Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, December 30, 2013

Starting Your New Semester

If my Twitter feed is any indication, most academics didn't take much of a break this winter, and instead are spending their time "off" prepping course materials for the spring semester. I keep begging other academics to share their syllabi as they work #syllabishare but no luck so far. My reasoning for this is twofold- first, as a PhD student, I find one of the best ways to expand my reading/interests is to see what others are reading/assigning. The second is that as a PhD student, I want to see what other people's syllabi look like.
I'll keep asking though!

I am just as guilty of working over break. I love prepping classes, and rethinking things, as well as imagining new projects.
So here's my checklist for semester prep:
  • The syllabus: I make mine pretty comprehensive. I like to include policies about everything, so that there is no confusion. Tardies count as half an absence. Six absences get you dropped. I don't take late work, but make one exception per semester, but you have to let me know BEFORE the assignment is due. While there are many complaints that students don't read the syllabus, so far for me, this hasn't been an issue. 
  • I set up my gradebook in Google Spreadsheet, and set the formulas up so it's all set to go. However, I also like hard copies for attendance and grades, so I use the Ward gradebook.
  • I use Jim Burke's Teacher Daybook for staying organized (a holdover from my high school teaching days). I like that the front is a calendar where I can put everything for the classes I take, and teach, and the back half has planing space. I rough out sequences here, then put it into a Google Doc, and flesh out the assignments. This also allows me to directly link all resources (worksheets, webpages, videos, etc.) within the Google Doc. I then copy and paste this straight into Blackboard, so students have access to all of these resources. 
  • If you haven't played with using Google Forms for grading rubrics, I strongly suggest it. It makes life very easy, and grading goes a lot faster.
  • My school uses Blackboard. I make my life easy at the end of the semester by exporting a course copy. While I'll tweak items, and revise, I'm not having to create the entire course shell from scratch, which makes prep easier. I just upload the appropriate course shell. I've been an online instructor for years, so this is easy. But a note of warning to newbies- instructional design online is very important in order for your students to be able to access, and comprehend the information you're offering. If you're not familiar with this, or aren't sure how to approach this, ask for help! If your courses have an online component, it's not enough to just upload files.
  • When I go to class, I carry my Daybook, my Ward book, and a folder (for any student work I may take up). It lightens my load, and makes it infinitely easier to have everything organized. Because all the day's plans and resources are online, it saves me a lot of lugging.
  • I don't give hard copies of items out, all resources are online. Students are encouraged to bring hard copies of writing to class for writing workshops, but they submit everything online. It allows me to comment and return work faster, it ensures I can access stuff all the time and grade during down time (no more wasted time because I left papers at home). A nice bonus of this? I rarely get sick when students do because I'm not handling germy papers.
  • Another reason I like the Daybook is that it has built in reflection. I always think about what went well, what flopped, and what I need to revise. When thinking about assignments, I think it's important to think about WHY you're assigning items, and WHAT you want your students to get out of them (for more on this, see my post about Assignments and Rubrics in the FYC Classroom). I also think addressing this helps eliminate issues with plagiarism/cheating. I'm a firm believer that correctly designed assignments almost completely eliminate cheating.
  • I also find color coding classes makes things easier. I know that the red notebook/folder is ENGL 102, so when my desk is messy, or I'm running around, I just know what color to grab. I also color code my gradebook, so at a glance I can see how students did in a particular sequence.
So I'd love to hear from others- what are your tips or tricks that you use to prep for a smoother semester? What does your syllabi look like (#syllabishare)? Share!

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