The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An awakening and a new start

Well Spring semester 2008 is now officially started. I have taught all of my classes (just 2 this semester!) at least once. I must admit that I am pretty excited to start school each semester. I still have that sense of renewal...even only halfway through the year. I get a new batch of students, a chance to fix the problems in class from last year, and sometimes I get new courses (Cognitive Psych this semester) to teach.

I also received my student course feedback (IDEA form) from last semester. I have to admit that I was a little surprised at my results. Overall, as a new faculty member here, I tended to be a bit below the mean when my overall scores were compared to the other faculty here at Morningside. I had usually received high-average scores at UND, so this did strike me as a bit of a surprise as I was teaching classes that I had taught before.

However, the numbers don't always tell the whole story when it comes to student evaluations. Luckily I requested my students to write suggestions for improvement and I got a better picture of where things were lacking. Basically, I lecture too much.....and for the most part I have to agree and there is not enough application and learning activity in my classes (worksheets, discussion, demonstrations, videos, etc). But changing from the large classes at UND (50-200) to the small classes here (30-40) requires a change in pedagogy (it's very difficult to do this type of activity in the big lecture classes). I had intended to do more in-class activities and demonstrations (anything to break up the monotony of lecture...I dislike it as much as students), but I did not do enough.

This semester I can at least redeem myself in my Developmental psychology class. I have made it a goal to do at least 2 in-class activities each day (small discussions, worksheets, demonstrations, videos, etc). I have never really been happy with the way that I taught this class. The issue here is simply the volume of material. We start at conception and go to death talking about all the ways people change......A pretty hefty amount of material. This results in me spending more time covering new material through lecture, than me reinforcing material through activities. Each time I have taught this (3 times now) I end up cutting more and more material, narrowing my focus, but I still find myself scrambling to discuss all the material that I made my exam for. So once again, I go through my lecture notes and I start cutting some material that can be cut from the class.

That is one change. The other is that I am prepping and teaching a new course - cognitive psychology - which I am really excited about. I want to do this one right first thing out of the gate. Now that I know that the students here really desire a lot of activity during class, I will make it a point to do so in this class as well. Primarily through demonstrations and worksheets I think. I've also allowed quite a bit of flexibility so that I can cover the material in a more leisurely pace than if I had tried to impose a structure (what are we discussing and doing each day). I wish I could do this for Dev psych, but for that class I need to impose a structure to ensure I get through to the end of the life span!

I am also excited that I only have 2 classes to teach this semester. It will allow me to make these pedagogical changes to help improve the educational experience for my students, and in my view to improve my enjoyment of teaching the courses. I hope my changes will be evident in my teaching evaluations this next semester. I feel a sense to redeem myself.