So, you’ve designed a course. What’s next?
Once learning objectives have been created, assessments and acitvities planned and aligned with the objectives, and the course outline and syllabus drafted, it may be tempting to consider the design phase complete. However, reflecting on what is working, what is not working, and how students are learning throughout the class is an important part of the course design process.
The significance of reflecting on teaching and learning practices and design is well documented in educational literature (Justice et. al., 2007; Leberman & Martin, 2004; Mezirow, 1991; Mezirow & Associates, 1990). Reflecting on course design allows you to assess strengths and weaknesses of student achievement as well as curriculum effectiveness. Continuous reflection also provides time for adjustments or modifications based upon meeting the course objectives.
Reflection is an ongoing process. Utilizing a few self-reflective practices along with informal student assessments throughout the term will enable you to maintain, strengthen, and adjust aspects of your teaching and course design. While formal course evaluations provide one kind of feedback, there is often much more to learn from journaling, student commentary and observation.
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience
— John Dewey
Some Useful Reflection Strategies
Journaling is an excellent way to track your teaching. Through keeping a teaching journal you can build in moments to reflect on your teaching and your students’ learning. These moments may be spontaneous (documenting something really good/bad), or they can be more rigorously planned by following a pre-set schedule. A teaching journal will not only help you reflect upon the courses you teach, but also provide evidence of your evolution as a teacher.
* Choose a format for journaling (electronic/paper) to keep track of your ever-evolving teaching practices
* If you choose to reflect on the course as a whole (at the end) you may wish to use the learning objectives as prompts for your journal entries.
A prompt might look something like this:
Objective: Students will be able to demonstrate skill in oral communication for purposes such as informing, persuading, and/or defending.
1. How did the students meet, or not meet this objective?
2. In what ways did the readings, assignments, and activities help students to meet this objective?
3. What aspects of the course could have done a better job of preparing students to meet this objective?
4. How can I revise this set of activities, lectures, assignments, and readings to meet the objective in better ways?
Field notes may be slightly different from journaling in that they are in the moment and connected to what you are observing. You might make a note about the experience as it is playing out. Notes can be electronic notes, a voice recording, an email or text to yourself, or comments scribbled on a piece of paper. The important thing is that you will come back to it later to see what you felt in the moment. You might even have a colleague take field notes on your behalf with the understanding that the notes are not part of a formal evaluation of teaching.
Elicit Student Feedback
If you elicit feedback throughout the term, you can implement changes as you teach. Aside from the official course evaluation, there are several ways you can get meaningful feedback from students as you teach.
a. Ask for student reflections on activities (assignments, group work, lectures, etc.) that will provide critical information about how students engage with the mechanics of the course. Student reflections also help students develop metacognitive skills that are vital to long-term learning mastery.
b. Encourage vocal reflections (think-alouds) from students on how they are learning. When you build in a few minutes to debrief with your class, even a seemingly minor comment like “I thought the exercise was useful but a little corny” can help you make adjustments the next time you teach.
c. Midterm chats (conducted by a CTLT consultant) offer students the opportunity to anonymously share their experiences/expectations about the course based upon a tested protocol. Raw data collected from the midterm chat is provided to the instructor with suggestions and support for responding to student needs and concerns. Contact the CTLT to schedule a Midterm Chat.
Write a Critical Reflection
Drawing on your teaching journal, field notes, student reflections and midterm chats, consider writing a reflective paper that documents how you have revised a course based on your action research. Such a paper can serve as a strong model for SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) and will benefit your colleagues and your own professional advancement.
Justice, C., Rice, J., Warry, W., Inglis, S., Miller, S., & Sammon, S. (2007). Inquiry in higher education: Reflections and directions on course design and teaching methods. Innovative Higher Education, 31(4), 201-214.
Leberman, S. I., & Martin, A. J. (2004). Enhancing transfer of learning through post-course reflection. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 4(2), 173-184.
Mezirow J (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning Jossey-Bass, San Francisco
Mezirow J & Associates (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection m Adulthood A Guide to Transformative and Emancipatory Learning Jossey-Bass, San Francisco