Thursday, November 05, 2009

Time to Teach

In yesterday's post, I explained why I like a flexible system of assigning teaching loads. The balance between research : teaching is an important factor, but so is the time required to teach a course. If I am teaching a new course, I can do a better job if I am not teaching another course in the same term. This is not always possible to arrange, but sometimes it is, and it's good to have that option.

Imagine a professor who is reasonably conscientious about teaching: not someone who devotes themselves entirely to teaching but also not someone who just phones it in and might as well be standing in front of the class reading the textbook aloud. This is a person who is going to spend time organizing the course, preparing each lecture, being accessible for help outside the class time, and providing timely feedback to students.

Imagine that this professor is you or someone you know fairly well. Place the items, currently listed in no particular order below, into an order from TAKES THE MOST TIME (top of list) to TAKES THE LEAST TIME (bottom of list) for teaching, considering time for all teaching-related activities within and beyond the classroom. With apologies to colleagues who teach classes + labs, this list is mostly geared towards a university setting in which faculty are unlikely to teach labs but are more likely to teach giga-classes with hundreds of students. Feel free to add course formats that are missing but relevant to you:
  • graduate seminar in your field of expertise
  • graduate seminar in a field you want to learn about (so you teach a class on it)
  • graduate or senior-level course (lecture format)
  • small freshman seminar type course
  • large intro non-majors survey-style course
  • medium-sized course for majors in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)
  • medium-sized course for majors, topic not in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)
In your list, assume that you have taught all of the courses before. Then consider which of the above would take the most time to teach as an entirely new course. Would the order of your list change?

And then let's throw team-teaching into the mix. It might seem that team-teaching reduces the time required to teach a course, and this is generally true. However, I recently team-taught a new course, and the newness of it dominated the team-taughtness of it. Teaching the course took an order of magnitude more time than a similar sized, non-team-taught course I'd taught before. Other team-teaching time factors are the work habits and sanity level of your teaching colleagues. Team-taught classes are a mixed bag (for faculty and students).

I have found that the emotional energy required to teach some classes is also an important factor. Perhaps the prep time for a large intro course is about the same as for a smaller course for majors, but the emotional energy necessary to teach an intro class, including dealing with a large number of students with complex lives, is definitely a factor in the overall equation of the "effort" required to teach a class. And as we all know, effort and time are very different things.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. graduate seminar in a field you want to learn about (so you teach a class on it): I would make a real effort to do well.

2. medium-sized course for majors, topic not in your field of expertise : majors are always too self involved and jump onto the professor....be careful.

3. graduate seminar in your field of expertise : overconfidence might result in embarrassment.


Little or no time:
4. graduate or senior-level course

5. small freshman seminar type course: teach with eyes closed, but students are more likely to get involved.

6. large intro non-majors survey: no one cares, very impersonal. (my favourite situation)

Angry Professor said...

From most to least:

# graduate seminar in a field you want to learn about (so you teach a class on it)
# graduate seminar in your field of expertise
# graduate or senior-level course (lecture format)
# medium-sized course for majors, topic not in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)
# small freshman seminar type course
# medium-sized course for majors in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)
# large intro non-majors survey-style course

Anonymous said...

I am in computer science, where we prep new courses continually because of the pace of change. I think a medium size course for majors is the hardest because it is usually in some new, difficult technology that I have to frantically learn in order to teach the course.
I teach at a school with a 4/4 load, no exceptions even for new faculty. As a result, I have 4 new preps this semester. In computer science, it takes usually about 3 to 4 hours of prep per hour in class, so I am have about 36 to 48 hours prep time OUTSIDE of class per week. Not much time left for research, but we can't get reduced loads without publishing. It is a pretty awful system, IMHO. Incidentally, the heavy prep time in computer science is one of the things that drives computer scientists out of academia

Kevin said...

# large intro non-majors survey-style course [I assume---I've never tried it]
# medium-sized course for majors, topic not in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)
# graduate seminar in a field you want to learn about (so you teach a class on it)
# small freshman seminar type course
# medium-sized course for majors in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)
# graduate or senior-level course (lecture format)
# graduate seminar in your field of expertise

(Note: I now mainly teach grad/senior core classes and grad seminars in my field, which may be why I find them easiest. Lower-level courses are larger and students less appreciative of extemporaneous performances.)

