From the Director's Desk

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Keeping it Fresh...

I taught a 300 level physiology course once a year for eleven years straight, and was relieved to finally give the course over to a colleague. I had polished, modified, refined, revised, etc. the course until there was nothing left to tweak; I was getting stale. What do you do when that happens? How do you keep the courses you teach exciting for both you and your students? The Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University has posted a collection of articles from their newsletter at http://ctl.stanford.edu/Newsletter , one of which provides some excellent suggestions for “keeping it fresh”.

  1. Let it lie fallow.
    Don’t teach a course more than four or five times, and then give it a sabbatical. Some experts say you have to teach a course at least three times before you feel completely comfortable with it, but then having mastered that particular course, if you’re like me, you begin to look for new challenges. So, before you get bored with it, put it aside, and put your creative energies into another course.
  2. Take notes on what you did.
    However, before putting it aside, record your thoughts about all the elements of the course, the good, bad, and the ugly. You don’t want to make the same mistakes twice, and you do want to capitalize on what worked. Then be sure to read these comments over before you teach it again.
  3. Learn something new and try it.
    Get a teaching grant, read articles on pedagogy, form a teaching circle, get a teaching mentor, learn a new technology and figure out what you can do better with it that you couldn’t do before. Fresh ideas are key to keeping things fresh and exciting in the classroom.
  4. Infuse current issues into the curriculum.
    The pedagogical literature emphasizes that learning in context is a powerful tool for retention of information. Build in a focus on contemporary issues, bring the news of the day into the class session as it relates to that day’s topic, or better yet, have the students do it. This makes it more interesting for you, as you scan articles for relevance, and makes it more relevant for your students. Furthermore, issues change from year to year – this will keep your tweaking relevant and timely for the students.
  5. Connect with the students.
    Students have good ideas, not only about content they want to know more about, but about strategies for learning content better. I continue to get really good ideas from my students, even freshmen, about what works best for them in the classroom, and have successfully tried a number of their suggestions. I can usually find a way to “bend” the topics they really want to hear about into the basic content I want them to learn, and this makes the ensuing discussions some of the most enjoyable parts of the class.

Staying fresh is really about keeping yourself in tune with the changes around you – the students, the technology, even the curriculum. Responding to the changes is what keeps us fresh.

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