Happy New Semester!

For me, the start of a new school year is a much more significant marker of time than a new calendar year. I like a good New Year’s party, but, in the spirit of getting down to business, let’s talk about resolutions for the new semester. (I’m a super-fun party guest, I promise!)

Do you make resolutions for the start of the school year? Do you have some this year? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Or are you open to the idea of mixing things up, trying something new, collecting new data, etc., but aren’t quite sure where to begin?

Edudemic has this list of 20 Tips from the Most Effective Online Teachers (oddly, the original article is no longer on their site). While there are a few practices that are clearly more relevant to online courses, many of these tips – give thoughtful and regular feedback, establish routines, have a contingency plan, emphasize active learning – are certainly applicable in face-to-face classes. In fact, they would make great resolutions for instructors in any context. Perhaps select the one or two that seem easiest to implement in your course? At the end of the semester, you could reflect on how the changes worked for you and your students. If your tweaks were successful, you might make one or two more changes. Proceeding like this, you would be continually improving your course at a manageable rate.

There’s also the 10 Tools Challenge: started by Jane Hart at the Centre for Learning Technologies, people commit to both learning about 10 new digital tools and to sharing their impressions of these tools. Jane even provides a list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning, but you could just as easily focus on different teaching or scholarship tech tools. The challenge officially kicked off in January, but now is a great time to start your own informal challenge for the academic year. Exploring and evaluating one new tool per month seems fairly manageable. Likewise, you need not create a blog to document your experiences (although, if you do, we’d love to hear about it!). Public accountability of your efforts can come through Facebook, Twitter, or conversations with your colleagues. Resolve to take the challenge! What better way to provide some structure for trying out the tools you hear others discussing?

Courtesy of Chris Clark from the University of Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, another way to think about resolutions is to frame your resolutions around strong action verbs. This is a perfect place to slot in a resolution related to an active learning experience you hope to have with your students. The examples provided are small-ish goals (“visualize avoiding text altogether in your next presentation”), but they may not feel easy. However, the most common new year’s resolutions (as read by Bob Dylan) aren’t easy, either! The resolution should be something just a bit beyond your comfort zone.

Last, I want to share my favorite teaching and learning resolution. This piece of wisdom comes from the afterword in the book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. This is a truly excellent book about learning, the value of practice, and the role of ingenuity. I recommend it highly. For me, Gawande’s most searing insight is “count something – anything.” Essentially, it doesn’t matter what you count, but if you count something worthwhile, you will learn something worthwhile. You can’t begin to replicate success or correct errors until you know lay of the land. If you later try and change things, you won’t know if your interventions have worked unless you have a baseline. So, this semester, pick something to count. For example, you might focus on references to the text in class discussions, rounding or labeling errors in calculations, or questions students ask guest speakers. Resolving to count something is both low-tech and easy, but it can lead to some great insights.


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