about a specific method, etc.), it’s time to think about your students: find ways to make them enthusiastic about your course. You can do this by relating the course to current events or to issues students are interested in, by emphasising (with examples, ideally) why the topic is close to your heart and why you chose to specialise in it and also by reminding students what they can do with what they learn in your course. Here you can find some ideas on how to keep students motivated.
Sometimes working on designing your course alone can be daunting and even boring. Why not get inspiration by exchanging syllabi with a colleague? Giving each other feedback in a constructive way can be motivating for both parties and it can also lead to more coherence in the overall course offering.
If syllabi exchange worked and you think you could benefit from more interaction with peers, why not try to schedule “exchange moments” with fellow Faculty members? These can be informal meetings over a cup of coffee or can be included in regular Faculty meetings. The important thing is to acknowledge the need and try to find the best solution. Here are some ideas on building faculty learning communities; why not try some of them this year?
This can also be a good moment to look into various teaching-related professional development activities. These can be workshops, training sessions (online or face-to-face), teaching certificates, etc. The main idea is to find something close to your interest and commit to it by booking a place.
If you decide that attending workshops is too time consuming but you would still like to do something to refresh your teaching, look through the resources you collected along the time (yes, that huge “to read” list) and choose to read an article or watch a video. This will not take a lot of time but can be very inspiring, especially now just as the new semester starts. For a shortcut, here is a list with 12 small steps you can take in order to refresh your teaching.
Most importantly, keep reflecting on your teaching throughout the semester. This can be done by making regular notes which can then be more systematically collected in a ”teacher’s diary”- not necessarily in a written form, it can also be an audio diary, whatever you find easier. It might sound like a time-consuming activity but you’ll soon notice that it does in fact save you time on the next occasion you have to draft the syllabus and teach that course. The best ideas come along the way, so try to capture them. Whatever format you choose, it is the reflective mindset that is extremely important and can seamlessly lead to improving your teaching.
Five resources to keep nearby
Community building activities: a great (and growing) collection of activity templates (including videos, instructional materials, etc) that can help you create and maintain an online community. Curated by Maha Bali, Mia Zamora and Autumm Caines;
Pedagogies of care: a rich collection of open resources on how to create a inclusive learning community, from design through teaching and collaboration to assessment;
Some ideas on how to humanise your online class from Michelle Pacansky-Brock;
Bird by Bird, by Ann Lamott- an inspiring book on how to stay sane and be productive by finding a writing routine and taking it one step at a time;
Reflection Toolkit, from University of Edinburgh- a comprehensive reflection toolkit, comprising both a reflector’s kit and a facilitator’s kit; a great resource to get you started on your regular reflection habits.