New Semester Resolutions

A message from HAPS President-Elect, Betsy Ott.
A message from HAPS President-Elect, Betsy Ott.

Okay, it’s that time in the semester when I have to force myself to focus on the positive – not on the desperate pleas for just half a point, or the snarky comments that I don’t know how to teach.

So, here is my list of New Semester Resolutions. I hope to actually keep these resolutions (unlike the ones I’ll make on Dec. 31).

1. I will make my course policies crystal clear. This will mean reading, and re-reading how I have the policies stated so they can’t be misinterpreted. Who knew that calling an assignment “practice” and including a message that “this is not for a grade” does not clearly state that completing the assignment is not mandatory? Seriously, it’s important to know that students don’t always read sentences the way we meant them to, and it’s just as important to write course policies clearly as it is to word-smith our test questions.

2. I will provide more small-stakes practice assignments. I will, of course, make sure that if they are mandatory, I will be quite explicit about that fact. My plan, only partially formed, is to have daily assignments (online, auto-graded) that are available only for 24 hours, to encourage students to check in online every day and recharge their content familiarity. I’ll drop enough of them to not penalize students who can’t get online every day (and to reduce complaints that I have to respond to). I’ll make them comprehensive, to help students review and rehearse the quickly-accumulating load of anatomical terms and physiological concepts.

3. I will post more short videos. Students apparently like to know that I am out here, telling them what they have to know, and apparently, sending emails and posting text announcements isn’t as effective as posting videos, according to course-end feedback. Teaching is a particularly human endeavor, so anything I can do to enhance that human contact will add intrinsic value to my online course communications, even for my face-to-face courses.

4. I will provide more choices in what students can complete for a grade. According to my course-end survey, the most valuable and popular course assignment is the discussion. Except that in the same survey, discussion is the least effective and least valuable assignment. Ditto for every other course assignment category. So, providing choices and allowing students to choose the type of assignment that resonates with them will be more likely to meet their needs. I’ve read recently that allowing student choice in assignment type increases engagement and satisfaction and can improve student outcomes.

5. I will provide feedback on student mastery. According to some of my students, my standards are unrealistically high and I expect too much out of them. This, from students who don’t answer the simple, direct questions I ask, and skip the easy and/or optional assignments. But, I can at least let them know whether the work they turn in meets standard expectations of college-level work. This is an opportunity to use the HAPS Outcomes, so students know it’s not just me that expects them to know this stuff.

6. I will try to remember that my course is not my students’ highest priority. This one is tough, so all I can resolve is to try. Students come to us with a mixed set of skills, and an assortment of competing claims on their time. I know that my course, while important to them, is not the most important priority for them, and I shouldn’t penalize them for not loving A&P the way I do.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions for other resolutions. What have you gleaned from your students this semester that motivates you to make changes for your spring courses?

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