Being Efficient in Course Preparation

 
As an early career scholar or as a seasoned instructor, course preparation can be a challenging task. Much of this challenge comes from the fact that course preparation never feels “done.” There are always more articles to read, grading rubrics to expand, or modifications to make based on continuous feedback. In the absence of a clear plan, time spent in course prep can overcrowd other important activities. Below are some recommendations for making course preparation manageable, and protecting time for other tasks that important to your success:
 
·      Schedule it! Time management may be my answer to a lot of things, and this is one of them. Allocating specific time from our schedule to course preparation makes us more purposeful in our preparation and thus, more efficient. Some people use kitchen timers or an alarm on a cell phone for a physical and auditory reminder. You might also consider limiting course preparation to certain blocks of time or days of the week.
·      Make revisions right away! Take notes during or immediately after class on the things that went well and things that need to be improved. In addition, I like to make notes of all the activities I do, how long certain activities took, and feedback from students within these notes. Make course revisions as quickly as possible, immediately after class being the best time.
·      Use technology! While it can take some time to learn new technologies, judicious use of them can improve efficiency. For example, you may consider creating a short video on a tablet about a question that is asked a lot so students can refer to it on their own time. Or you may consider using Google Drive or Dropbox to save course material so it can be accessed anywhere at any time. Lastly, you may want to check out such resources such as Evernote (www.evernote.com), Explain Everything, (www.explaineverything.com) or Google Apps (http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/education/) to find a plethora of ways to facilitate simple technology integration and other solutions to your course needs. If you plan on using a novel application as part of an in-class activity, make sure you test it out in the classroom before class. It working on your home computer does not guarantee it will work with the projector and wireless in your classroom.
·      Take advantage of university resources! Most colleges and universities have faculty development centers or teaching resources. While there are days it can seem difficult to take an hour to attend a presentation, these trainings can be highly valuable. In addition, faculty members should learn about the other campus resources that may be beneficial such as the Writing Center, Office of Disability Services, and the Academic Advising services. There are other professionals on campus that can assist students, so use them! Lastly, faculty members should consider collaborating with the campus library. Librarians can inform you of new books and articles related to your course and resources for students.
·      Ask for help! New faculty members often report feeling overwhelmed by course preparation tasks their first, second, and sometimes 5th semester of teaching. It is very common to feel this way. I have found that once I have taught the same course 4-5 times I start to feel more confident in my teaching, course activities, and assignments. Preparing for a course for the first time is incredibly draining and can easily take precedence over other required tasks because you have to be ready to teach each week. Course preparation does get better over time! Experienced faculty members can provide support and mentorship to new faculty members by sharing or reviewing syllabi, observing classes, and meeting with the faculty member to review lesson plans and course feedback.
 
Other tips:
·      Teach early in the week if you can- it forces you to be efficient, and leaves the rest of the week for other tasks.
·      Take notes- use Adobe to highlight and make notes on the important features in your reading. This improves your efficiency in reading them on subsequent occasions. The same can be done with texts if you use the kindle/iBook version.
·      Use the notes feature in PowerPoint to remind you what you were thinking when you made the slide a year ago. Be kind to your future self! Charts are a good place to use this strategy. Bullet the important points you want to make. You can make notes on anecdotes or examples so you don't have to reinvent them each year. You can come up with new ones of course, but having the old ones helps you improve them each time.
 
How are you efficient in course preparation? Please share your tips with us!

Great points everyone! I

Great points everyone! I don't deserve all the credit here, these blog posts are collaborations so Amanda and Rob also gave their excellent insights! Sherrie brings up another wonderful point...course prep is particularly challenging if you are constantly getting new classes. New faculty members should try to teach classes that they know will be potential options to teach in the future as well (i.e. trying not to fill in for someone who always teaches a particular course.) Although you also want to have some diversity in terms of the classes you teach.

Thank you Bryn! The

Thank you Bryn! The technology tips you suggested are extremely helpful. I am curious to also have some feedback about online teaching. As I teach a few courses online, one thing that helps me be more "efficient" when using blackboard is to make a "content folder" that includes all the assignments, powerpoints, videos etc for each week. I like to stay at least two weeks ahead as online teaching definitely takes organization and keeping up with your course webpage! There are also some great podcasts on itunes on diffferent psychology topics and TEDED has some interesting lessons and ideas as well.

Great question! I found the

Great question! I found the Blackboard really helpful in streamlining course prep because I could copy the entire course from one semester to the next and just make invisible/unavailable those portions I didn't want students to see at any given time. The same goes for Moodle. That way, all I had to do was revise the syllabus, PowerPoints, or readings, which I often did immediately (e.g., while students were working on an activity, right after class, or the day I found a new reading I wanted to integrate), and I was ready to go for the next term. Then I'd just have to review materials briefly before the class session. Even when teaching traditional courses now, I use Moodle the same way  because I find it so helpful in keeping things organized and everything can be done in advance. I like to organize my course site by week providing the unit/topic, description, any due dates, readings, activity materials (e.g., slides, handouts, discussion forums, and assignment links) since that seems to be the most intuitive structure for students. 

Great tips Bryn! I've found

Great tips Bryn! I've found that my last year of teaching was much easier than my first two, partly because I spent so much time in Year 1 and 2 prepping the classes! Now, it will be just my luck to get a new course assignment!

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