Preparing for Instruction
In addition to the information and resources provided through our New Faculty Orientation onboarding, whether you are teaching WEB, HYBRID, or IN PERSON, we recommend the following:
1. Craft a syllabus with student-facing language
The college has a list of requirements for syllabi, that includes items such as instructor contact information, course description, learning outcomes, assignments, grading scale, and schedule. But rather than resort to the traditional distance often invoked in this document, think about ways of using the syllabus as an opportunity to communicate your excitement for engagement with the students as much as you might articulate expectations. Some suggestions for writing a welcoming document:
- Be personal. Write as though you are talking to a person you know and not a generic student or “students.” Think about the form of the letter and direct address as a way to center student experience from the outset.
- Be inclusive. Make clear your position on pronouns and state your pronouns following your name at the top of the document. Consult Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom for more information.
- Avoid policing language. Rather than tell students what you will not accept from them, let them know what they can expect from you as you and then let them know what you wish to see from them. This pushes away from punitive language (NO LATE PAPERS ACCEPTED) and toward policies that are intended to assist with learning for all and open space for flexibility when individuals need it.
2. Develop a clear and consistent communications plan
Basically, this amounts to a practice of overcommunication. In addition to listing office hours and such on the syllabus, make a plan for how and when you will use Canvas announcements, calendar, modules, and strategic email reminders each and every week to keep students informed and in the loop. If you build this into your practice, students will know when and how to get the information they need and you will create a track record of your own communictions with the class.
3. Create a thorough, usable, consistent Canvas experience for students
The college requires a minimal use of Canvas for faculty that includes posting of a syllabus, assignments and resources, taking attendance, using the gradebook. That said, a well-developed Canvas course enables you to be transparent, affording you additional support in offering a quality learning experience for the students in your class. Academic Technology offers a number of different trainings throughout the academic year. We also offer a range of faculty development sessions in August, January, and May, some recordings of which are below. As you prepare your course, we suggest that you:
- Use the same organizational structure every week (as much as possible)
- Use a Canvas template (Teaching Online at Columbia College Chicago) and be consistent naming assignments, readings, and elements of class in Canvas
- Importing Academic Technology templates from the Canvas Commons
- Make sure your Canvas course is accessible
- Check accessibility of all Canvas course pages
- Add captions to media in Canvas Studio
- Create small groups from the outset to increase community and peer accountability
- Creating groups in Canvas
- View activity within a Canvas Group
- Take time the first week of class to walk them through it f2f or make a 1-2 minute explanatory video. Do not assume students use Canvas as you designed it.
- Use rubrics to set clear expectations for students and to help enable you to provide thoughtful, direct and documented feedback.
4. Document consistent and timely feedback for students
One of the most important and powerful responsibilities of any faculty member is to provide students with consistent and timely feedback on their coursework. Feedback ought to connect directly to the learning objectives addressed by the assignment. It is important to remember that feedback is important for low-stakes as well as high-stakes assignments.
In many courses faculty will provide students with spoken feedback during the class. This is a common practice and makes sense, but it is important to think through how to also document the main points of this kind of feedback for the student so they can return to it over time. One suggestion is to take notes during class and send a summary of your comments to each student in Cavnas via an email. Remember that any Zoom meeting can be recorded and might offer a great way to provide students documentation of comments from you as well as their peers.
Remember that Canvas makes it easy for faculty to document feedback using the SpeedGrader feature in Assigments. Rubrics are a great way to assist faculty in focusing their feedback to specific elements of the assignment and to make clear the connection to the course learning outcomes. It is possible to provide students with written, audio, and/or video feedback on Canvas.
5. Make the most of your first class
At Columbia College Chicago, for a vast majority of our course the first class meeting is the same as the first whole week of class. Not only should you plan to use all of the time scheduled, but rather than using the time to simply read aloud from the syllabus, we advise you to hit the ground running.
Rather than present information via some sort of lecture, plan an activity. Get them talking with and to each other. Invite them to share what they expect from the course, from you, and from each other. Discuss how their expectations align with the course as you’ve imagined it. Consider ways of discussing options. You could do any number of things, but the idea is to think of this as your first opportunity to show students how they will engage with each other, with you, and the material.
It is fine to go over what the class covers, as well as some general expectations, but the more you can get the students excited about the course—about what they’ll do, who is in the room, who you are—the more likely they are to engage and learn.
- How to Teach a Good First Day of Class
- 10 Ideas for the First Day of Class
- 101 Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class
Faculty Development Session Videos
In this session, Ames Hawkins, Associate Provost for Faculty Research and Development, and Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, Associate Professor, will present some of the ways a concept of empathic empowerment has guided how they have revised course structure and assessment to better support student course completion. As a conscious effort to move toward a more DEI-transformed pedagogy, empathic empowerment involves including flexibility in a course without sacrificing intellectual rigor. Hawkins and Bloyd-Peshkin will discuss strategies such as rethinking attendance and participation grades, building in student choice that isn’t just about topic selection, creating a course-specific extension plan, and developing an ethical and equitable approach for those end-of-semester ‘hail mary’ efforts. Participants will have a chance to discuss their ideas and plans with other in breakout groups and are encouraged to bring questions/ideas/approaches we can talk through together.