At the Intersections of Time Efficient Teaching and Good Pedagogy
How to Save Time While Providing a Rich Learning Experience
In her recent post for thenewsletter, Jess Calarco outlines a key issue that professors face:
the structures of academia incentivize faculty members to spend as little time as possible on teaching and mentoring and service. Universities with large graduate programs are often called research universities because their faculty are evaluated and rewarded based primarily on that aspect of their work. That model is reasonable if there are enough faculty and staff to make teaching and service loads manageable. But the same underinvestment in academia that has led to a reduction in jobs for grad students has led to a reduction in colleagues for faculty members, which means that there are fewer people with whom they can share the load.
Due to the demands on our time, it can be difficult to balance being good researchers and teachers at the same time. As a result, a lot of us constantly struggle to balance both.
As always, Publish Not Perish starts by recognizing that there is still much to be done to address academic labor exploitation and the excessive pressure to produce. Having said that, there are techniques that can help us teach more effectively while also providing a rich learning environment for our students. I'm going to talk about some of my teaching strategies that combine efficient use of time with sound pedagogy.
The Preamble: Adult and Experiential Learning Principles
Prior to starting my PhD program, I went to graduate school to become an intercultural communication trainer. The theories of adult learning and experiential learning served as the cornerstones of my program's approach to instructing and preparing us for becoming trainers.
I won't go into great detail about these theories, but I will briefly touch on how they influence some of the pedagogical strategies I discuss below. Students learn most effectively when they participate actively in class, can apply theory to real-world situations, can draw on their own experiences and ideas to process information, and when we employ a variety of learning techniques to aid in their comprehension.
Students learn most effectively when they participate actively in class, can apply theory to real-world situations, can draw on their own experiences and ideas to process information, and when we employ a variety of learning techniques to aid in their comprehension.
Because of the low power distance that is valued in this learning style, critical thinking is valued more highly than correct or incorrect answers. As a result, I don't lecture a lot and generally try to make my students work harder than I do in any given class. Often times, them working harder than me means that I spend less time on teaching prep.
Most of us have heard by now that the trend in education is to limit lecturing and provide more space for discussion and active learning in classrooms. For a one-hour class, I usually try to keep lectures between 15 and 30 minutes total, but I try not to lecture for longer than 15 minutes without pausing to ask students to complete a task or talk about a prompt in pairs or small groups. (I might lecture for 30 minutes total in my 200-student class; in contrast, I lecture much less in my smaller classes.) This is good pedagogy because it helps with retention and comprehension and provides a break from active listening.
Planning shorter lectures also saves me preparation time. New teachers frequently over-prepare for lectures by gathering more materials than necessary and feeling the need to cram the class period with content. That necessitates a lot of unnecessary prep. Less really is more if your goal is for students to retain and apply the information you've given them. It takes me less time to come up with a discussion question to go along with a concept than it does to prepare another concept to introduce. If you over-prepare and fill your class periods to the brim, you and your students will also be overdone.
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Aside from discussion, I use a variety of activities in my classes. I refer to these as "engagement activities" because they typically receive participation-style credit for completing the day's activity. I have a rule that I will not spend more time preparing an activity than they will spend completing it.
For example, when my Branding and Consumer Culture class was learning about some basic Marxist ideas, I decided to play a quiz-style game with them to help with retention. At first, I thought I would come up with examples of the concepts, and then each team would have a chance to name the concept illustrated in the example. I knew, however, that it would take me a lot of time to come up with those examples. Since I want my students to work harder than me in the classroom, I decided that I would split them into teams to come up with the examples first, and then we would use their examples to play the game. I promised the winning group extra credit points. Here are my slides if you’d like to see the instructions.
I was concerned that some groups would come up with incorrect examples, but that ended up being a good learning moment too. I allowed the groups to challenge one another if they thought an example wasn’t quite correct, and we would discuss what would make it a better example.
Also, if you’re curious, at the end of the game, I asked them what Marx would think about my competition for points in class, and they said he probably wouldn’t approve. We decided everyone who participated would get the extra credit.
My students worked harder and learned more that day because, rather than coming up with examples myself, I made them do it. It saved me time, and they did the hard work of applying concepts.
My students worked harder and learned more that day because, rather than coming up with examples myself, I made them do it.
Because I’m a media studies professor, I often do creative activities where students have to find media clips online that illustrate concepts, or they have to create ideas for movie plots that relate to the course content, etc. Here’s another example of an activity from my Branding and Consumer Culture class. Most of our students come to our program because they want to go into creative media fields, so much of my engagement activities focus on the creative application of theory.
After I gained so much experience teaching online during the pandemic, I began thinking about ways I might integrate the best of face-to-face and online teaching. I had taught an asynchronous class and appreciated the fact that the next time I taught it, I could simply plug-and-play it because all of the content was already in my Canvas course (my university's learning management system).
For courses I teach frequently, I’ve now decided to adopt a flipped classroom approach. For Branding and Consumer Culture, this means that I took lecture material and turned it into blog posts and mini-lectures that were all delivered via Canvas. Students were required to read the content ahead of time, take a short quiz to ensure completion, and then spend the entire class period on active learning (discussion, engagement activities, etc.) that applied the concepts they learned on Canvas.
This approach was more work for me at the outset, but because I’m teaching the class again next fall, it won’t be in the long run. Next fall, I'll simply duplicate the Canvas course and be ready to facilitate in-class activities. My fall 2023 self will thank my fall 2022 self.
The student response to the flipped classroom format was also overwhelmingly positive. They learned a lot and enjoyed the interactivity and social nature of the class.
We’d Love to Hear from You!
So there you have it, folks. I am constantly thinking of ways to create time efficient teaching that is also good pedagogy. What strategies do you use to achieve this? I’d love to learn from you and so would other Publish Not Perish readers!