Things I Wish I Had Known

We asked adjunct faculty who had been teaching at UMBC for one semester what would have been useful to know before they started. Here is what they said:

You may have other questions not addressed here but in other parts of the handbook.

For additional questions about pedagogy, contact the Faculty Development Center.

For questions about administrative aspects of teaching (e.g. contracts, curricular expectations, policies), start by contacting your departmental administrative assistant.

“More about what related courses and assignments my students had to complete prior to my course”

You can determine whether or not your course has prerequisites by looking it up in SA. Then you can read the descriptions of those prerequisites themselves; this may give you some idea of the kind of  ideas and assignments students have encountered. Often, though, your course will have no prerequisites, or those prerequisites will have been taught by several different instructors in multiple ways. If you want to know what your students know, ask them! Consider using a “getting-to-know-you” index card or giving a pretest. These can be useful things to do on the first day.

Some assumptions to avoid: that students learned material the same way or in the same order as you did, or that they learned it as completely as you did.

“Expectations about slides, multimedia use in lectures – seemed high as well as expectations that these would be posted on Blackboard, which to some extent limits attention of students and note-taking”

Students have become used to taking notes from slides. This is especially true for students who have taken several large lecture courses. Many faculty also put their slides online in response to student requests. Students argue that there is too much information on each slide and that slides move too quickly, which makes it impossible for students to get all the information. Students use the slides online in order to make sure they got all the notes.

You are not required to fulfill these particular expectations. However, try to be sensitive to students’ concerns and address any objections.

“How fast the semester goes.”

A semester is generally 14-15 weeks long; see the UMBC academic calendar for specific dates. But the calendar doesn’t really tell the whole story. There are a number of quirks that can change the feel of the semester:

Add / Drop – Add / Drop is the 2 weeks at the beginning of the semester in which students can add or drop courses from their schedule. That means that, potentially, a student could miss your first six class meetings. Getting those students caught up can feel like a slow start to the semester.

Holidays – There are a number of holidays during the semester. If your class falls on these holidays, you won’t meet. That means that you may have fewer actual class meetings.

Breaks – Longer breaks like Thanksgiving or Spring Break are natural demarcations of time, and instructors will often want to get to a certain point in the material before break. Sometimes that can increase the sense of urgency an instructor feels and make teaching feel rushed.

For more about this subject, see: Duffy, Donna Killian and Janet Wright Jones. Teaching within the Rhythms of the Semester, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1995 (available from the FDC Lending Library)

“I didn’t realize the amount of time it takes to do serious prep.”

Teaching is like a gas – it can fill every available crevice if you’re not careful. Some instructors set time limits on the amount of prep they will do, for example, spending no more than twice the length of the class on prep (i.e. for a one-hour class, spending no more than 2 hours on prep).

Be forewarned that setting up a course in Blackboard or creating new lecture slides are particularly time-intensive tasks. The idea, however, is that, once established, they can be used over and over, more than repaying their initial time investment.

Potential time-saver: Active learning puts some of the burden for filling class time on the students. While it requires some lesson planning, it does not necessarily require the creation of slides, web pages or other teaching artifacts.

“Some students don’t seek out extra help or guidance when they truly need it.”

Faculty regularly lament that students don’t come to office hours or use campus resources. Students often report that their schedules conflict with help times or that they had no idea certain resources even existed. Others say they don’t want to bother their teachers. Recent literature has also theorized that students are used to getting their help digitally and that the idea of place-based resources just doesn’t occur to them.

Some faculty are moving to online office hours, using Blackboard Collaborate or a similar tool. Others are changing “office hours” to “workshop hours” in which students do homework with the instructor nearby in order to ask questions. What do your students need? What are you able to give them? Get creative!

Note: Departments generally require office hours, but if you have a different idea for the way you want to run them, ask your department if it would be acceptable.

“There is no +/- distinction for final course grades.”

UMBC grading policy runs as follows.

For all courses in which a student is enrolled at the end of the 10th week of the semester, the following letter symbols will be posted to the permanent record:

A = superior achievement (4.0)

B = good performance (3.0)

C = adequate performance (2.0)

D = minimal acceptable achievement (1.0)

F = failure (0.0)

I = incomplete work

W = indicates a course dropped after the end of the Schedule Adjustment Period.

NA (non-applicable) = a course that does not apply to a degree program and does not enter into GPA (grade point average) calculations.

Adapted from the Provost’s Faculty Handbook

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