Preparing to Teach: Thinking Through My First Survey Course

Now that I have passed my exams and am hard at work on my dissertation prospectus, teaching my own course is not too far on the horizon. In fact, one of the reasons why I chose to Purdue is that nearly every PhD student is given the opportunity to teach their own course once they’re ABD. I was recently informed that I am teaching this fall.

I’ve been assigned a section of HIST 152 – U.S. since 1877 – the second half of the U.S. history survey. It’ll be my first time teaching my own class. I’m excited about the opportunity for a variety of reasons. First, teaching and interacting with students is one of the big reasons why I got in this business. I spent 3 years in the education school during my undergrad days, and always knew that teaching was something I wanted to do. I spent over 80 hours in junior high and high school classrooms teaching lessons and tutoring students; I feel comfortable with them. I’ve been a TA for the past four years working closely with professors on tests, quizzes, Powerpoint presentations, and of course holding office hours and grading. During this time I published a companion teacher’s manual for a sports history textbook. I also coached track and field at the high school and college level for three years. There are so many overlaps between coaching and teaching and I feel that having done both will really shape my approach to this course. And I can’t forget all the conversations I’ve had about pedagogy and technology with the MOOCMOOC crowd two years ago. All of these experiences have prepared me to teach. But at the end of the days, this is still my first time. I’m still nervous.

Though it’s a little ways off, my textbook orders are due March 21st, so I’ve been forced to start thinking through how I want to teach the course. I think it’s probably a good thing for me to take time to conceptualize what I want to do this far out. One of the first questions I’ve had to ask myself is what book(s) do I assign? Do I use a standard textbook? What about a primary source reader? Should I use a monograph or novel too? As I think through these questions, I’m also forced to consider what type of assignments I want to give and what I envision my tests looking like.

There are also questions about technology. The class is capped at 50 students. That’s large enough where discussions can be tricky. Should I attempt to use Blackboard to facilitate out-of-class discussion, or maybe Twitter? Maybe doing flipped-classroom Fridays would better facilitate student engagement. I’m a cultural historian and so much of the twentieth century can be paired with great media clips and images, so I need to think about the best way to incorporate those into my class too. I could collect them into YouTube playlists, embed them into Powerpoints, or design a special WordPress or Tumblr site to serve as the central repository for these things. Because of my digital humanities field I’m excited about the opportunities to play around with technology and teaching, I just don’t want to use too much and have it become a crutch.

I feel fairly confident in the content, after all that’s what I’ve been working to master throughout my grad school career. Most of my concerns and questions as a first time teacher revolved around how innovative to be. I’m aware of debates about technology, textbooks, primary source readings, online history labs, etc., but how do I know what will work best for me? I guess the answer is you never really know until you try something and play around with it. My gut is telling me to be more traditional the first time around. I’ll probably assign a traditional textbook and maybe reader. I know for sure that I’m going to do at least one monograph, but then I think I want to pair that with some sort of multimedia review (most likely film). There will be the fairly standard three tests, plus the short writing assignments on the book and film. And maybe a handful of quizzes.

I’m not married to any of these ideas just yet. I still need to decide on my books and construct a course outline. But I think asking these questions will help me shape the contours of the class. I feel really lucky to have had all the experience I outlined in the second paragraph above to draw from. I’ve TA’d for some really amazing professors with distinct teaching styles and pedagogical techniques. I’ve been waiting a long time for my chance to teach and implement my own ideas. Now that it’s here, I just hope that I can make them proud this fall and live up to the high standard of educational excellence that my students deserve.

If you have any thoughts, tips, suggestions, or general advice for me as I prepare my class, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments or over email.

One thought on “Preparing to Teach: Thinking Through My First Survey Course

  1. Aaron Gulyas

    Just off the top of my head, I would shy away from online discussion forums–they can be a huge time commitment and 50 people isn’t *too* awful for in-class discussion. There are a lot of great places with primary sources online, so I would shy away from a doc reader (unless you could bundle one with a textbook super easily and cheaply).

    As far as assessment goes, I’ve been using a “mystery document” style item on some of my exams where the student is presented with a snippit of text, political cartoon, etc. and required to complete some short answer questions about its content and context (some of the WW1 CPI posters, for example). These work pretty well and students partially enjoy, partially dread them 🙂

    Good luck–it sounds like you’re getting a really nice head start so you should have a fun time!
    ag (@firkon)

    Reply

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