Having previously taught (and described) my intro class, my other course this semester has been occupy most of my mental and physical energy of late. To compound the amount of work required, I am also teaching the labs for the course.
The course is taught every year at Mystery U, and from here on out, it will be my course every other year, alternating with another faculty member. For both of us teaching the course, the topic represents a secondary area of research. The other faculty member provided me with copies of his labs and a >10 year old syllabus. Since the textbook, and the field in general, have advanced significantly in the last decade, the provided materials only got me so far in my course planning efforts. I think I can salvage parts of the labs, but I am totally reorganizing the lecture portion of the course.
Since I know my time is at a premium if I am going to get any research done this semester, I started my course planning by trying to think of ways to shift some of the course prep to my students. (For purely pedagogical reasons of course!) I decided to have weekly discussions of journal articles, with a different student leading the discussion each week. (Does anyone have a good rubric/grade sheet for evaluating discussion leaders?) In order to make sure that everyone is doing the readings, I am having all students email me before class with (1) the main point and (2) the most confusing point of each paper. Hopefully their emails will help me co-lead the discussions. This may well be the first time that many of these students engage with the peer-reviewed literature, so I expect that they will have some difficulties keeping up with the reading and know what to say in the discussion time. For that reason, I am trying to pick the papers carefully so as not to overwhelm them. I expect I’ll need to do some supplementary reading so that I can help the students put the discussion paper in context. Given all the time that I’m spending picking papers and doing reading, I’m not sure that my time-saving strategy will actually save me that much time in the end. But I can then fall back on pedagogical claims to justify the exercise. We’ll see how I feel about it at the end of the semester.
The rest of the time I’ll be doing a traditional lecture style of teaching. I’ve taken a number of short courses and grad courses that were related to the topic, and I’ll be hoping to draw heavily on those materials. Fortunately, some are available on the web or on CD. But, a week into the class, I am discovering that it is still taking me a tremendous amount of time to write the lectures, because I skim the textbook, need to refresh my memory on the topic, find the appropriate resources, decide how to best organize the material, and then make it all work in Powerpoint. Yes, I am using powerpoint, because it’s the best way to show photographs, figures, and graphs, but I’m also doing a lot of writing on the board.
In terms of labs, the other faculty member took me on a preview field trip to see some potential field trip sites, and that was very helpful. Now I’ve simply got to come up with objectives/topics for the labs and match them to the most appropriate field sites. Oh, and I’ve got to learn a few techniques so that I can teach them to my students. And find the equipment that has migrated all over the building and into the control of assorted grad students. And write keys for the labs.
I think it’s going to be a challenge just to stay a few minutes ahead of my class this term, and I’m really grateful that I only have one new prep rather than two. I can see that much of my work week will be spent writing lectures and labs and reading articles. I’m still excited about this class, but I’m also feeling a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of prepping a new upper-division course next fall, and then again next spring, and then the fall after that… At some point I’m going to have to find a way to (sustainably) prep new classes while still accomplishing some research. After all, they say that research is what will give me the privilege of keeping on teaching at the college level.