10 tips for teaching your first college class

Teaching your first college class can be exhilarating, but also intimidating. Like most faculty, I didn’t receive much training in graduate school in how to teach or design effective college courses. Over the years, I learned how to get better and also took advantage of the great resources that are available to help college instructors. No matter how well you know the content you’re teaching, teaching your first class can be tough for anyone. In today’s post, I will share 10 tips for teaching your first college class.

Teaching your first college class

Graduate school does a wonderful job developing disciplinary content knowledge, but a lousy job preparing you to teach your first college class.

A review of Claire Major’s Teaching Online

I have always been a skeptic of online education. As someone who thrives on the power of face-to-face instruction, I have always doubted the ability of online education to equal that experience. Yet, as someone in a faculty development role, I have to acknowledge that online education is something we have to give attention to in today’s environment. To that end, I have an excellent resource to recommend to anyone thinking about teaching online or trying to support those teaching online. My colleague and coauthor on Teaching for Learning has a new book that provides a valuable discussion of the research and practice related to online education. In today’s post, I will share my review of Claire Major’s Teaching Online: A Guide to Theory, Research, and Practice (Johns Hopkins, 2015).

Photo credit: University of Maryland Merrill College of Journalism

I was familiar with the basics of online education, but found Major’s Teaching Online did a great job providing a mix of research findings and practice questions to consider. 

A response to the Atlantic: Active Learning Doesn’t Harm Students

The Atlantic published an essay from Christine Gross-Loh entitled, “Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture?” This follows a similar op-ed published in the New York Times, “Lecture Me. Really.” Is there someone out there assaulting lecturers? Are there colleges out there eliminating the lecture? Is there even a college out there that could force an elimination if they tried? What is this really about? There is a growing and substantial body of research that suggests the importance of engagement and active learning. This scholarship has led to calls to reduce the frequency (more importantly, the length) of lectures in favor of engaging students in the classroom. Clearly, those who believe in the power and potential of lectures feel under threat. Yet, the research is clear that the inclusion of active learning helps students learn content better. The defense of the lecture in the Atlantic essay is long on anecdotal support for lecturing and wrong in numerous ways. In response, I want to respond to a few of the most inaccurate passages as a response to the Atlantic and underline my central argument: active learning doesn’t harm students.

14th Century Lecture in Bologna

When you lecture, take a break!

When I work with faculty on improving their teaching, one of the areas that I constantly try to get them to improve is in their lecturing. Particularly in certain disciplines, lecturing is the primary instructional approach used by professors. Lecturing is probably the oldest teaching approach and can be effective. However, lecturing can also be done very poorly as the stereotype of the professor reading form the yellowed lecture notes illustrates. I try to convince faculty to include more active learning approaches into their classes and I find the pause procedure is an excellent vehicle for this. In today’s post, I want to share an excerpt from my book on college teaching (Teaching for Learning)  that describes the pause procedure and how to use it effectively in the college classroom.

Are college students more brilliant? The grade inflation debate

Brilliant! I loved the series of Guinness commercials that made fun of the British affinity for using the word brilliant. It is hard not to love using brilliant and I often join in after only a few days in England (resulting in much ribbing from my colleagues). Of course, the issue is that if everything is brilliant- is anything? Brilliant used to mean exceptionally good, but now it has been watered down due to overuse. All of this leads to me think of the grade inflation debate in higher education and whether today’s college students are more brilliant than in the past.

“Grades A and B are sometimes given too readily—Grade A for work of no very high merit, and Grade B for work not far above mediocrity. . . One of the chief obstacles to raising the standards of the degree is the readiness with which insincere students gain passable grades by sham work.”  — Report of the Committee on Raising the Standard, Harvard University, 1984

The grade inflation debate is not new.