Save Time by Linda Nilson, Ph.D.

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Jan 24th, 2014
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Professors are now among the busiest, hardest-working employees in the nation, being pushed from all sides to do more with less.  So here are some ways you can cut time corners without doing a disservice to your students or compromising your professional standards.

  1. Assign online lessons and exercises as homework or use them in class. Look for free web-based tutorials, mastery learning programs, learning objects, databases, and collections of scholarly materials in repositories such as:
  1. Have students write multiple choice questions for upcoming tests as homework or in-class group activities after you teach them what good test items are (e.g., require application, analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation).  Students will be highly motivated to write questions you will want to use on the tests because they know the answers to their own questions.  Reserve the right to fine-tune the student submissions.
  2. Grade minor assignments and short-essay daily quizzes 1/0 or √/0, giving credit for a good faith effort.  You’ll be able to grade at a glance.
  3. Word-process your feedback to students on their papers and projects if it tends to be repetitive.  At times your feedback may be one message to the whole class.
  4. If you must give primarily objective tests, include one essay question that you will read and grade only in borderline cases.  Essay questions motivate students to study more deeply.
  5. Make study/review guides student-group assignments.  If you run study/review sessions, do them during class, not on your own time.
  6. Integrate as many sources of non-instructor feedback as possible into your courses:
  • online objective quizzes with immediate feedback on answers or overall score
  • interactive computer-based tutorials, mastery learning programs, and learning objects (see #1 above for sources)
  • online databases to test hypotheses
  • outside experts or other people who will serve to react to student work on email, discussion boards, chats, blogs, wikis, or face-to-face
  • student peers (e.g., pairs exchange and discuss their reflection papers on the readings for 10 minutes at the start of class; students justify their self-evaluation to peers
  1. Accept grading protests only in writing with justifications (in essay format, not as an informal email) within a limited time period (e.g., three days). All those nuisance complaints will go away.
  2. Reduce time spent on make-up exams by:
  • giving one comprehensive make-up at the end of the semester
  • counting only best N-1 out of N exams (in make-up cases only)
  • moving the weight of the missing exam to the final.
  1. Use campus resources all you can. If your class needs training in how to use the library or sophisticated web resources, ask your discipline’s librarian to conduct this training during a class period. If your class needs training in specific software or web-page development, ask the campus instructional technology center to conduct this training during a class period. If students come to you with problems beyond your classes, do not make yourself into a one-stop information, training, and problem-solving center. Refer students to the appropriate campus resources:
  • Computer problems to the campus help desk
  • Psychological, emotional, physical, and relational problems to the campus counseling or health center
  • Study/learning problems to the campus academic support center
  • Writing problems to the campus writing center
  • Research problems to your discipline’s librarian.

Note that some of these time-saving tips generate excellent learning experiences for your students. Remember: The more they do with the course material, and the less you do, the more they learn.

© Linda B Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness
and Innovation, Clemson University, www.clemson.edu/OTEI

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