Teaching Tip #6: Losing Time, Finding Creativity

So, looking at your syllabus right now, you may be shaking your head and wondering how in the world you are going to “make up” for lost class time.   Important concepts still need to be explored, tests given, papers written and chapters read.  How can we make lemonade from this lemon of a winter? I like to think of this situation as an opportunity to be creative.

How will you decide what to do?

First of all, this kind of scenario forces us to do some careful thinking about what is most important in our courses.  Which concepts are most difficult for students to master?  Where do they really need your help?  Which information can they get themselves outside of class?  It’s time to focus on your primary goals.  If your class time is overstuffed with content, give yourself permission to unstuff it now; you may find your teaching becomes more effective.

If you don’t decide to schedule additional class time, this can be an opportunity to help students become more independent learners.  Some possibilities include

1)      Give students study questions you want them to be able to answer based on the readings, and have them bring their answers to class.  Or, just have them identify the areas in the reading they did not understand. Have students meet in pairs or small groups to answer each others’ questions and make sure everyone comprehends the material.  Your job is to move from group to group, probing responses, helping groups stay on task, and monitoring their learning.  When you find a topic that all the groups struggle with, you can stop the groups for a moment for a larger discussion or a mini-lecture.   This way, you only have to talk about the most difficult concepts.

2)      If you are planning to ask students to view a video on their own time, help them watch more critically. Preview the types of information you want them to pay attention to, or give students a list of questions based on the video.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to get into a passive viewing mode and not really pay that much attention.  If you need to show a video in one of your remaining classes, is it possible to show only the most important clips?  If so, focusing on them also will keep students more engaged and take less time.

3)      Washington is full of experts in all of our fields.  Could your students interview (in-person, via email or on the phone) an expert about one of your course topics and then report to the class via a presentation, posting to a class wiki or journal, or writing a report?  In fact, using technology like Skype, they don’t have to be limited to our area.  Going to museums or exhibits and talking to curators or tour guides (or writing their own tour guide) works too.

What about using technology?  Clearly, this won’t work for hands on classes e.g. design studios, labs, etc.  But for discussion or lecture-based classes, online options abound.

1)      Discussion boards can use the same types of questions posed for in class sessions.  Create threads for each topic and require students to post responses to the question as well as commenting on others’ posts.  MU faculty who use this technique have developed clear guidelines for what constitutes an appropriate post, how many posts students are required to make, and how these posts will be evaluated.  For example, commenting on a student post has to be more than just “I agree with Jennifer” but must add evidence or a new point to the discussion.

2)      If you want to have an online discussion, the BB virtual classroom or chat function can be used for real time chat.  If you use the whiteboard in the classroom e.g. for working problems, you have that functionality in BB.

3)      Screencasting:  Create a narrated powerpoint using Camtasia.  If you’d like to play with Camtasia yourself, you can download a free 30-day trial at http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp.   If you’re not a do-it-yourself type, contact e-learning services.  Make sure that you have students bring in summaries, notes, or give quizzes to make sure that they are using the screencast.  Even better, use class time for activities that require students to access your screencast in order to be successful.

These are just a few ideas.   Please post your creative plans for making up “lost” class time for your colleagues to share.  It would be great to have a collection we can all draw from!

One Response

  1. Camtasia is a great tool, but it is a bit baggy and potentially unwieldy–there are two more streamlined free tools that are even better suited to most professors’ purposes: Jing and CamStudio, both of which are made by the folks at TechSmith. I would *love* to have Camtasia Studio, but unfortunately, $299 is not a price tag I can muster! Jing also allows you to post your videos directly to the web at screencast.com (I believe)–so, you don’t have to put them up anywhere else (youtube, vimeo, etc.).

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