Conducting a Complete Course
If you will be responsible for conducting a complete course from first roll call to final exams, the importance of planning cannot be overemphasized.
The more thorough planning before a course begins, the smoother the conduct of the course. Therefore, it is best to begin preparing for a course as soon as you know and understand what your responsibilities will be. Certain information you will need to know immediately: Are the course schedule, syllabus, textbooks, and format prescribed by the department or prepared by the teacher? Has a classroom been reserved for the class? Have the textbooks been ordered and the library notified of any book that should be put on reserve? Will departmental tests and exams be used, or will each teacher prepare his or her own evaluation instruments? If you do not know the answer to any of these questions, check with your supervisor as soon as possible. Be sure to learn anything you can about any pre-course activities related to your assistantship or to the course you are teaching.
Remember that your department and your students are depending on you to exercise professional responsibility in your teaching role. This responsibility means that you are expected to be able to determine what needs to be done, to do it effectively, and to do it on time or to seek the direction or help you need. Above all, do not hesitate to turn to your supervisor for guidance when you need it or when you are in doubt. Several general topics of importance in course planning are reviewed in the following section, and additional course-specific information on these and other topics may be obtained from your supervisor and others who have previously taught the course.
Compliance with Instructional Policies
The University of Georgia has established instructional policies and procedures to provide an effective learning environment. General information regarding policies for such matters as equal educational opportunity for disabled students, student rights and responsibilities, safety, academic honesty, and the handling of student-teacher problems is provided in this handbook. Specific information regarding these and other instructional policies is available from your supervisor or department head. In your instructional role as TA or LA, you are expected to comply with all established University policies and procedures.
The first steps in designing a course are to determine the basic aims of the course and then to work backwards toward the specific activities that will be required to accomplish those aims. In Chapter Two of Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, Wilbert McKeachie outlines a logical, step-by-step procedure that proceeds from the initial writing of course objectives to preparation for the first class perioda. This process should ideally begin several months prior to the date the course is to begin. Since very few GTAs at The University of Georgia are likely to be solely responsible for initial course design, only a brief outline of the process is presented below for your general information.
Several initial questions must be answered before deciding on the design of a course.
- How should it relate to the rest of the department's curriculum?
- Should it build on material from other courses, or will it serve as a prerequisite for other courses?
- Will most of the students be first years or new majors in the field?
Check to see if your department has a sample syllabus on file for the course you are designing. Next, define what the students will need to learn by the end of a course. Here are some questions to consider:
- What are the most important ideas that students should learn and remember from your course?
- What are the most important concepts that students should understand after completing your course?
- Finally, what are the most important skills that students should develop by taking your course?
By following this procedure, you will have established the basic purpose and objectives of the course. In order to ensure that you create an integrated course, be sure that your form of evaluation reflects your goals and that learning activities help students practice the skills reflecting those goals.
At this point, it would probably be helpful to organize your ideas into course outline form by listing the major topics you will need to include to accomplish your purposes. From this list, sketch out the basic content, concepts, processes, and skills that you believe should be covered under each topic. Review the resulting information for ambiguities, redundancies, and missing or superfluous content. After the outline has been reworked, estimate the number of class days needed to cover each topic.
Since your purpose should be to present the course material in as clear and effective a manner as possible, the importance of careful textbook selection cannot be overemphasized. Your first decision will be whether or not to adopt a general text. You may find that a single textbook supports the course sufficiently, or you may discover that no one book will meet all your needs. Most students prefer some textbook that will integrate the course for them. You may choose to make the students responsible for understanding the material presented in the text, and then using your lectures to present alternative points of view or to fill in the blanks. Occasionally students get confused when presented with conflicting evidence and/or information, so be clear in explaining to them what you are doing, why it is useful, and how they can best integrate lecture and textbook when studying. If you choose not to use a general textbook, it will be even more important that you consider how your readings relate to each other and to your lectures.
Besides a textbook, you can supplement the reading materials for your class through online sources. While the library still puts books on reserve for class use, a practice that some students find costly in terms of time and money, they also offer electronic reserve materials that are password protected for students in your class. Also through the library, you and your students can use GALILEO, Georgia’s virtual library, that provides access to over 100 databases and includes over 2000 journal titles providing full-text articles.
eLearning Commons (eLC) is another useful tool for posting extra articles or other materials to supplement your textbook. Because your eLC course is restricted to only your students, you can load articles on your site under academic fair-use policies.
Selection of Teaching Strategies
How do you want to spend your class period? Will you lecture primarily, or focus on small group activities? While certain disciplines may dictate a specific teaching mode, consider how you can incorporate activities that promote classroom interaction and active learning. Would you prefer to include short discussion periods within each class meeting, or devote certain class periods for discussion?
Small group presentations?
aMcKeachie, W. M., & Svinicki, M. (2006). Countdown for course preparation (pp. 9-20). In W.M. McKeachie & M. Svinicki (Eds.) McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (12th Ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.