Teaching Tip Tuesday: Simplify

How was your summer? I took a much needed break to process a personal loss. This week I return to teaching in-person for the first time since March 2020. My own institution has mandated mask wearing and social distancing indoors, but many of us wonder just how long it will be until we pivot online again. Here we are, facing yet another semester rife with uncertainty, and so our impulse might be to overplan our classes to account for all the things that might happen.

It may be the grief talking, but I recommend resisting this impulse. When faced with a course design decision, think “simplify.” Keeping your plan simple leaves much-needed room for flexibility. Flexibility to adapt to a new modality. To adjust to your students’ pace. To accommodate your own strengths and limitations.

I would argue that overplanning had been a trend in higher ed for a while now. When I remember my own college experience, I remember fewer assignments, fewer readings, and a sometimes painfully slow discussion pace in the classroom. And yet, I retained a lot from those classes, from those readings, and from those slow discussions. Somehow I was able to learn without a lot of busy work and in spite of (or because of?) a scaled back agenda.

I won’t stipulate exactly how you ought to simplify your classes because every situation is unique. For instance I’m teaching two sections of a community-engaged course on the Digital Divide. Students have to acquire volunteer hours, participate in an awareness campaign (that they design as a group), and pitch ideas to industry and nonprofit guests. Now you might be thinking, that is a simple course design? It sounds so extra. But really it is as simple as I could make it and still meet the goals of the class. Three projects, two of which are group-supported. Classes consist of readings designed to help them with these projects and they have plenty of time to work in-class on their projects. All of this can be easily moved online if need be. I built a good amount of cushion into the schedule so we can spend more time preparing for the campaign or pitches if need be. Except for optional office hours, we basically take off Thanksgiving week because I think we’ll all need a rest before the final push.

I have some “activities” we might do in class, but really the emphasis is on the major work and the learning experience.

How do you plan to keep it simple this term?

Some more posts that might help:

Is Your Teaching Energy Jar Filled with Sand or Rocks?

“Less is More” Feedback Model

Tell Your Students WHAT You’re Doing

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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