If you want your students to stop coming up with excuses for why they couldn’t do the homework (they missed lecture last class, they lost the worksheet you handed out, they weren’t clear on the directions, they’re confused, etc.) and you’re looking to make life easier on yourself in general, here’s the secret:
Make your course content abundantly available and easy to understand in multiple ways.
Below are some of the 5 best ways to distribute course content for both face-to-face and online classes:
#1 Email: Each semester I simply email my students what they’ll need at the beginning of each unit. This includes reading material, directions for assignments, directions for speeches, grading rubrics, worksheets, sample assignments that show what I’m looking for, and my lecture slides.
#2 Learning Management Systems (LMS): I provide the same electronic documents online through Blackboard, Canvas, Sakai, or whatever LMS the school uses, that way students have no excuse for not accessing assignments and lecture material.
It’s also a time-saver to submit your students’ grades here with the LMS. I initially used Excel to record grades, but students want immediate access to their grades (and it took quite a bit of time keeping students individually updated) so I made the switch.
#3 Paper copies: I also have paper copies of all the electronic documents split up and stapled together by course unit. I pass out these ‘packets’ for them to borrow during the class period while we discuss each unit, and they have electronic access to all the same material when they go home, or they can print it themselves.
Many colleges are trying to go ‘paperless’ these days, or at least trying to cut down on some of the printing teachers do, so this helps me help them- and I save time not having to visit the campus print shop each week.
Most importantly, I keep every one of the above documents, and anything else I might need for my students, on a personal flash drive/thumb drive (attach it to your keychain, otherwise I promise you will lose it), and I frequently back it up on a hard drive.
I reiterate: back it up on a personal hard drive.
Not backing up all your long hours of work and those changes you just made to those new lecture slides is a soul-crushing mistake you only make once.
#4 Recorded lectures: I’m hearing more and more about the convenience of recording your in-class lectures these days. For online instructors, your students get the opportunity to watch and pause the recorded lecture as needed, which helps if they need to take notes or take a break.
I also like this idea for face-to-face classes.
I know you’ve all had this experience: a student walks in after the missing the class period during which you gave a really important lecture, and asks, “Did I miss anything?”
I know it’s frustrating. Did you miss anything? Really? It’s a tiny bit insulting, but it happens. Giving your students access to your lectures in video format would make them more accountable, and you wouldn’t have to condense your 30 minute lecture for absent students who later expect you to sum it up in a single sentence.
Recording my lectures is one of my goals during the next school year.
From what I’ve heard from other instructors, the best ways to do this is to write a script for the lecture (makes you sound better in the video and is necessary for students with disabilities that may be in your class), use Camtasia (available at Techsmith.com- you can use the 30 day free trial, or ask the secretary of your department if they have a similar program you can use, it’s pretty pricey to buy yourself), and then load your lecture on YouTube publicly.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m kind of excited to experiment with this.
Lastly, keep in mind that everyone learns differently.
#5 Learning Styles: It saves me and my students some time and frustration if I incorporate activities and have them get involved with what we’re learning (hands on/kinesthetic), incorporate lectures and video (auditory and visual), and use lecture slides and handouts that don’t just include text, but sketches and pictures to help understand assignments (visual).
If I cover the basic learning styles, I know everyone’s taken care of.
These are just 5 great ways I’ve found for distributing course material in the classroom. I hope it makes life easier on you and your students! Feel free to email me if you try some of these, I’d love to know what you think- and let me know if something else works for you!
If you’re interesting in reading more about my own personal tips for happiness in life and the college classroom, check in with new posts weekly at happyprofessor.com or take a look at my Kindle ebook, Happy Professor: An Adjunct Instructor’s Guide to Personal, Financial, and Student Success on Amazon.com (if you can find a free copy, go for it).