Course administration and planning

Nuts & bolts. Many participants felt that dealing with administrative and/or logistical tasks can deter from time spent on teaching (e.g., prep and meeting with students). Participants referred to this as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of teaching and Weimer (2010) referred to these as the ‘mechanics of teaching’. Such information would be best included in a resource document – either in the form of an Instructor Handbook that currently exists in some divisions and was mentioned, or as a resource included in a departmental/divisional mentoring resource package. One Associate Professor, TS, felt that key mentoring documents, such as preparing a course syllabus should include the following elements:

These must be very specific, how to do this and what you have to do…required elements of the syllabus, department policies for consistency, wordings that are required for the syllabus, optional or desirable elements, wording for optional pieces, samples of syllabus elements and checklist – so your syllabus is not approved until these elements are met. (UTM, Phys Sc, mentor)

One participant’s suggestion stemmed from a new faculty member who grappled with grading and used a 4.0 GPA scale rather than a scale out of 100: “he hadn’t been told and hadn’t read this detail anywhere.” He shared that a mentoring resource would include links to certain topics and/or to CTSI, and sections that include requirements for one’s own course, and also what is optional to include.

Such a document can be reviewed in a mentoring meeting very early in an appointment so that both parties can ensure where the gaps are and how best to move forward on certain topics.

It was also suggested that divisions might adopt/develop a template on the nuts and bolts of course set-up and management and that commonalities on teaching-related matters can be included with room for unique department–specific content (Assoc Prof, TS, UTM, TAM). Finally, mentoring meetings can address these logistical topics early on and allow time for more in-depth teaching topics:

People look at their teaching as a very personal thing and I don’t know how to ask them… that’s where I feel being proactive you provide a tool box (like the colleges) at day one instead of seeking it out when you need it, and those who need it the most, seek the least. (Assistant Prof, Soc Sc, mentee)

A mentoring meeting can therefore include a checklist of course-related teaching activities, being proactive, for example, in discussing assessment/rubrics and dealing with grades for the first time (e.g., what are important departmental or divisional considerations or processes?) especially for the first course a new hire is teaching at the University.

Course planning & course syllabus. While course syllabus planning may well fit within resources and discussions about course administration and logistics, there was firm support for mentors to play a role in providing guidance in advance of the course start date around pedagogy more generally, and not just the course management “nuts and bolts.” One participant viewed ongoing course development as a key topic to address. A mentor might, for example, provide feedback and guidance over time for a few courses and offer a subsequent ‘check-in’ (Assoc Prof, TS, Life Sc, mentor/mentee). One Associate Professor suggested an early meeting (e.g. one month prior to the start of the term) regarding the structure of the course (topics, order of lecturing or activities, encourage mentee to get notes from previous instructors). However, according to another Associate Professor, the key is to strongly encourage mentees “to develop their own notes and write in their own words, not someone else’s.” However, sharing and reviewing course syllabi was considered important by a number of participants in terms of understanding what happened previously in a course and what direction the course might take going forward.

One UTM department provides all faculty members with a regularly updated handbook to ensure key changes are provided in a timely manner. This document encourages consistency in content regarding course policies and ideas for enhancing one’s course. While the faculty member describing this resource noted that there can be some resistance to certain elements in the document (e.g., backward design suggestions/resources), “sharing these well-developed course syllabi with new hires can be helpful.” Of note, another participant felt that the “key is to ensure that sample course syllabi serve to guide new hires and not limit or stifle their own creativity” (Assoc Prof, TS, Humanities, UTM, mentor).

A ‘have to know’ template or a checklist can offer mentors a basic guide to ensure mentees are provided the key information they need to successfully and effectively plan and develop a course with optional suggestions/recommendations. While it is understood that a mentor may not have all the essential knowledge, this template can be used to locate other sources of expertise from within the department and/or external to it. A participant recommended that a divisional faculty mentoring document might include information common to all departments. In addition to course design and syllabus design, such a document could touch on assignment design as many participants expressed an interest in learning more about rubrics, setting student expectations, and supporting them in their learning.

Broader curriculum discussions and curriculum mapping.

Participants expressed an interest in knowing and understanding their department’s courses and content. A mentor might address the following:

  • how does the mentee’s course align with other courses in their area or department? Such discussions can prompt important conversations of “how does it fit?” As one mentee noted, “shared course syllabi will ensure that there is less overlap with our courses, content-wise, as I can’t understand how course syllabi exist that are developed with no oversight on this, so strange how much freedom there is” (Assistant Prof, TS, Phys Sc, mentee).
  • how to participate in curriculum mapping activities.

Overall, a mentoring relationship can address many teaching topics but a key goal is to consider how to ensure that instructors receive valuable information that enables efficiencies, while supporting more quality time to reflect on, plan and have opportunities to discuss teaching approaches, strategies, teaching development and improvement, etc.