Planning is the best antidote for the nerves that many people feel when teaching a subject for the first time or meeting a new group of students. It is also the only way to ensure that your educational objectives are achieved. Planning begins with thinking about how you would like your students to approach their learning in your subject, and what you would like them to understand, know or be able to do by the end of the session. Whether you are planning a subject for the first time, or reviewing an existing subject it is important to consider the effects of your teaching and assessment on students' learning.
The following is an outline of four stages you could take in planning a subject. Each of these stages should be considered as a guide, and the activities described may not necessarily occur in the order provided. If you are taking over from someone else, your subject will already have aims, a handbook description, indicative content, assessment tasks and indicative references which have been approved by your Faculty board. Talk with your course co-ordinator or Faculty administrator if you do not have a copy. The approved outline will create the framework for further development that you do.
Preparation: stage one
Aims and Objectives
The very first thing to consider when you are planning a learning experience is what exactly you intend your students to learn. Teaching and learning activities, content creation and assessment all stem from these initial ideas.
- Consider what the overall objectives for the subject are.
- How do the subject's objectives fit into the overall educational aims and graduate profile (you may wish to look at other subjects in the course to find out how yours is placed overall).
- What do the aims mean, in terms of what you expect students to achieve in the subject and at what level?
- What learning, teaching and assessment activities will help students to achieve the subject aims?
- Consider the approach you would like students to take to their learning in your subject (The way in which you intend student to learn will, in many respects, dictate how you teach).
- Find out all you can about where the subject fits into your course(s). If it is a prerequisite, find out what other lecturers expect your students to know or be able to do.
- Find out how many students are normally expected to take the subject, significant points about their backgrounds and characteristics, what knowledge, etc. they may be expected to bring to your subject. Ask students if they have completed any industrial experience and consider using this as a foundation for illustrating theoretical principles
- If the subject has been offered before, seek feedback from staff who have been involved and look at archived materials relating to the subject if possible. Use the previous subject evaluations and any recommendations from an analysis of this evaluation if they are available (contact the course coordinator to ask about Subject Feedback Surveys).
- Ask yourself whether you can give students some control and choice in what they will learn, how they will learn it and how they will be assessed. Are there options which students could choose within the subject? Could students negotiate the kinds of assessment tasks or weighting of assessment tasks which they will complete? Could students choose their own essay or project topics?
- The needs of the subject may have been debated in an Education conference, Faculty retreats or course accreditation reviews. If possible attend any of the sessions involved in debating the strengths and weaknesses about subjects and courses. Often much of the context is verbal and may not be recorded in official reports.
- Consider how society has been engaging with issues that relate to the subject. Use newspapers and consider allowing students to role play situations that are shaping society today. Video documentaries, newspapers, the Internet and other media from popular culture can be used here.
- Read the UTS mission and statements about teaching and learning, along with your Faculty mission. If you are developing a new subject you should consider exploring what these mean in the subject learning context.
- Read the official handbook description of your subject.
- When you know enough about the general area of this subject and the context within which it fits, select the broad content areas which the subject is to cover. You will need to ensure that the subject fits the handbook description and approved subject content areas but there may also be considerable flexibility about specific topics and approaches.
- Ask yourself whether the amount of content is realistic for the length of the course, the characteristics of the students and the approach you would like them to take. Decide realistically on the key content of the subject which students need to understand, and the material which is non-essential but could add interest or extend some students. Think again about giving students some choice within the non-essential subject content. Compare the contents with other similar subjects as students are often comparing learning effort in various subjects.
- Select (from the content of the subject which you have already selected from the general area of the subject) the material which could be covered in formal class contact time, and appraise the remaining content with respect to how students will be expected/required to learn it
- Consider the possibility of team teaching so that at least one other lecturer is aware of the planning issues, and the content of the subject. This may be important in times when you are unable to continue to teach and someone else may have to take over the subject with minimal disruption to student learning.
