On Creating New Classes

When I was hired into this position, my department had few core classes to fill. Instead, there was a need for new elective courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My position includes a 2/2 teaching load. Of the 4 classes I teach in any given year, only one is an established core class. The other three were open for new topics – one at the undergraduate level and two at the graduate level.

The new undergraduate course was offered my first semester here and was also open to graduate students. As it turned out, approximately two-thirds of the students enrolled were masters students while the remaining third were undergrads. Never having taught a class with students at different levels, I overshot by a lot. It was a graduate class, no questions asked. The undergrads actually did quite well but they probably worked disproportionately hard. After finishing that semester and reading my course evaluations, I asked my department chair if the class could be split into specific undergraduate and graduate sections for this fall. There was a concern amongst the faculty that they would need to be two distinctly different classes so that a student could take one as an undergrad and the next as a grad student. As a result, I spent a lot of time ensuring that would be the case.

As much as I’ve struggled in all areas this semester, one thing I am happy with is the progression of the graduate class. We’ve really been able to have some great discussions each week and my students have produced quality work thus far. I’m looking forward to seeing what they turn in for the upcoming assignments.

The undergrad section is not going nearly as well. Almost every session I feel like I’m just stumbling through. This is not what I expected for the second semester teaching this class. I reviewed my notes from last time, have altered the class schedule and readings, spent a lot of time “improving” lectures I didn’t think went well last year…and I just don’t feel much improvement.

Late last week I decided this class just works better at the graduate level.

Unfortunately, fast forward a few months and it looks like the two sections are going back together again. Some staffing changes in the department mean I’ll be teaching that core class twice a year for the next 3 years or so. That means my three “new” classes cuts down to two and we still have needs at both levels. Now, the class I’ve been working on will be cross-listed again and I’ll be creating a new graduate class – in my research area, thank heavens – for the spring. It also means I’m taking the two distinct syllabi I created and working them back together again. Hopefully somewhere in this process I can figure out how to successfully mesh the two and come up with a class that’s appropriate for students at each level.

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