The Academy for Teaching and Learning hosted a course makeover seminar series for faculty this past week. Teachers from all corners of campus converged in the Baylor Sciences Building to revamp classes old and new. You may wonder, why change what works? Reasons for attendance were many, ranging from taking over a new class and wanting a personal touch, as a response to student critique on evaluations, needing a change in the class dynamics or size and even help transitioning from the workforce into the classroom as a teacher. There was certainly a wide range of backgrounds represented with one common goal: student learning.
The larger group broke down into smaller working groups to discuss a number of topics, including “what qualities make a good course”? The qualities that this group deemed important were engagement (by the instructor AND the students), teamwork, small class sizes, a sense of community, respect for each other, preparation and knowledge and incorporation of various teaching methodologies. This veteran group of teachers has clearly seen the good and bad of classroom dynamics and they know what to strive for come fall.
In addition to the qualities that make a good course, how can we as teachers strive to design a great course ahead of time? Topics touched on were organization and structure, incorporation of media and an incredibly important one: striving to have the capacity to ask students questions they WANT to answer!
One way in which teachers can revamp a class is to start with the syllabus and course plan. Both of these documents should be clear and concise. The more detail the better. Course plans should include goals, objectives, and according to one sample course plan from Dr. Hanks in the English Department, “motivators” and “reinforcement” are also important components when thinking about how to engage students. The more time, effort and attention to detail in these preparatory months before the class begins, the better the class with flow and the more actively the instructor can engage the students.
Overall, this was a motivated group of teachers who attended in hopes of improving their classes for their students. It shows a great deal of humility and confidence to say there is a problem with my class, and ask colleagues how they would suggest fixing it. Even more, as a graduate student attending this seminar, with no experience, and no class to “fix”, I was given an unbelievable amount of respect and credit. My opinion was valued as anyone else’s. Baylor is lucky to have such fantastic and motivated teachers. If any faculty member is thinking about a course make-over, even something seemingly simple, this seminar can help open your eyes to different teaching methods, help connect you to your peers and ultimately help you achieve engagement and learning in the classroom.