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The End of the Experiment: Teaching My First Class (Part III)

Looking back on a semester and thinking about teaching in the future.

May 31, 2015

Katy Meyers Emery is a PhD Candidate studying mortuary archaeology at Michigan State University. You can learn more about her work on her blog, Bones Don’t Lie, and follow her @bonesdonotlie.

Over this last semester, I had the incredible opportunity to design and teach my own class, a large undergraduate introductory course on archaeology. You can read my first two posts to learn a little bit about the approach I took towards the course (The Experiment Begins: Teaching My First Course, Part I), and how things were going midway through (The Experiment Continues, Part II). I made the decision pretty early on in preparing for the course that I was going to try three new things: 1) backwards design, 2) flipped classroom elements, and 3) integrating new technology into teaching.

The course is now done, the grades are submitted, and the only thing I’m still waiting on is getting my reviews back (fingers crossed). Thinking back on what I was able to accomplish, there are a lot of aspects about the course I would keep the same, and other things that I would change if I could do it again. For those of you who are going to be designing your own courses for the first time, here is some of the advice I would like to share. (Also, check out this great post by Ruth Fillery-Travis on teaching for the first time).

  1. Ask for help: Teaching isn’t something we do in a void—there are mentors, colleagues, teaching resources, and other places that you can reach out for help! Honestly, I didn’t take advantage of the available help around me as much as I should have, and it led to a few late nights and early mornings preparing lectures and activities. If you aren’t sure what the best way to teach a certain topic is, ask for help from someone who has done it, or look for a guest speaker, or search online for other activities that someone else has already made! Another great resource is your Teaching Assistant (if you have one—I was lucky enough to have an amazing one assigned to me). Just because you are the instructor doesn’t mean you have to take on everything. Your TA has hours available to help you—utilize those wisely!

  2. Try something new: In the end, I think my students really did appreciate that I tried out new activities and teaching styles on them. I had never been in a class where it had flipped classroom elements, but I really wanted to try employing it. I was actually able to come up with a few activities where students worked through problems together in class, and had fantastic discussions. Trying out new teaching methods also made each class day more exciting for me. Lecturing for an hour and twenty minutes gets old very quickly—so trying to use new technology and have collaborative activities kept me more motivated to be creative. Yes, some days the new things didn’t quite work. But that’s ok. I learned from the mistake, which leads me to this point…

  3. Keep notes about successes and missteps: At the end of each class (well, at the end of most classes), I would write down on the lesson plan which aspects of the lecture, discussion, and activity worked, and which didn’t. This way, when I teach the class again, I’ll have a better idea of how to change the lesson plan up to make it more successful. If you’re going to be trying out new things, you need to take notes about which elements are improving student learning.

  4. Ask your students for opinions and be flexible: Midway through the course, I asked my students for feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t like about the course. Sure, I got some feedback that wasn’t helpful at all—but I also got some that really helped me to know my class better. My students wanted more discussion and activities instead of lecture, they wanted more videos demonstrating archaeological work in the field, and they wanted more examples of archaeological work. I actually changed up the syllabus for the second half of the semester to better fit with these desires, and I think changing the course slightly to focus more on application and examples was a real benefit. In the future, I think I’d ask for their opinion on the course a little more—what activities specifically they liked, what discussions stuck in their minds, what examples of work they liked the best.

Teaching was one of the most rewarding things I have gotten to do, and honestly, it has motivated me even more to complete my PhD. I really enjoyed teaching my students, and I’m excited to build on the work I did this year to make a better course next year.

[Photo by Pixabay Open Access Pictures and used under a Creative Commons license.]


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