Published On: Thu, Jul 5th, 2018

Practical Teaching Tips for New College Instructors

You’ve worked hard to achieve the academic credentials required to teach at the post-secondary level—not to mention the rigorous hiring process you had to undergo to earn a position, whether adjunct or tenure track. And it’s all culminating in this: The opportunity to design and teach your own college course.

Teaching

If you’re like most new college instructors, you’re probably half jumping for joy and half panicking. Suddenly it’s not a hypothetical; you have a syllabus to compile, materials to gather and lectures to practice. You’re steering the ship now, and soon you’ll have an entire room full of bright-eyed college students staring at you, hanging on your every word.

Consider these practical teaching tips for new college instructors when you’re preparing for the semester ahead. That way, you’ll have a roadmap for success before you even pass out the first informational packet to your students.

Fit Course Content to Goals

It’s tempting to start making a list of all the content you want to include throughout the course of your class. It’s only natural to feel excited at the prospect of sharing various books, articles, videos, research projects and more. But here’s a relevant tip from The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis: “Rather than beginning by defining the content your course will cover, start by defining your goals for student learning.”

Step back and take a big-picture look at your class. What do you want your students to walk out on the last day having gained by taking your class? What do you want them to understand about the given subject matter? How do you envision them making use of the information you convey? Set concrete goals—then make them the driving factor for all subsequent decisions. Share these goals with your students on the first day and periodically after so you can stay on track and given them richer context. This will help provide a sense of “why” rather than just throwing a lot of “what” at them. 

Make Each Lesson Interactive

One big fear many instructors have, especially those new to the profession, is that they’ll look up to see a lecture hall full of students snoozing, texting, staring into space or working on another assignment. Supplementing your lectures with active learning techniques can help combat various forms of disengagement, boosting retention and general interest in your class.

One example is giving out periodic retention checks to make sure students are digesting and understanding the material. Using a classroom response system, you can ask your students to respond in real time using a smartphone or laptop. The answers will appear immediately overhead, giving you the opportunity to revisit key concepts. This technology also enables students to submit questions and upvote others’ queries for clarification. 

Offer Flexible Office Hours

Not all learning occurs directly inside the classroom. Some students simply need time to digest course material before asking questions or sharing insights. Introverted students may hold back from raising their hands in a large lecture hall, but have lots to say one-on-one. There are many reasons students may seek to meet outside of class.

For this reason, it’s smart to hold regular office hours and some “flex hours.” Let’s say you hold weekly office hours on Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. A student may work during those hours each week, rendering them unable to attend. If you held bi-weekly office hours on, say, Monday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., this would heighten the chances they could drop by for a visit. Consider how to facilitate learning inside and outside the classroom for the best results.

These practical teaching tips for new college instructors will help you hit the ground running when the upcoming semester rolls around.