Thursday, July 25, 2013

A question for people who have taught new lecture classes

By "new" I mean you don't already have notes and slides from previous versions of the class.

I'm wondering, when you teach a new course, how many of your lessons you have planned out before the beginning of the semester. Not necessarily completely polished but a good set of slides and notes so that in the week before the class you're just tweaking things and looking it over.

I am going to err on the side of caution anyway since this is my first time, but I'm trying to get a sense of how much should be squared away before hand and how much should be more a matter of just making sure I stay a couple weeks ahead of the students.


  1. This might shock you, Daniel, and I'm not necessarily recommending it as a strategy, although it always worked for me: because of time constraints when starting a new course--being a father and husband, doing academic research, and publishing enough free-lance work to pay a mortgage--I never had more than one week of lectures prepared in advance.

  2. Further explanation: I did such thorough work in prepping the syllabus that I virtually never had any surprises because an article or a textbook chapter said something very different from what I had thought it said. But it strikes me that you're being just as thorough in putting together your syllabus.

  3. This would be, for me, be like the spring of 2011, when I taught US economic history for the first time ever. (Hint to newbies: DO NOT teach a brand new course one year before you plan to retire.) I did not have the entire course particularly well laid out, and I spent an average of nearly 10 hours per week preparing for the course (that's in addition to being in class, and grading). It's amazing how much information there is available about the U.S. economy in the early 19th century, and I had to work fairly hard to incorporate the parts of that I wanted to use. And I found myself, on occasion, arguing with the textbook, which slowed things down a bit...

  4. Like DRH I also prep only a week (if that) in advance and I don't know if I recommend it. The main pro is that you wind up with a lot of flexibility which I think is useful when teaching a class for the first time because you don't know what is going to be of interest or important (to you or the students) before you get into the classroom. The main con is obvious, you can get lost a little and students don't like when you mess with the syllabus mid semester. I've had students complain about changing around the syllabus even though they basically voted to!

    Anyway, I would also second what I think is DRH's suggestion: to make sure you have read all the material on the syllabus before the semester starts and then really start thinking about it/working on it during your second read through as the semester goes along.

  5. As you know, I'm "a little" on the compulsive side. I am never less than 6 weeks prepared for a course, and I often shoot for at least a rough outline of half the classes beforehand. This was especially true when I made the Diversity in Orgs class from scratch.


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