Even when we’ve spent months designing an organized and well aligned course, we all know that as soon as we launch the course, a tide of unexpected changes and exciting tangents will pull us a bit away from our original plans. Things never go exactly as planned, and as we navigate the semester we always learn something new.
In this post I want to share some tips for recording and reflecting on the things that throw us off course (and the things that go perfectly!) during the semester, so we can make the most of these observations before we do it all again next semester. Keeping an instructor reflection log can help you collect your insights during the semester so you can revisit, learn from them, and find opportunities to make incremental improvements in your course content or teaching practices.
When do you typically reflect on your teaching? Do you consider how a class went as you’re walking back to your office? Or maybe during your daily commute? When you relax on the couch after a long day? Now think about where you are when this is happening. Are you walking, driving, sitting at a computer? Wherever you are, you’ll want a convenient way to record these thoughts, so you won’t lose them. Here are a few options:
As you think of things, try to include context like the topic or week so you’ll remember what your note was about when you look back at these in a couple of months.
Sometimes life and work don’t allow for a lot of relaxed spontaneous reflection, so consider adding a calendar reminder or appointment so that you’ll be prompted to reflect on your course at regular intervals. If your weekly office hours are not usually packed with appointments, consider using 15-30 minutes of this time to reflect on the previous week’s content. Alternately, if you teach several longer topics throughout the semester, it may work well to block off an hour on your calendar after each of these topics ends.
If you find that you can record spontaneous reflections, you can use the time you set aside to review those and reflect on whether there are any adjustments you’d like to implement now, rather than waiting for the end of the semester.
Set aside some time after a course ends to review your instructor reflection log and evaluate how the semester went. Reading days may be convenient, or it may be necessary to set aside a few hours after grades are due and the semester is truly over.
When you’re ready to reflect, review each note to identify any changes you want to prioritize completing before the next time you teach the course. Sometimes an issue that feels critical may end up being less important once you have a semester of perspective, so some notes may not need any action. Other concerns may bubble up slowly and surprise you, only becoming visible when you see that you have several related notes, and a pattern emerges.
Try to identify no more than 2-3 adjustments to implement if you will be teaching the course again during the very next semester and get that instructor reflection log ready to go for next time! Regular reflection and incremental improvements are a great way to continually improve teaching and learning and stay on course.
Finally, remember that CITT would love to work with you as you design or improve your course. Fill out our request assistance form if you’d like to meet with an instructional designer to discuss your ideas.