As we get closer to the end of the semester, many of us realize that we have fallen a bit behind, and the “something will have to give” if we are to get through everything we’d planned to cover. This Teaching Tip is designed to help you think through how to handle such a turn of events in your classes, should it arise.
Clearly, there is no single “right answer” to the question of what we should do. Strategies we entertain will need to:
- consider how critical remaining topics are to achieving the learning objectives of the course and to preparing students for courses that build on its content; and
- maintain the coherent threads that have lent coherence and structure to the course.
In a recent study of students’ perceptions of the “ideal” professor, the authors report that their respondents placed the greatest value on instructor clarity. Ability to communicate the relevance of the material, command of the subject matter and responsiveness to students and their needs and a sense of humor were next in importance. Findings such as these caution us to be careful that we do not sacrifice those elements of our teaching that permit students to find what we are saying and doing clear and easy to follow, as we speed up or omit treatment of our course content.
Speeding up and spending less time on remaining material than we had initially intended may, indeed, enable us to at least touch on everything. And omitting topics or time-intensive instructional activities may enable us to make up time. However, such solutions often result in fewer opportunities for discussion and student-centered in-class activities, and less time spent on preview and review of material. In so doing, we may be cutting out precisely those elements of our teaching that permit students
- to reflect on what we are teaching,
- to monitor their understanding (or points of confusion), and
- to engage with the material in ways that are meaningful and effective for them.
So what should we do? First, reassess our plan for the course intentionally, weighing the likely impact of the changes we are about to implement and create a revised course plan. Second, be sure to follow through with students – making sure class notes, study guides and other learning supports we may have already shared with students reflect the revised agenda. Third, make a note for ourselves about why our initial time estimates were off, and whether circumstances were special this semester, or whether we should bear this in mind as we plan for the next time we teach the course.
Please add your own strategies using the comment link on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter.” We also invite you to peruse other Faculty Matter Teaching Tips at your leisure.
 Goldman, Z. , Cranmer, G., Sollitto, M., Labelle, S., & Lancaster, A. (2017) What do college students want? A prioritization of instructional behaviors and characteristics. Communication Education, 66:3, 280-298.
Download a PDF version of the tip: FMTT 28