The level of difficulty for creating a course is a similar ordering. Teaching a familiar course is easier than teaching a new one, but I've created many courses over the years, and it does not double the work (as many people asking for teaching relief to create new courses claim).

Team teaching sometimes reduces the effort (on a well-established course) but generally increases the amount of work in creating a new class or bringing in a new team teacher. Team teaching is a good way to create a course where no faculty member has all the expertise needed or where a course has to transition from one teacher to another.

Anonymous said...

Interesting posts about teaching. I consider myself in your "reasonably conscientious" group, and am a prof at a research university, where we tend to have very low teaching requirements in our dept. No matter the class--grad or undergrad, majors or non majors, first time or many times--I stick to an identical "teaching budget": a set number of hours per week that I invest in teaching (and teaching related activities). It's a nice, sane, way to work, and it has helped me organize my teaching time well.

Kim said...

I've never taught grad students (and I've always taught my own labs), but I've found that teaching a big non-majors intro class with no lab (120 students max - would that be a kilo-course or a mega-course?) takes more time and energy than teaching a junior-level majors class with 10-15 students in it. Even if I'm the only person teaching the lab, and even if I have an undergrad assistant grading homework for the intro class.

Monisha said...

I couldn't rank these easily, because the way that they take time and energy is so different.
Easiest: grad seminar in my area of interest. I know what they should read and what we need to talk about. Both design and weekly prep are low.
Hardest: grad core course, in which i have to provide in depth coverage of a broad swath of material, some of which i don't know very well and which involves some real potential for getting it wrong (e.g., behavior genetics methods in developmental psychology). Lots of work to design that course and to prep each week.
Somewhere in the middle: all undergraduate teaching. Some of it (my large lecture core classes) takes little prep time, but alot of emotional energy to keep 100 people focused and entertained. Others take more prep time because even if i know the material, thinking about how to guide undergrads through it is difficult....

As for team teaching, i have virtually NEVER found that to be less work, though sometimes it is highly motivating and enjoyable to work with someone I like and enjoy.

Anonymous said...

1 large intro non-majors survey-style course

2 small freshman seminar type course

6 Graduate seminar in a field you want to learn about (so you teach a class on it)

7 Graduate seminar in your field of expertise

3 medium-sized course for majors, topic not in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)

4 medium-sized course for majors in your field of expertise (TA teaches lab)

5 graduate or senior-level course (lecture format)


If I haven't taught it, any involving lectures are ten times the work or more the first time., and the seminars then move into the "easy" part of the list

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Here's the outside perspective of a grad student, I'd be interested in how similar it is to what faculty perceive:

Graduate seminar has to be the easiest. All the grad. seminars I've been in have the students take turns presenting the papers, with the faculty member simply picking the papers before the semester starts and helping answer any questions that the student-leader couldn't handle. In addition, these courses meet only once per week.

I'd say 2nd easiest would be the half-a-semester team taught intro-type course. I have TA'd for the same profs on one of these 3 times. The professors used the same slides and said the same things every single time. In the case of one professor, slides were taken directly from the book. After their half of the semester is done, you'll never see them again. Here, the profs do not grade either exams or homework so there's essentially no work outside of lecture (other than dealing with helicopter parents and crazy students!)

Hardest has to be more upper level or graduate course with 15-30 students. If you phone it in, the students will notice. Also, you have no TA support for these courses unless they have associated labs, AND you actually have to teach multiple times per week for the whole semester!

Rethoryke said...

When you have 11 new preps in three years, it doesn't matter what kind of courses they are....

Anonymous said...

You are dead right about the "effort" issue - very well put about dealing with lots of students with complex lives. I am teaching a big (100+) intro grad course right now and because I have TAs for grading the actual work I do does not look like that much more than for a small class on paper, but it is definitely way more stressful - in a way that my colleagues who do not teach such big courses don't necessarily appreciate. There is generally a small, but roughly constant percentage of the class that is trouble makers, sob stories etc.
When you multiply that percentage by a bigger total you get a larger absolute number of headaches, and that is the main stressor of a large class.