The first course: a repeat

I’m teaching two classes this semester: one introductory course which is a repeat from last semester and one upper-level course with laboratory, which is a new prep.

The intro course: I was reasonably happy with how this course went last semester, so by-and-large my goal is to put minimal preparation effort into the course. That said, I couldn’t quite manage to leave the course alone.

For details, venture below the fold.

Last semester, I gave both on-line (blackboard) and in-class quizzes. It was a lot for both the students and me to keep track of. Plus, while the paper quizzes provided a nice incentive for class attendance (they were unannounced), they were a hassle to grade. So this semester, I’m moving to giving all of the quizzes on-line, where the grading is automated. I’ll have to experiment with ways to encourage students to come to class, but I’m thinking about giving lecture attendees heads-ups about upcoming quiz questions and/or some extra credit points (No, I don’t like EC either, but the students do.)

Last semester, I had three assignments. This time around, I’m scrapping two of them and adding one (hat tip, Kim). This should reduce my grading load, while still letting students be evaluated (at least somewhat) on something other than quizzes and multiple choice exams.

Finally, I’m rejiggering the amount of time I spend on certain topics so that I don’t feel as rushed through the really cool stuff (IMO) later in the semester. This change in pacing *will* cause me a bit of work as I’ve got to figure out how to contract some lectures and write a few new lectures later on.

I’m sure that when it gets to the time where I am writing new lectures, I’ll be stressed. But overall, I’m looking forward to a fairly low-stress teaching experience with my intro class this semester. It’s not even at 8 am.

For the new class, on the other hand…


  1. #1 Jenn
    January 8, 2008

    Sounds like a reasonable plan to me! I like the idea of saving time for the more interesting stuff at the end, as long as enough time is devoted so that they understand the basics in order to follow later on…

  2. #2 julia
    January 8, 2008

    Hi ScienceWoman!

    I found you googling “IRS stipend self-employed” as the same that happened to you last August happened to me today!

    I’ve received a letter from the IRS inviting me to consider my 2005 fellowship-stipend from Columbia University as self-employed income so that I pay double FICA on them. Is the IRS trying to solve the Social Security crisis by being a poor PhD student predator?

    What did you do about that? How did you solve it? I’m wondering whether it’s better to call them, or write to them…

    My due date is on late May, will have a boy.

    – Julia

  3. #3 Kelly
    January 8, 2008


    That’s how I found her too 🙂
    I just went through the same thing and in the end, it all worked in my favor.
    Since our greatly entertaining SW is no doubt only slightly busy, drop me an email and I will share with you what we did*
    and yes- it seems that someone in the IRS has a bee up their bonnet… down with the IRS- go FairTax!

    lkvaughan at gmail dot com

    * Warning: I am not a tax pro & all that warning stuff

  4. #4 GuppyGeek
    January 8, 2008

    Hey ScienceWoman,

    Good thinking about keeping workload under control. That is my continual struggle (as I enter year 15…).

    But also, for your sanity and the students’ quality of learning, unless you have a specific list of topics you absolutely have to cover (more likely applies to those poor chemists), it is always good to reduce, reduce, reduce the amount of content. I would say in developing my intro ecology course I ended up reducing the content by 50%, maybe more, from year 1 to year 4, to the benefit of the students as well as me!

    Now if you could just tell me its ok not to keep reinventing the same course each time I teach it…!


  5. #5 Mrs Whatsit
    January 8, 2008

    Thank you for sharing your experience in teaching and reteaching courses. In the course design workshops I have been to, the main criticism people have about my sample syllabi is that there are two many assignments and I would go crazy trying to grade them all. It’s so hard. I want to design courses that are fair to students and have plenty of assessment, but without teaching experience, I have no idea how many assignments are reasonable.

    So, with that said, you may take these suggestions with a grain of salt.

    1. In class quizzes. Can the students grade them themselves? You know, “Everyone pass your quiz two people to the left.” This would only work for multiple choice quizzes, of course. Then, you would only have to enter the grades, thus saving you time.

    2. In class assignment alternative. At several workshops I have been to, people have talked about having the students write one minute (or 2 minute, or 3 minute) essays. These essays are handed in and are not actually graded, but just the fact that they did it is worth X points. And, you can read just a couple of them to get a sense of whether they are understanding the material. This gives the students who come to class an advantage over students who don’t and gives you some insight into how well the students are absorbing the material. Again, you save time because you don’t do any grading, just recording of points.

    Please continue to share your experience in teaching courses! I, for one, appreciate the insight.

  6. #6 Kim
    January 9, 2008

    I’m glad you found my teaching musings useful – though I hope you find a more efficient way to grade than I have! Fourteen and a half years into this work, and I still need to learn how to cut out assignments.

  7. #7 Dave Briggs
    January 11, 2008

    I’m sure that when it gets to the time where I am writing new lectures, I’ll be stressed. But overall, I’m looking forward to a fairly low-stress teaching experience with my intro class this semester. It’s not even at 8 am.

    For the new class, on the other hand…

    It sounds like you are doing a great job! It is not surprising you keep finding new ways to revitalize and improve things. I am often astounded when I write an article and it seems real good. I usually go back and edit until it feels great. Even then sometimes I have to stop from going back to make it superlative. It is a natural tendency in creative people to want to keep polishing their creations. It sounds like you are doing a super job of balancing it all out!
    Dave Briggs :~)

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