A Practical Introduction to College Teaching

All sections of this handbook, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, are in the public domain and may be used by anyone, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged.

For comments, questions, suggestions for improvements, and so on, please contact Ian Johnston.

[Please note that this is a Work in progress, constantly subject to additions and revisions, especially in response to useful comments from readers]

Table of Contents

Introductory Comments

Section 1: Some Basic Common-Sense Principles

Section 2: Advance Preparation, Organizing a Course, and the Course Outline

Section 3: Assignments and Grades

Section 4: Organizing and Delivering Lectures

Section 5: Some Basic Techniques: Questions and Visual Aids

Section 6: Dealing with Students Inside and Outside the Classroom

Section 7: A Note on Seminars


Introductory Comments

This handbook has been prepared primarily for those who are embarking on college teaching for the first time in a more or less conventional post-secondary academic situation, in which a particular instructor has sole responsibility for three or four undergraduate classes of various sizes in a normal class room.  Hence, there is little attention paid to requirements in situations unique to certain specialized forms of teaching under very different conditions (e.g., ESL classes, special-needs students, machine shops, and so on).  The advice here seeks to encourage the instructor to think in a very practical manner about all aspects of the job, so that his or her teaching can be as effective and problem free as possible.  While these pages are designed to serve new instructors, one hopes that there may be some things here which experienced instructors may also find useful.

The remarks here are also very practical, focusing on specific tasks and problems, without much discussion of higher and wider principles (although these concerns do inform the advice). The main purpose is to encourage readers to reflect on what they are actually doing in the classroom and to think about things they might like to change or experiment with.  Given that many college teachers may well have difficulty evaluating what they are actually doing and generally receive little formal assistance in improving their own instruction, I hope that reading these remarks will help them understand a little better some of the more obvious elements of their daily practice.

Throughout these remarks, I have generally used the term instructor rather than some of the more common alternatives, like teacher or professor, mainly because that is the term with which I am most comfortable.  I am writing very much from my own experience as a college instructor over many years and as a group leader (for a brief period) in workshops set up to help college instructors improve their teaching.  As part of that latter responsibility I developed some years ago a handbook for use at Malaspina University-College and other places.  Much of what is offered here is a revised and expanded version of material which first appeared in that handbook.

As mentioned above, all parts of this handbook are in the public domain, so that those who wish to make use of it for any purpose may help themselves to all or part of it, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged.  I would welcome any suggestions for revisions, corrections, or improvements.

Ian Johnston
Malaspina University-College
Nanaimo, BC


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