Making the Most of a Short Semester
Congratulations again on making it through a challenging academic year. We hope you have plans for some well-deserved rest.
But if you’re teaching this summer, you may be in the midst of planning a six-week course. “Compressed” or “intensive” classes, like those in summer B or C, challenge us to distill our courses to their essence. Since we can’t simply cram everything we usually assign into the shorter time frame, we have to prioritize instead, focusing on the course goals and how students can make the most progress toward them in six weeks.
Since most of us are excited about all of our material, it’s not easy to determine what’s truly most important: You might ask yourself what you’d keep if you had only one day to convey the most essential concepts of your course. What would you really want students to take away? What should they be able to do because they took your course? How should they be changed? Your answers will shape your learning goals, and an effective summer course will be built to help students achieve them.
The extended meeting hours of compressed summer courses also demand that we vary our teaching strategies. Learning takes time and effort. It needs elaboration and practice, so galloping through masses of material won’t be terribly effective, especially if you’re teaching remotely. Delivering a week of content in a three-hour marathon session will be counterproductive, and exhausting, both for you and for your overwhelmed students. Instead, students need multiple and varied opportunities to engage with the material and with each other. They’ll need to write, talk, solve problems, make predictions, analyze data, and dig into the concepts and skills they’re practicing.
Bill Kops (2009) studied faculty teaching summer courses and compiled a list of best practices, summarized below:
- Restructure the course: The high-performing instructors in Kops’s study emphasized learning outcomes instead of content. They realized that their students should still achieve the same learning goals, but that they would have to reach these goals in different ways.
- Organize and plan for the term: Even more than other semester formats, summer courses require detailed planning of the entire class from the start, which requires anticipating requirements, student questions, etc.
- Reconfigure assignments: Longer assignments will need to be scaffolded and broken into shorter ones, in order to give the frequent feedback that students will need in order to keep up with the class. The reduced turnaround time for giving feedback makes it all the more important to break work into chunks.
- Maintain expectations and standards: In contrast to the myth of the “easier” summer session, faculty must establish and maintain high expectations for all students.
- Capitalize on continuity, smaller classes, and variety of students: Summer classes give you the valuable opportunity to get to know students, determine the extent to which they are learning, and vary your approach based on their individual interests, goals, and/or needs.
- Maximize support to students: In addition to making yourself available to students (through longer and frequent office hours), it’s useful to provide students with reading and study guides, class notes, recommended links, etc. given the fast-paced nature of these classes. Additionally, you can help students to form study groups, and encourage them to use campus resources like ACE.
- Keep students active and use a variety of teaching techniques: As Terry Doyle (2011) insists, “the one who does the work does the learning,” and in an extended session it’s all the more critical that your students do the work—not you. Medina (2008) reminds us that the human brain can maintain attention for about 10 minutes at a time. This means that using class time for content delivery (like lecturing) will overtax your students’ cognitive resources, and overtax you. It will be more productive to structure your daily lesson in small segments, using a variety of teaching techniques that offer students the opportunity to move around, discuss course material and problem-solve with their classmates.
Summer Teaching Workshop
Thursday, April 29th | 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. & 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Zoom | Sign up to attend
If you’re teaching in the summer, you may be wondering how to make a course you normally teach in fall or spring work well in a compressed summer semester. No need to do all of the planning alone! Join us for this hands-on summer teaching workshop, in which we’ll discuss how to distill a course to its essence, prioritizing so that you can set achievable learning goals for your students. Then, we’ll help you get started designing the course so students make progress toward those goals through fewer, but longer, class sessions. Since the extended meeting hours in summer demand that we vary our teaching strategies, sharing approaches and resources with colleagues across disciplines will make planning class sessions more fruitful and more enjoyable. We look forward to working with you!
Summer 2021 Course Design Seminar
Monday, May 3rd – Thursday, May 6th | 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. | Synchronous on Zoom & Asynchronous on Canvas | Sign up to attend
CAT’s Course Design Seminar provides faculty with the structure and support they need to craft transformative and inclusive learning experiences that reach and inspire their students. Course design and planning need not be lonely work; they are best accomplished in a community of peers who are similarly engaged. The seminar is a week-long series of hands-on workshops, during which faculty will hone their goals for student learning, plan effective use of class time, and work on sequencing and scaffolding coursework, as well as gathering valid evidence of learning. They will also work on strategies for fostering welcoming classroom climates and cultivating student motivation. Participants will gain:
- Structured support to (re)design a course for maximum learning
- Individual assistance and feedback on their course design, including learning goals; assignment and exam design; effective use of class time; class activities; active-learning strategies, etc.
- Expertise in learner-centered teaching and backward design
- Strategies for motivating students
- Collegial community and peer feedback
You can sign up to attend through the link above. If you have questions about attending the seminar, please email us at pro-teaching@FSU.edu. We look forward to working with you!