Academic Director’s February Update – Settling into Classes

Instructors and students are settling into their routines. Is your learning environment functioning how you want it to?

We are now a month into classes, and ideally, your class schedule and atmosphere has settled into a good routine. The first month is about setting the framework for the instructional environment and class expectations. Students should know what to expect for each session and have a solid understanding of what lies ahead for the rest of the course. If there are aspects of the instructional delivery that are not functioning as well as expected, there is still time to make changes.  

Although the syllabus and course plan have been released, changes to delivery and some deadlines are always possible. Hopefully, you are on schedule for your syllabus plan and were not too affected by winter weather in January. If you find yourself falling behind, consider exploring options such as covering specific content in less depth, transitioning some material to asynchronous learning outside of class, or even removing non-essential topics. Rushing through content does not enhance students’ understanding, and making thoughtful adjustments now can contribute to better pacing as the semester progresses. 

With the deadline for changes in registration passed, class sizes and composition have stabilized. There should be visibility on the number of students attending and their level of participation. If participation levels are low, consider adding active elements such as questions, group activities, clickers, and discussions to enhance student engagement. Embracing the practice of introducing a few innovative ideas or exercises each semester can help student engagement and learning. 

As the first midterm exams draw near, it is crucial to keep in mind the recommendations associated with computer exams if electronic testing is being utilized. The timing of midterm exams, whether before or after the midterm break, is often a subject of debate. Scheduling the exam before the break enables students to finish assessments before departing, allowing them to use the break for catching up and rejuvenating to enhance their well-being. Exams after the break afford students additional time to master the material, assuming they can allocate dedicated study time during that week. 

Determining whether to schedule exams before or after the break is inherently context-dependent and depends on your course specifics and overall strategy. It can be beneficial to collaborate with colleagues teaching in the same program to gain insights into their exam scheduling choices, fostering better visibility on student workload, and reducing potential conflicts when multiple exams are scheduled within a few days. This collaborative planning, particularly crucial for required courses in programs, is worth considering for future exam date planning. 

Ramon Lawrence 

CTL Academic Director