New Year, New Semester

As the holiday season winds to a close, it’s time to gear up for next semester. Whether your courses begin next week or in a few more weeks, here’s a round-up of posts on reflecting, re-focusing, and recharging in the coming year.

To get us started, here are two great posts from The Teaching Professor Blog. The first touches on the benefits of the academic calendar in terms of tacking stock: “I think there are decided advantages to professions like teaching with clear beginnings, endings, and spaces in between.” The calendar provides us with a valuable gift in this season; no sense in squandering that. The second blog post focuses on the purpose and benefits of reflection. According to the author, reflection offers:

[A] way to take the fragments of a day, a week, a course, several courses, or a whole semester and pull those separate experiences together. What happens in one course on one day may well be connected to what happened another day in another course. What happens with one group of students may be explained by what has happened with other students, but separated by time, space and intervening activity, the links are easily missed.

Here are some reflection questions to help you connect that dots (the questions are drawn loosely from this post):
1. What reading or assignment was most successful this semester? Why?
2. Which unit, lecture, or topic did you really enjoy teaching this term? Which one did you least enjoy? How might you use those insights to rearrange or revise the course contents next time? Did this relationship hold true for your students? Why or why not?
3. What role did technology play in your connection with your students and their connection with the content? Is there room for improvement? Were there hiccups? How could those be avoided?
4. What has surprised you most this term?
5. What do you hope your students are taking away from the course this term?
6. What one piece of advice do you want to offer yourself for the next time you teach this course?

You probably also have some student evaluations rolling your way. ProfHacker has collected all their wisdom on student evaluations: when to read them, how to work with the data, what to do with them, etc.

Reflection helps us go forward confidently. However, reflection (and its relative, the act of recharging) needn’t be solitary endeavors. Here’s one blogger singing the praises of meaningful conversations with one’s colleagues as a way to recharge.

In an age when we are almost constantly connected to one another through social media, texting, and e-mail, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are surrounded by people who are giving us the energy to recharge. Not so. Deep conversations are the true energy source – we are powered up by  face-to-face, real-time, extended discussions and debates with people who share our
passions . . . . I don’t need more electronic connections in my life as much as I need a recommitment to real conversation. I too often eat lunch at my desk and hesitate to ask for time to bounce ideas around with others. I don’t reach out often enough to those people who I know are working on similar projects.

So, where to go with all this newfound knowledge? This is a really thoughtful post on five easy things you can do to your course. Note that the original post (and hence the “easy” label) comes from a discussion of changes you can make to your course over the summer. So, while making all of these changes over winter break is probably overly ambitious, making a few of them in response to insights from your own reflections, student feedback, and conversations with colleagues might be just right.

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