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Teaching a Previously Designed Course for the First Time
Dr. Derek Johnson & students
Dr. Johnson wants to update the course materials in his first class as an assistant professor.
Derek Johnson is starting his first faculty position after graduation and has been assigned to teach thermodynamics. Though he received pre-existing course materials, he would like to adapt the materials to his own goals and style. His department chair offered him a number of suggestions to help him take ownership of the class.
Full Story:
Dr. Johnson has recently been hired by the Chemical Engineering department to teach thermodynamics. This is the first class he will teach as a faculty member and he didnít get much teaching experience as a PhD student.
Strategies Menu
He was given a set of course materials that included last year's course syllabus, textbook, homework problems, and copies of lecture notes. While he realizes that getting so much information could be beneficial, it is also causing him problems.
In reviewing these materials, he has realized that they are out-of-date. Derek wants the class to use current thermodynamic problems to apply fundamental principles, and he is considering weaving in examples from his dissertation work.
Derek understands that he also needs to meet his departmentís expectations for course content. Plus, he wants to feel comfortable that he has something to offer the students.
Due to his minimal teaching experience, he has not adapted pre-existing materials for his own use before, so he spoke with his department chair. His chair helped him understand how the thermodynamics class fits into the chemical engineering curriculum and then offered additional suggestions:
Set realistic expectations. The class won't be perfect the first time. Professors often take three or four iterations before they are comfortable with the effectiveness of their class.
  1. Take time to understand the courseís learning objectives. Learning objectives describe the expected knowledge and skills your students will achieve from your course. Reflect on how the objectives meet the departmentís expectations and how they align to the ABET program outcomes, and then refine them as necessary to meet your goals.
  2. To take ownership of the class while using existing course materials, understand the rationale that underlies the decisions of the original course design, and then make changes strategically. Review the material to ensure each piece fosters the learning objectives. Or talk to the professor who last taught this class to understand why she included certain materials, why she chose the textbook, or why the topics are covered in a particular sequence. Then make the fewest number of changes, keeping whatever existing material is still appropriate.
  3. You may need to limit your course prep so that your research work is not sacrificed. You should balance course preparation with other faculty activities.
  4. Teaching is an art and skill that is refined over many years, so continually seek out useful teaching advice from more experienced teachers.
Dr. Johnson allotted some time to understand the course, then updated a few materials and left some changes for future terms. This effort helped Derek feel more confident that he had expertise to offer the students.
Understanding and refining learning objectives
Learning objectives are like a set of blueprints or a flowchart. They provide a framework by which instructors can focus on the essentials and streamline their courses. These sites will help you to evaluate, refine, or develop strong learning objectives.

Teaching Engineering: Courses: Objectives & Textbooks (PDF)
Explains course goals, objectives, and taxonomies of knowledge. Offers advice for writing effective student learning objectives for engineering courses and includes an example of thermodynamics objectives.

Planning a Course: Defining Learning Objectives
Explains the difference between educational goals and objectives. Briefly describes Bloomís taxonomy of learning and suggests how to write specific objectives to help students attain deep levels of comprehension.

Objectively Speaking
Insight into the power of learning objectives. Includes engineering-specific examples.

Designing and Teaching Courses to Satisfy the ABET Engineering Criteria (PDF)
A Journal of Engineering Education article to help you create learning objectives and assessment methods that address the ABET Program Outcomes. Describes instructional techniques that should help students achieve those outcomes.

ABET Accreditation Criteria
To evaluate whether learning objectives address ABET's program outcomes, read the current ABET Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs. Find "For Engineering Programs Only," then download the current "Engineering Accreditation Criteria," e.g., 2006-2007 Criteria.
Adapting course materials
When faced with an existing curriculum, it is important to take ownership of the class. This can be accomplished by understanding the existing course design, understanding your students, understanding your own goals and style, and then aligning the course materials to these factors.

Preparing or Revising a Course
Easy-to-scan strategies to help one evaluate and decide upon the scope of a class (including limiting course content), structure the activities and assignments, and establish course policies.

Designing a Course
A simple page of questions guiding instructors through designing or revising a course: understanding the students, defining course objectives, assessing student learning, and choosing course activities, assignments, and materials.

Being Well Prepared
Links to ten suggestions for preparing to teach a class.

Addressing Student Needs: Importance of Knowing Your Students
Effectively choosing course materials and activities relies on knowing your students, which can be challenging the first time you teach. This article offers good advice for understanding a diverse student population and providing a welcoming learning environment.

Addressing Student Needs: Planning Considerations
Since you will likely teach a diverse group of students, this article can help you act respectfully by considering cultural reference points, controversial topics in the material, or special accommodations for students.
Balancing course prep with other faculty activities
New instructors often spend a lot of time preparing for their classes, perhaps more than necessary. These links offer guidance in balancing teaching, research, and service so that young professors can advance their career. Remember that the time to prepare a class with existing course materials can take as much time as creating new course materials.

Class Preparation Time - Can You Overdo It?
Advice on allocating time to class preparation, including advice from science and engineering faculty.

The New Faculty Member
Insights and tips to help new faculty members be successful in balancing teaching, research, and service, as presented in the Robert Boice book of the same title. Book summary written by leaders in engineering education research.

Things I Wish They Had Told Me
Thirteen suggestions for new engineering faculty to improve teaching in the classroom, interaction with students, managing research, teaching, and service, and writing research proprosals. Stems from the hard-earned wisdom of an experienced chemical engineering professor reflecting upon the difficult first few years in academe.

Making Trade-Offs In Use of Faculty Time
Several strategies from faculty for managing time, making course improvements, and balancing teaching and research.
Teaching for beginners
Even with existing materials, new educators can confront common teaching challenges. The following sites offer useful advice for beginning teachers, giving an overview of designing a class, helping new teachers become more student-centered, and offering techniques for managing the classroom.

Teaching Engineering: Designing your first class (PDF)
Addressed specifically to the assistant professors preparing their first class, this book chapter provides an overview of designing and teaching a course in engineering.

Ten Ways to Make Your Teaching More Effective
Quick suggestions to improve ten areas of teaching, from audience analysis and preparation to the first day to tests and grades.

All in a Dayís Work
Two experts in engineering education explain appropriate responses to disruptive student behavior.
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