Tips on Teaching

One More Thing Before Summer


by Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

I’m going to hold off declaring that summer is officially here for just one more moment. I know the residence halls are empty, the grades are all turned in, dissertations have been defended, and that course evaluations are arriving in our mailboxes. But before officially diving headfirst into summer I want to encourage you to do one more, very important thing before locking your office for the next couple months. Now is the perfect time to reflect on the just ended semester and think about next fall. I can audibly hear your collective groan of disapproval, but hear me out.

Sunburns and Missouri’s 200% summer humidity will soon dull the memory of the ups, downs, and in betweens of this semester. Now is the time to reflect because it is still fresh in your mind. If you take a little time now to reflect on your experiences you can have a clear idea of what you want to change before the fall semester starts. Practically speaking, that will give you a better idea of how long you can keep course redesign on the back burner before needing to jump into the process in order to avoid that familiar conversation we all have with ourselves that goes something like, “I really should have changed this over the summer when I had more time.” In case you are wondering, this is partially a pep talk for myself too. So where do we start reflecting?

I know I have the tendency to focus on that one disgruntled student’s feedback in the course evaluation as opposed to hearing the other thirty who were pleased with the course. So I think a good place to start is by celebrating the victories by starting with the question, “What worked really well this semester?” For the course I am reflecting on, I had a project that I was pretty excited about. It connected my students with professionals in their future fields for a chance to see what the day-to-day work life was really like. After this assignment I had one student post to the class blog an exciting declaration about how that assignment had helped her see what this profession is all about, and now she realized that this is exactly what she is passionate about doing. I definitely called that one a win. It’s good to keep those victories in the forefronts of our minds to know that we really are making a positive impact in the lives of our students.

Then we also have to do the hard work of reflecting on what didn’t work as well as we had hoped. I had one assignment that I was very hesitant to include in my course. I didn’t think it was going to work well, but I felt pressured to include it anyway because it is a very common assignment in my discipline. After the assignment I evaluated the student’s work and felt like I was right, the project didn’t work very well. And even though this assignment occurred in week two of the semester, fourteen weeks later when the students completed their evaluations they felt obligated to remind me of precisely how poorly that specific assignment went. I got it. That was a blunder. Lesson learned.

But there are also places that warrant reflection between the thrills of victory and the agony of defeat. The in between is the space where you look at the course as a whole and decide if it is indeed time to change textbooks, develop a new project, or rearrange the timeline of the course to provide better scaffolding of projects. These may not be “problem areas” but they could very well be areas that would benefit from polishing or streamlining based on past experience. The pause of summer gives more space to think about the course as a whole, and where it can be refined. These bigger picture changes are hard to make two weeks before the semester starts.

When we have our reflection on the up, downs, and in betweens of the semester we then know what we want to change before we teach this course again. Some people would naturally feel the next step is to determine how to change those things that need adjustment and jump into the work immediately. I actually like to sit on those problems for a little while and let my ideas about possible solutions bubble and rise to the top. Preferably by the pool. Whatever your preferred timeline of action, know that you don’t have to figure everything out by yourself. We at the Reinert Center are here all summer (and all year long) to help you think through all things teaching and learning. We are more than happy to grab a cup of coffee with you to talk about the things that went really well in your courses, the things that didn’t go so well, and help brainstorm some possible ways to make your course even more impactful than it already is. Happy reflecting.