- Find out all you can about how such subjects as yours have been dealt with in higher education: how topics are treated, discussed, explained, taught, negotiated by others
- Consider aspects of teaching and assessment where students can be given choice or flexibility
- Work through (in your imagination) different possible ways in which you will teach the essential material selected above (during the organisation stage), e.g. by lecture, by discussion, by problem-solving, role play or simulations, debates, UTSOnline discussion, links to important sites, discussion of literary resources, self-managed learning materials.
- Think about who will make the decisions about types of assessment and assessment weightings: will it be you or the students? How much choice will students be allowed?
- Consider how your teaching and assessment approaches might affect students' learning approaches and outcomes. Try to plan assessment items that will allow students to show their understanding of the subject, rather than how many facts they can remember.
- Plan ways of providing regular meaningful feedback to students.
- Consider using peer or self assessment processes to encourage students to become critical of their own work.
- Consider the approaches students might take to your proposed assessment tasks. Does the assessment encourage students to understand, extend their learning or relate the subject to real world situations?
- Consider students' overall workload.
- Think how your assessment tasks relate to your objectives for student learning.
- Prepare a detailed statement of assessment procedures, eg. timing, type of assessment, criteria for assessment, marking scheme, relation of assessments to objectives, etc. (for information of or for negotiation with students).
- Decide upon/order textbook(s), copies of articles, etc. which will be required.
- Decide how you will use UTSOnline for online activities.
- Think about what sorts of physical resources you may need such as room furniture that can be altered to allow different discussion modes, access to computer labs, projection facilities etc.
- Plan to evaluate your teaching and the subject regularly. Regular evaluation will enable you to improve the quality of the course and your teaching. This can be done by keeping a journal of activities and changes you would like to make (and the reasons for them!), by having other teachers 'sit in' on some classes, by asking the students what they have understood to be most important in each session, by having a focus group of students discuss important teaching and learning issues, and by using the Student Feedback Survey system.
Preparation: stage two
Down to the nitty gritty - keep well ahead of the students, preferably finish preparation before the semester begins. The sequence of Stage Two should be regarded as flexible. Items may be taken in a different order. They will often be carried on simultaneously.
- At each stage ask yourself how your decisions might affect students' learning in the subject
- Ask yourself again how you could give students some freedom of choice in learning the subject
Content - Detail
- Reconsider your aims and objectives for the subject eg. what do you want your students to know, understand or be able to do at the end of the session?
- Begin to consider in detail how the essential content can be learned by the students. Think about common student misconceptions in the subject and how these might best be overcome.
- Decide what are the key problems, concepts, questions, developments etc.
- Consider the examples you will use. Are they inclusive of female and male students and students from different cultures and backgrounds. Make sure your material is up-to-date.
- Divide the essential subject matter into teaching sessions, with objectives for each: what should students know, understand or be able to do after each?
- Try to provide flexibility for responding to students' needs: select optional content which could be dropped if students need more time on difficult concepts, or which could be used to add interest to sessions.
- Check your earlier decision about which material is to be covered in class and which is to be covered by students themselves in other ways, and make any modifications which now seem desirable.
Organisation - Detail
- Check the structure and sequence of what you will teach. Again review the possibilities for flexibility and student choice.
- Prepare your sessions one by one, selecting material for each: main points, examples/illustrations, student activities, references, etc.
- Decide on the teaching approaches for each topic: lecturer presentation, discussion, small group work, individual student activities, practical sessions, independent learning outside class.
- If some of the subject content, teaching or assessment methods will be negotiated with students, or chosen by students, consider how this will be done.
- Inform any guest lecturers of the precise topic, the context in which it is being treated, students' previous knowledge, emphasise the importance of student interaction.
- Check whether the amount of new material for each session is appropriate, considering the type of subject and session and the students.
- Brief any tutors or demonstrators who will also be teaching the subject.
Teaching - Detail
- Compile any lecture notes, eg. introductory remarks, outline of session, connection to last session, connections with other parallel segments (laboratory classes, tutorials, etc.; lectures if you are doing a seminar); main points and sub-points, concepts, questions, examples, illustrations, student activities, summary, questions for further consideration, reading necessary or desirable, etc.
- Select audio-visual resources, make necessary orders or bookings, make sure video resources are cued to the correct place, and that links are still active.
