Monday, December 3, 2018
Finals are starting, and if your office is like mine, most students only come around for emergencies. I may have a few students asking doctrinal questions or for a few more tips, but in general, my office is quieter during finals weeks. I use that time to finish grading and reflect on my classes to try to improve them for the next iteration.
I tell students about self-regulated learning at orientation. I implore them to constantly evaluate their progress and make improvements. Studying isn’t the only area where the steps of self-regulated learning is applicable. We can use those steps when developing and improving our classes.
Finals weeks and the week before Christmas break is a good time for reflection. With a little quieter office, analyzing courses is easier than when attending to constant emergencies. Finals time is also good because classes just ended. You may remember a little better what worked and what didn’t work. I find it difficult to remember what I didn’t like if I don’t teach the course again until the following year. Right now is much better for evaluating courses.
I suggest analyzing the course structure, in-class exercises, and the homework. Categorize each activity or course choice as works great, decent, and failed miserably. I know variations among those categories exist, but the idea is to identify what you must keep, what must go, and what could be better but not necessary to change now. I provided a few considerations below when looking at the 3 categories. Make sure to specifically write down the assessment and note the changes now before forgetting them.
Course structure is the big picture of the class. Some considerations are:
- Did the course achieve its objectives?
- Did the course flow logically through the semester?
- Should the topics be in a different order?
- Do students need context or other knowledge to better prepare for the topics?
In-class exercises are great when they work well, but sometimes exercises fail miserably. Think about each exercise and consider:
- Did the exercise achieve its purpose?
- Did the exercise further the lesson/topic of the day?
- Did the exercise need additional instructions to run smoother?
- Did the setup take too long?
- Did it take too long to get the class back on task after completing the exercise?
- How many students completed the exercise poorly or failed to complete the exercise?
- Was there ample time to achieve the goal of the exercise?
- In a perfect world, what would I change about the exercise?
Many professors, including myself, spend significant time preparing for class instruction but don’t think as much about homework. Sometimes homework is reading cases or rewriting essays. Homework should further our goals within the class. Being deliberate with each homework assignment can help support learning in the classroom. Analyze:
- Does the homework flow with the class discussion?
- Is there good formative assessment in the homework?
- Did the homework integrate spaced repetition?
- Did the homework further the class discussion or improve skills?
- Did the course assign too much writing homework so the instructor couldn’t reasonably provide feedback on the work?
- Was the instructor able to provide any feedback using homework?
- Did students understand the homework’s purpose?
Now is the time to evaluate our courses and write down what we should change. I forget the changes I want to make until I see the problem again the next year, so I start making notes and changes earlier. My suggestions are not a comprehensive list. The goal is continued evaluation to make courses better. We can all do that.