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By J. Todd

When I first started teaching, as a graduate student, I would would plan my classes in excruciating detail. These classes were largely lectures, interspersed with the occasional individual or group work. Often, I would even write out a joke or some irrelevant comment I wanted to start the class with. I still have the legal pads that I filled up with this extensive planning. Meanwhile, I had friends who could walk into the classroom without any real preparation and lead a successful class.

Post-It Notes saying, Do it! I've always been a planner; although, now those plans are just outlines with approximate times -- things to help me keep the class on track. But I've also always been a procrastinator; I do much of my best work under a quickly diminishing deadline. These days, I do most of my daily class planning the night before class.

However, recent innovations that I've become involved with are challenging me to plan in different ways. There are plenty of great and potentially powerful pedagogical innovations available now. Two new ways I'm dealing with this semester are inverted teaching and collaborative teaching. Both of these, I'm slowly learning, mean that planning for class is not simply getting ready to teach class on a given day. As a result, I'm (very) slowly coming to accept that I have to do significantly more planning significantly earlier.

Inverted Teaching

While video lectures are not a necessity for inverted teaching, they are one effective way to deliver content without using up class time. The videos, to be honest, are killing me. I suppose, as is often the case, this will get better over time, assuming I decide to reuse the videos from this semester the next time I teach this class. (Although, given my propensity for making significant changes every time I teach a class, I probably won't.) I had grand plans to record all the videos for my grammar class this past summer, to have them done and ready to go throughout the semester. Then, once the semester began, and I hadn't recorded any of the videos, I developed a plan for recording each video at least two weeks in advance. Here too, I failed.

Aaron Sams, one of the pioneers of inverted teaching, tells stories of recording videos for his Chemistry classes late at night in the laundry room, so as not to disturb his sleeping family. This past Saturday morning, I recorded a lecture on rhetorical grammar in my car while my son was at his Tae Kwon Do class. The video needed to be watched by my students before class this Monday. Granted, it's only a 15 minute video (I know, I know. It should be under 10 minutes.), but still, it feels like cheating to tell my students in class on Friday, "Please watch the video on Rhetorical Grammar before Monday's class. It's not done yet, but when it is, be sure to watch it."

This has been the pattern for much of the semester. For the composition classes I'm teaching in the spring, I have a list of about 20 videos I'm planning on recording over the winter break...

Collaborative Teaching

Meanwhile, I'm also team-teaching a class with a colleague in the Art department. The class itself is pretty well planned out, with a fairly set schedule that we've managed to stick with throughout the semester. It's a largely discussion-based class, so as long as both of us arrive having done the assigned reading and supplemented it with some additional research, the classes themselves go pretty well. We both come to class having individually prepared, but we never seem to have enough time to get together to collaborate on the planning and grading. Much of that takes place via email, often sent late at night.

The literature on this is beyond clear: you have to co-plan to co-teach. It's another new way of thinking about teaching: as I said, I do most of my best teaching planning the night before a class. That doesn't leave much time for co-planning, though, so it's another change I need to make in my time management. Maybe next time, we need to schedule at least one joint office hour to have a set time each week that we can be together to plan for the following week.

What's the Point?

The point, I guess, is that these innovations, which I believe are having a significantly positive impact on student learning, are also having a significant impact on the way I prepare to teach. I suppose that is another improvement, but the growing pains aren't that fun. Innovation is about change, and change can be a challenge. These innovations, while done to help our students, can also help us by forcing us to rethink the way we do things.

by Bart Everson


As you may have noted, CAT+FD's got a new expanded mission that says we'll support faculty work/life balance.

Thus it was with great interest that I attended a panel discussion on just this topic at "Meaningful Living and Learning in a Digital World." I listened attentively as panelists critiqued the current academic culture, which has become a culture of looking busy-busy-busy, of appearing to be more harried than one really is. Often faculty really are busy, it was pointed out, but even during the rare moment of leisure, it is of crucial importance to continue to look and act busy — lest anyone think we aren't pulling our weight.

The deleterious effects of this culture were detailed at some length. It creates an atmosphere of constant stress, distrust, and fear. It is not conducive to thinking deeply, teaching, or transformational learning.

"It's the single most crucial issue facing the academy," one panelist said.

A culture shift is needed, the panelists agreed, and I found myself nodding along with them. But what came next was a shocker.

The culture shift may need to start with staff, including administrators, who have less flexibility than faculty.

Woah! That got my attention. Even though I work closely with faculty from every discipline, even though I identify with faculty on many levels, I'm on staff. What can I do, despite my limited flexibility, to facilitate this needed culture shift?

As it turns out, actually, I am well-positioned to make at least a few modest efforts. After all, I actually work in a unit that includes work/life balance in its mission. For some while now, I've been working to help develop and cultivate personal practices that aim to foster a more contemplative mode of living. See, for example, our Contemplation & Conversation series.

I've got something else up my sleeve as well. I've noted that faculty frequently express a desire for more guidance with time management. Frankly, we could all use some tips and techniques for making the most of our time. So, over the course of this semester, I've been implementing various time management practices in my own life, as a form of experiential research for a workshop on this topic. We plan to offer a workshop on my findings next semester. Stay tuned for details.

So that's what I have in mind. What about you?

Download Conversation #32

Roben Torosyan

A conversation with Roben Torosyan on teaching, learning, and time management.

Are we allowed to swear on this podcast?

Roben Torosyan has held full-time appointments at Columbia University, Pace University, New School University, Fairfield University, and since 2012 as director of teaching and learning at Bridgewater State University (Mass.). There Roben leads a team of 11 faculty receiving course releases to help improve learning by improving teaching institution-wide. He helped introduce a validated student rating system and core curriculum learning outcomes at Fairfield University. He worked to make writing a signature across seven different schools of New School University. He has facilitated 83 workshops or presentations, 42 of them invited, at conferences and institutions ranging from Harvard and Columbia to Suffolk University and Howard Community College. He brings expertise in reciprocal reflection on teaching, trust, conflict, facilitation, and time management. He has taught courses in philosophy, education, psychology and leadership — twelve as new course designs entirely. His work includes chapters on The Daily Show and philosophy and articles in New Directions in Teaching & Learning, To Improve the Academy, and The Teaching Professor. (CV and selected works)

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