There are many things on professors’ minds as the new semester approaches. How to engage your students, which types of assessments you will choose, and how you’ll build a classroom community are all worthwhile considerations. Among the most important, however, is making sure you have definable learning objectives and that you’ve set your course up properly in order to be successful. That could include anything from backward curriculum design to encouraging higher-order thinking to making use of peer reviews. 

Below, we’ve built a checklist with 12 items, divided into two stages—before the semester begins and during your course—that will help you design your class in a thoughtful, engaging way. 

Before your course begins:

  1. Think about your end goal: As you prepare for your course, think about the big sweeping objectives you want your students to accomplish or understand by the end of a unit or lesson. Maybe it’s that they’re able to recite a Shakespeare monologue by heart, solve for middle-level proofs or have a more detailed understanding of how to use the library research database. Then, you can plan your lectures, assessments and course activities accordingly. By using your main four or five learning objectives as a foundation, you can ensure that your course is organized, principled and thoughtful.
  2. Consider your benchmarks for success: How will you know when you’ve succeeded as an educator? Consider which hard skills you want your students to gain by the end of your course. Perhaps it’s outlining the structure of the biomolecules found in all living organisms, or that your students will be able to develop written papers based on well-reasoned historical arguments. Soft skills, such as public speaking, group work and research skills, are also important to consider.
  3. Choose your tech tools and platforms wisely: In what ways will you bring technology to your classroom to enhance student learning? Will it be used for attendance and participation? Grading and assessments? Will you deliver lectures through an online platform? How will you use technology to ensure your course is flexible and accessible for students? Consider what you’ll use your LMS for, and what you’ll use to engage students.
  4. Consider how you’ll engage students: It’s clear that the sage-on-a-stage style of lecturing is often unengaging and ineffective. Consider how you’ll provide students with the opportunity be active participants in the classroom community by using:
    • Think-pair-share
    • Online discussion threads
    • Flipped classroom
    • Polling and word cloud tools
    • Icebreaker activities
  5. Prepare and practice: Rehearse for your role as the narrator of the class. Instructors are there to connect a sequence of questions, ideas, concepts and supporting visuals to tell a story. Practice speaking from notes, instead of reading from a text. It’s important to have a plan, but being able to deviate from the plan to better cater to student needs is important as well.
  6. Provide non-academic resources: Consider sharing campus resources such as library and research workshops, mental health services, campus housing and academic support services in your syllabus or online course platform. Sharing these resources provides students, particularly freshmen, with the support they may need to adjust to higher education.
  7. Make sure to test your tech: Be sure that all software, equipment, apps and platforms you’re using work well together for a streamlined teaching and learning experience in your class. Consider doing weekly checks to guarantee that the learning experience is smooth for your students.
  8. Prepare for assessments: Consider whether a high-stakes assessment, like a final exam, is the most effective way to understand students’ progress. More frequent, lower-stakes assessments, group projects or final presentations may be more appropriate options for your course. By providing students with flexibility or even the option to choose what types of assessment they would prefer, you can create a community that is engaging and active.

During your course:

  1. Connect your course to the real world: Today’s students are digital natives who are accustomed to technology in every facet of their lives. It’s worth considering that their education shouldn’t be any different. Instructors can help students engage in the course material and connect challenging concepts to the real world through case studies, non-academic sources, social media and podcasts that you can assign as homework to enhance the facts, figures and concepts you provide in class.
  2. Make room for student feedback: After tackling a unit or concept, provide opportunities for students to ask questions, clarify misunderstandings and share their thoughts. Online discussion threads are an easy way to get feedback from your students and promote collaboration and engagement between peers.
  3. Encourage higher-order thinking: Once students have begun absorbing the facts, encourage them to think critically about their learning and how it connects to the world around them. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great way to guide students towards a deeper understanding through a series of gradual steps.
  4. Reflect on your progress: Ask a peer to sit in on one of your lectures and provide feedback afterward. This way, you can get another perspective on how to improve your teaching skills and where there may be opportunities for collaboration and participation in your classroom.

These strategies are not discipline- or modality-specific and can be used in all classrooms. But in all cases, the role of an educator transcends the content being taught. By strengthening connections with students and creating opportunities for engagement, you can create engaged learning communities able to meet high expectations.

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