It is often that case that the pressures of the teaching timetable itself, as well as research and run-of-the-mill admin, mean that it can be very hard to find the time to review your teaching material. Ideally, we would all be coming up with new and exciting modules every couple of years, or at the very least, refreshing the curriculum of existing modules. Here are a few ideas on how to keep your teaching fresh.
1. Go back to school
Refer to the current A-level syllabus in your teaching area. A brief survey of the books your students will have read at school may lead you to revise your thoughts on your own offerings. You may, for instance, realize that an author or text you are teaching has been covered at A-level, and that you need to change the text, or broaden your scope. At the very least, this brief exercise in expanding your purview will give you some insight into your students’ experience, and show you how best to build on that experience in your own modules.
2. Teach in teams
Team-teaching is one of the best ways to invigorate your approach to a particular subject area. If you are invited to be part of a team-taught module, this may be an efficient way for you to expand your experience without having to carry an entire new module on your shoulders. You may benefit from listening to your colleagues’ ideas in the field, and if you can find the time to observe one or two of their classes, you may also pick up some pedagogical tips. And if you see an opportunity to invite a colleague or two onto one of ‘your’ modules, seize the chance! You may find that they bring fresh insights or even challenges to a field you have long considered your own.
3. Ask them what they are interested in
Before I go any further with this, I should note that asking students what they are interested is not the same as trying to please all the students all the time. Your field of expertise has its own rigorous demands, and teaching it undoubtedly requires following a curriculum that is, quite rightly, formed on the basis of your understanding of research in the field. Students, by definition, do not have this expertise. Nevertheless they can be a valuable source of information about how you might consider modifying your approach to conveying certain information, and where the intersections between their interests and the area of study might lie. In addition, by expressing a genuine interest in students’ concerns, you might gain their trust and goodwill in return – both of which are essential to a good teaching experience.
4. Make use of VLEs
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) come in many forms, but all have one thing in common: they are a great way for you to augment your teaching without too much difficulty. Instead of seeing these just as a means of storing module documentation, try experimenting with the many different options available to add visual, audio, or other written material, and to link to material available elsewhere on the web. Consider the VLE your virtual noticeboard, which serves to augment and replenish your core teaching. If you enable discussion boards, you can encourage students to build up their own repositories of knowledge, and to participate in building expertise that their successors will benefit from in turn.
5. Use your Research
Time spent research on research can also time be spent on teaching. If you are fortunate enough to be in a large department, you will have the opportunity to teach your own subject specializations in bespoke modules; however, even if you find yourself teaching material outside your direct field of expertise, be flexible and think about how your experience as a researcher may benefit your teaching. Retain an open mind: do not, for instance, announce to your colleagues that you cannot possibly teach a class on post-colonial theory because your specialism is, in fact, colonial theory. Who knows, teaching in an area slightly to the side of your core expertise may bring you unexpected insights into your own field.