Insights from U-Engage
When I agreed to co-instruct the completely revised first-year seminar course during the Fall 2008 term, I had no idea how much time and energy would go into the process. I think that the best thing that I gained out of the experience was a deeper understanding for the amount of behind the scenes work is necessary in order to be even mildly productive in the classroom. As a student affairs professional, I think it is invaluable to experience even small forays into the world of faculty. It creates a level of respect that is necessary in order to form partnerships with the faculty, which is a best practice within student affairs.
Other observations include the following:
Timing is everything: Teaching and learning can be very hard at 8 AM on a Monday morning. I realize that 8 AM courses are sometimes unavoidable and it is rather obvious that many students don’t enjoy them and choose to skip often. However, I think that my experience creates a context in which to advise students on the creation of class schedules that reflect their personal study and attention habits. If a student is fairly certain that they will be sleeping through a class or not attentive, then it might be best for them to come up with alternatives or understand the consequences that will come from taking a class during a time when they can’t concentrate.
Communicating changes to courses is essential:Another fairly obvious and yet important concept that came out of teaching a course which had recently been redesigned was recognizing how important it is to inform the entire campus community well ahead of time about the changes that are coming. Several students seemed blindsided by the fact that the course was 2 credits, graded on an A-F scale, and required more work than the previous 1 credit, pass-no pass format. This misunderstanding was mainly due to summer advisors giving students outdated information about the course. I am not what, if any, announcement went out about the restructuring, but if I am involved in a similar redesign in the future I will make sure that the new information is communicated clearly and repeatedly to all stakeholders. As an advisor I can also do my best to understand curriculum changes and get all of my questions answered before I am advising students about particular courses.
Faculty are often the first to notice students in distress- while most support services for students are found outside the classroom (counseling, health services, registrar’s services, etc.), distressed students often show the first signs of distress in the academic setting. This signs can include missing class, showing up unprepared, not maintaining general upkeep, becoming overly emotional or confrontational, or specifically telling TAs or professors of their troubles. From the student affairs side of things it is imperative that faculty are empowered to recognize signs of distress, feel comfortable confronting students about their observations and making the proper referrals. I was very blessed to have known the proper channels to go through when I confronted a distressed student and will make sure I have the same knowledge at any university where I teach in the future.
Recitation leaders and/or GTAs have a lot of influence and can make an instructors job a lot easier: My co-instructors came to rely heavily on our recitation leaders to communicate the finer points of our lectures and engage students in conversations about the material we went over in the large lecture. Students often went to their recitation leaders with questions instead of coming to me. Given the huge impact our leaders were having on students, it was essential that I was readily available to them and quick answer any questions they had. Teaching is a huge undertaking and having faith in others and giving them the freedom to succeed is necessary.