Excitement over teaching intro courses?

Dec 05 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Intro courses are typically to be survived (from the UG perspective) or avoided (From the Fac perspective). They are not the type of course that anyone looks forward to enduring, wether you are teaching or attending them. Junior faculty can be loathe to be saddled with a semester (or, shudder, a year) of a first year course because of the breadth of topics one can only cover in a shallow manor and the inevitable fact that one is forced to teach at least some topics they are not comfortable with. The result of this is that these courses are often taught by non-tenure track faculty, grad students or in rare cases a movie (yes, it happens).
The problem, of course, is that this course is the foundation for all of the higher level courses in any department. When we complain that the students are not prepared for their third-year courses, why do we think that is? While there are many competent non-tenure track lecturers and many incompetent tenured (track) teachers, one can hardly argue that it makes sense to put the department's best foot forward in the first-year classroom. If only for the fact that it is the first chance to hook your future majors with the exciting stuff happening in your field. However, in my experience this is rarely the case, and I am not in a position to be upset, because I have not raised my hand to be a part of the first-year class in my department. But, that may be changing.
Employment university is going through a massive overhaul in light of the economy and that fact that the new provost wants to wear a cape to work. Our college wants to be at the forefront of this movement and is hurrying to have a reorganization plan to the provost by mid-January. In short, about 13 different departments are about to become 2. The reason I mention all this is that the ciriculum is being modified as well and there was a long discussion in a meeting I was in today about re-vamping the first-year course and team teaching it. I know there is data to suggest that students don't like team teaching because they have to adjust to different styles during the semester. I can understand that, but how is it bad that you get people in front of the classroom who know all of the details of every subject they are covering? How much easier and more fun is it to make lectures on topics you know interesting, compared to those you need to review a bit before you teach? I was surprised to see that several of the junior faculty were excited at the prospect of having a 3 or 4 week section of the intro course to really get into and the more I think about it, the more I think it could be a lot of fun. Additionally, that intensive stint of teaching (there are back-to-back sections) would count as a full course for the semester, leaving a lot more free time outside of that period. If there was a group of faculty that could work well together and coordinate their sections, I think it would really transform the class and the way the students respond to it... but maybe I'm just being optimistic.

3 responses so far

  • ScientistMother says:

    As an undergrad, I took courses that were team taught between 2 professor, in sequential order. It was great having individuals passionate about what they doing lecturing. It was what hooked me. Mind you that was in third year, but still, good professors make a huge difference.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    I would think that first year would be an even better time to get students hooked by having excitment in their prof, but I don't know whether there or not there is just too much focus on the grade at that point. I don't have a good feel for the undergrad population here just yet, so it's hard for me to say.

  • Becca says:

    As an undergrad, I had few,if any, team-taught courses. As a grad student, I had nothing but team teaching. We literally had a whirlwind- often a different professor for each lecture. It was absolutely awful. If you want to make it work, teach what you like. Don't grade like you like. Don't teach as much as you'd like (cut it by 2/3rds if you're like most profs). Get one consistent grading style, and a very detailed syllabus so that everyone knows exactly what is covered by everyone else. 23 different exam styles means 23 modes of studying. Seriously.

Leave a Reply