Managing the Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: A 10-Part Series
December 2018 (perspective of an assistant professor)
This ten-part article series walks new assistant professors through how to manage the logistics of large courses so that they can focus better on both their teaching and their many other job duties.
You're about to start your new job as an assistant professor. You were hired because you've done awesome research and published some well-received papers that pushed your field forward. You're a rising star in your research area. Cool, now you're about to begin a career where you'll spend many hours each week doing a completely different job than what you trained or interviewed for!
Teaching is the first major challenge that brand-new professors face. After all, you already know how to do research, and you'll gradually ramp up your research group bit by bit—recruiting grad students, acquiring funding, and learning to become a mentor. But in your first months on the job, you can find yourself in front of hundreds of students in the classroom and in charge of managing up to a dozen teaching assistants. Oh, and you have six other jobs in addition to teaching. How can you be a good teacher while still making progress on the other facets of your career?
Lots of people have written great books about the art and science of teaching, so I won't repeat their wisdom here (scroll down to see my recommendations). Instead, I'm going to dive deep into a topic that I haven't seen many other people discuss: managing the logistics of teaching large courses. I define “large” as hundreds of students, but in practice even a fifty-student class feels large since you won't get to know everyone personally.
Why am I devoting a ten-article series to such mundane logistics? Because so much of the time you spend on teaching has nothing to do with the educational content that you deliver to students; it's all behind-the-scenes work that will overwhelm you if you're not prepared. If you don't get the logistics right, then it will eat up all your time and energy so that you can't focus on actually teaching the material well. Even worse, it will take over your mind so that you can't focus on all the other facets of your job either. Being an effective professor starts with managing teaching-related logistics.
There's a lot stuffed into this series, so it might feel overwhelming at first. It's best to think of this as a menu of possibilities that you can freely pick and choose from, not as a comprehensive checklist of everything you must do. Ready? Here we go!
Thanks to Jackie Cohen, Patrick Lam, Jeff Leek, Joe Politz, George Porter, Leo Porter, and Kristin Stephens-Martinez for their thoughtful comments on drafts of this article series. Thanks to Rob Miller for mentoring me during my first teaching experience as a postdoc.
Appendix: recommended reading
I recommend these three books as starting points for learning about the art and science of effective teaching:
This book is also highly recommended by people I respect, but I haven't had time to read all of it yet:
This is a good free online book with many references to other books and articles:
Last modified: 2018-12-22