- Prepare handouts, reading lists, problem sheets, study guides, laboratory manuals, etc. [Handouts may contain, eg. session objectives, outline of session, definitions, references, diagrams, questions to be covered, space for student notes and group discussion problems: reading lists may contain eg. prescribed texts, recommended reading with full bibliographical details, selected chapters from books, articles, web links, etc. for further reading or specific topics, plus guidance on the relative value (importance of what is listed)].
- Prepare detailed advice as to how subject content not dealt with during teaching sessions can be learned by students.
- Prepare any resources necessary for encouraging students to make choices about the aspects of the subject where there is flexibility.
- Check the room in which you will be teaching: is it large enough, small enough? Does it have the facilities you need? (If no room has been allocated, make your requirements known). Consider the shape of the room and its suitability for group work. For example tiered style lecture theatres are not suitable for smaller student project groups - flat rooms may be more suited for this.
Preparation: stage three
Before each formal teaching session:
- Ask yourself: How will students benefit from this session? How are you going to ensure that they learn during and after the session? How are you going to monitor their learning? How will you encourage them to take a deep approach to their learning in the session?
- Check notes for completeness, anticipate when and how audio-visual resources are used; which segments are necessary parts of your input and student activity, which ones could be deleted if time runs out; which ones are additional examples, illustrations needed for clarification.
- Before each class think through what you are going to say. Allow adequate time for student activities and for debriefing them afterwards. Have you allowed time for questions, clarifications, extra examples?
- Imagine the beginning of the session ? are your opening sentences interesting, exciting? Will they gain students' attention immediately?
- Allow yourself time to get to the room so that you can check (when necessary and possible) lights, furniture arrangements, OHP, microphone (check before whether you need one!), and any other resources you are using. Some UTS rooms are equipped with and airphone to contact ITS - find out where it is!
- If possible, get to the room before the students do so that you can greet them informally as they arrive and they have a chance to chat to you. If they are already there, enter cheerfully.
Preparation: stage four
Looking further ahead:
- Plan to keep a reflective journal in which you note after each session what you wanted to do but didn't do, what went well and what went wrong, whether the resources you used worked well, whether and how you involved students during the session. (Also note what you need to do for the next session, and particularly what you promised students you would do). In a team teaching situation try to have a team de-briefing session to jointly evaluate tutorials or other learning sessions.
- Plan to get feedback from students about how sessions are going, eg. they can indicate on a card the 'best' and 'worst' features of a particular session; ask the students to give you a single question relating to the class - this will give you a good idea on areas that the students didn't quite understand; in the middle of semester or a little later they can complete a questionnaire (get in touch with the Planning and Quality unit (PQU) for evaluation forms). Another good way to get feedback is to get students also to use a reflective journal. Consider starting this with weekly reflections for say the first four weeks and then link these reflections as part of the self-analysis and de-briefing sessions for students. These early reflections can also be used as discourses on learning and students are usually straightforward in supplying you with feedback.
- Use a student 'focus group' to discuss learning issues that are important to them. Attend the session if your students are comfortable or ask them to write a summary of their ideas.
- Plan to review whether students' approached their learning in the way you expected. Discuss students' learning approach with them. Discuss what changes you might make to encourage understanding.
- Plan to get feedback from colleagues by asking someone to look at your course materials, asking someone to sit in on an occasional session and give you feedback.
- Ask your academic supervisor or mentor on advice on developing the quality of your teaching.
- Consider developing an academic portfolio.
Choosing Teaching Methods
There is no single teaching method that is the best. Teaching methods depend on what you want students to learn, how you think they may learn it best, the sort of class it may be, the sort of content and the discipline, how many students are in the class and so on. Students usually appreciate a variety of methods and enjoy working on ideas and concepts themselves. Always try to involve the students as much as possible.
Questions you need to answer for yourself:
- What are my objectives for this subject?
- Is this teaching method suitable for achieving the objectives?
- Is there one which better achieves these in terms of student outcomes and/or my time investment?
- Do I have time now to spend in the preparation of materials to save time later?