Compiling course outlines is a learning process in itself. Discuss.

Term is over here, but the wheel never stops turning. This week, I’ve been working on putting together course handbooks for my students for next term as well as preparing for a supervision tomorrow and thinking ahead to next term’s confirmation of status (graduate progression assessment). I also received some good funding news from the AHRC for a project for 2013 – more on that another time.

Today, I thought I’d take a break from my usual thesis blethering to talk about compiling course handbooks, specifically for tutoring in Oxford. So far, I’ve put together three handbooks for three visiting students who have (or will) each work with me one-to-one.

There doesn’t seem to be any magic formula, but from conversations with other part-time tutors, I’ve developed a framework for a handbook which tells the students most of everything they need to know for their course. I’ve included my contact details, details of where we will meet, an overview of the course content and aims, information on assessment, grade boundaries and essay deadlines, a reading list for each week, and essay questions.

The benefits for the student are obvious. From my own time as an undergraduate I know how reassuring it can be to have everything gathered in one place and all the expectations laid out from the start. I find it reassuring as a tutor too, because I know the student should have everything they need in one place. In addition, putting together a course makes me excited about the term ahead, and my favourite part is selecting a suitable and provocative image for the cover page. Having things formalized in this way makes me feel confident in the direction the course will take.

However, like many part time tutors, the topics I’m teaching are disparate, and often more than a little outside of my immediate specialism.* Compiling the reading list can be a challenge because of this, and, when I am preparing the course outline I have to acknowledge gaps in my own knowledge which I must rectify. It is time consuming and setting a selection of essay questions for each week that will encourage insightful responses can be difficult.

Quite apart from my attempts to bring some sense of order to my tutorials, next term I’ll also be teaching some final year extended essay students who are starting to take on responsibility for module direction themselves. I’m looking forward to comparing the two very different teaching formats.

*If you are one of my students and you are reading this, please rest assured things will fine. They will.


#phdadvice in the news… and some #lecturingadvice

In a bizarre turn of events only possible in the twilight zone that is the Internet, I am quoted in today’s issue of Times Higher Education. This follows on from my earlier blog post on the hashtag academic community.  For those of you who can access a print copy, the article is on pages 22-23. It can be read in full on their website too, which is nice.

Last week I asked those following the #phdadvice tag for their advice before I delivered my first lecture as part of the Developing Learning and Teaching programme. The lecture was aimed at first year undergraduates doing a ‘Doing English’ module, and we were lucky enough to have complete freedom on our topic and content. I chose to cover ‘Modern Poetry: Form and Function’ since learning to decipher the links between the two was something of a watershed in my own undergraduate study.

Super Woman Nadine is curating the responses to the hashtag over at the newly created The New Academic, but since I had such a positive response, I thought I’d share them here too for anyone else seeking lecturing advice.

@Rick_Hall, who has more experience than most people of communicating with large groups, told me to ‘relax and enjoy the experience of sharing ideas (oh and keep breathing)’. Very true.

Fellow blogger and PhD student @theplathdiaries tells me ‘I focus my vision on a specific point in lecture theatre & don’t take it to heart if people look bored!’. Also true. The natural facial expression of some undergraduates does look like boredom.

@NulaPimple should be a mind-coach or possibly a mind-controller, because she told me to ‘Fool them into believing you are incredibly confident, comfortable and in control even if you don’t believe this yourself..’.

Poet @JoanneLimberg shared some advice from readings ‘When I do a reading, I look out at the audience and think: ‘Right, you are all my b**ches now…’ Oh, and make eye contact.’ Yes, I thought, they are my undergraduate b**ches.

@lisa_the_drama is not an academic, but the woman talks sense. She told me to buy their love with sweets. Lecturing could be as easy as giving candy to undergraduate b**ches.

@claireocall liked my new summer hat, which she thought I should wear to lecture. Everyone likes a jaunty hat.

Having given the lecture, I can report that they looked confused more than bored (I promise they were confused by the sestina and not my headgear). I’m a fairly calm public speaker by nature, but I did have to reign in my speed. I am a notoriously fast speaker and I have a Northern Irish accent which doesn’t help. I also enjoyed the slightly performative aspect because I basically just like attention.

I’m pleased with how it went because as Rick said, sharing your thoughts is enjoyable. While lecturing is a less immediately rewarding form of teaching (compared with seminar discussion or one-to-one tutorials), it is something I’ve always wanted to do because I know that many of my most memorable learning experiences as an undergraduate came from dynamic lecturers.

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