Teaching a Course
While there is no single best way to teach a course, our teaching a course page provides you with helpful suggestions on:
Please contact us if you would like to talk about these ideas in person.
Take note of what:
- You want students to learn (learning outcomes)
- Work you will assign to measure whether they learned what you intended (assessments)
- Learning activities will prepare students to succeed on those assessments
We recommend looking at the following areas:
- Students: Consult your course roster in UR Student to see who is registered. Consider surveying your students if you need specific information not included in the course roster.
- Classroom: Determine where you are teaching and familiarize yourself with the classroom technology in advance of the first class. Contact Event and Classroom Management if you need help with the classroom.
- Policy requirements: Instructors are expected to follow certain policies in their teaching. Read through the relevant policies and ask any questions that you have of the relevant administrator.
- Teaching support: You can consult with Teaching Center staff to review your teaching plans or brainstorm new elements.
- Syllabus: A syllabus is a written document that instructors provide to students. It contains essential course information, some of which is required by law or University policy.
- Blackboard (learning management system): Set up your Blackboard course site before the first day of class.
- Course materials: Ensure that students have access to the necessary course materials. For students with financial constraints, consider providing alternative access methods such as course reserves for course textbooks or adopting open education resources for all students.
- Support services. Determine what student support services might be relevant to your course and formulate a plan for communicating the necessary information to students.
Students will use a first class to evaluate whether a course is a good fit for them and to determine what they need to do to succeed. You can help them make accurate determinations by providing an overview of the course, setting expectations, and demonstrating how your classes will run.
Create a lesson plan for your first class. Ensure that you have all needed materials, including copies of the syllabus.
Use this time to get set up before class starts and to greet students. Engaging in pre-class conversations can be an effective way to establish rapport and connection with your students.
At a minimum, provide your name and what you prefer students to call you. Some instructors also provide additional professional information about their background, research interests, and other relevant information. If you have additional course staff, such as teaching assistants and lab managers, you may also want to provide them an opportunity to introduce themselves.
Depending on your preferences and the size of the course, you may also want to give students an opportunity to introduce themselves to you and/or each other. Since students will have a wide variety of backgrounds and identities, select an activity that works for all students and is appropriate for a professional setting. Be sure to provide specific instructions and model how you want this to occur by going first.
Let students know what they can expect from you. Lay out your communication logistics, including your office hours and your email preferences and availability. If you have course staff such as teaching assistants and lab managers, describe their availability and what kinds of questions might be appropriate for different types of course staff.
Let students know what you expect from them in terms of attendance, preparation, participation, and behavior. It may be helpful to connect this to your teaching philosophy and choices so that students can understand how your expectations relate to their learning.
Describe what students will learn, how they will learn it, and what work they will provide to demonstrate that they have learned it. Talk about why the course content and skills matters to you, to their education, and to the broader world. Emphasize important specifics, such as dates for fieldtrips and assignments. Let students know how to access course materials, resources, and locations.
Describe how the course will operate so that students know what a typical class and week will look like.
Ask students what questions they have and clarify as needed.
Starting to teach is important, since it will give students a sense of how you will run the course. It can be a great time to ask open-ended questions that allow students to explore the big picture of the course themes. You can also use this time to surface student background knowledge so that you can connect student interests to the overall course, pitch the level of the course appropriately, and, if necessary, address common misconceptions.
Recap important information and preview what comes next. Note any preparation or work that students should undertake before the next class.
Before each class, create a lesson plan. Remind yourself what you taught in the previous session and where you are in the course overall. Use that information to determine what you need to do in the upcoming class session to keep the students on track to meet the course learning outcomes and to be prepared for upcoming assessments. Consider how you might be inclusive of students with different backgrounds and identities.
Your lesson plan should take into account that straight lecturing is unlikely to maximize student learning given that educational research shows limitations in working memory and attention span, as well as greater learning gains through active learning methods.
Your lesson plan may contain some of the following elements, which may be delivered through a variety of methods such as student-led activities, individual and group work, and instructor-led activities and mini-lectures.
- Review of previous session and answering any remaining and/or new questions
- Description of how the day’s content fits in the overall course and relates to upcoming assessments
- Content and skill work
- Assessments (formative and/or summative)
- Wrap-up: retrospective and/or prospective overview, plus work expected prior to the next class
You can help students stay oriented within a class session by providing clear instructions and by using signposting language that helps them understand when you are switching gears, emphasizing the importance of something, etc. If you have run class consistently in one manner and plan to shift to something different, prepare students for that in advance so that they know what to expect.
You may encounter challenges in your teaching. If something goes wrong, address it with the students, either at the time or after the fact. Consult the Teaching Center if you need help troubleshooting anything. The center can help you establish effective classroom management practices, create an inclusive teaching and learning culture in your courses, improve your assessments to make them more effective at measuring student learning, etc.
After class, write down quick notes about what did and didn’t work, as well as possible adjustments you might make the next time you teach this class. Remember to review any such notes the next time you teach the course so that you can make adjustments in advance. The Blackboard course template provides an “Private Faculty Reflection” menu item that can be used for this purpose.
Evaluating your teaching is an important practice, as it allows you to understand what is and isn’t working for your students. You can evaluate an in-progress course in order to make mid-semester changes, and you can evaluate a completed course to make changes for the next time you teach it. Evaluations can be both formal and informal. Teaching Center evaluation services are confidential, like all its services.
Mid-semester evaluations may include Teaching Center services such as classroom observations and mid-semester student evaluations. Instructors may also provide their students with formal and information opportunities to provide feedback on the course, solicit input from their teaching assistants, or ask a trusted colleague to observe a class. Instructors can also assign formative assessments to student to determine how well students have learned a particular concept or skill and then make adjustments in response to the assessment results.
Completed course evaluations include formal student evaluations, which are often included in tenure and promotion processes. Course evaluations can provide useful information about what students found particularly valuable or particularly challenging, and instructors can use them to improve their teaching moving forward.
For more information on these, go to the evaluating a course page.