December 11th, 2015

Five New Year’s Resolutions for College Faculty


old-style lecture hall

One of the perks of an academic career is the year-end break in December. It gives us some predictable downtime (or at least a bit of time within our control) when we can reflect on what went well during the past year and how we can “up our game” in the year ahead. In the spirit of the season, here are five resolutions to consider for the new year that should bring you and your students greater satisfaction with teaching and learning.

1. Learn your students’ names early in the course, and call them by name whenever you can. When you address someone by their name, you create an immediate bond that is hard for them to ignore. Faculty who know and use students’ names seem more personable and more approachable. Middendorf and Osborn have some suggested strategies for learning names if that’s not something that comes naturally.

2. Create clear rubrics for all assignments, and share them with students when the assignments are given. Nothing puts a greater strain on faculty-learner relationships than disputes over assignments and grades. An unambiguous rubric that describes desired outcomes and assigns points for each category can avoid many misunderstandings. Learners can use the rubric as a checklist to ensure they have addressed each component of the assignment, and faculty can use it as the scoring guide (“Using Rubrics,” n.d.). If you are lucky enough to have a teaching assistant, rubrics also help improve interrater reliability when you have more than one person grading. As you redesign and improve assignments over the years, be sure to update the rubric to align with these changes.

3. Keep your content current—really current! Think about how much new information you see every week from listservs, professional organizational emails, and new journal articles. Then consider how your students would react to your occasionally sharing something on the very cusp of the topic you are discussing. Sharing a PDF of the most recent writing on a topic can help them feel connected to the larger world of academia—not as an additional assignment, but as a point of interest or even a possible citation for their upcoming work. Consider how showing your engagement with your discipline can help generate this same engagement in students. Excitement is contagious.

4. Create pathways that lead outside the classroom. For a recent lecture on active learning, problem-based learning, and team-based learning, I shared an email with my students from a colleague who recently published an article on the topic. The email was an overview of how she defined and differentiated these three techniques. With her permission, I used the email as the summary slide at the end of the lecture so learners could compare their lecture notes with the expert view. My students were not only impressed that I had a personal connection with the author, but they were also proud of themselves for recognizing some of the same issues she had identified.

It made the scholarly activity come alive when they stopped to consider that real people on other campuses were looking at the same issues as we were in our own classroom.

5. Treat your students as young professionals. Make sure they feel “in the loop” for campus activities where they could benefit. A quick email from you inviting them to a guest lecture (grand rounds as we say in healthcare), sharing a call for proposals for a campus-wide research fair, or providing other notices of campus and regional events helps them feel connected and should encourage the habit of lifelong learning. It’s OK if some of the content is over their heads right now; these events can provide a glimpse of where they are going. I continue to tell my learners that they will graduate, but they will never be “out of school.” There is always something new to learn.

On the other side of campus, in the athletics department, they begin getting ready for the next season the minute the last game is over. For 2016, perhaps we in academia can borrow a page from that playbook and get ourselves ready for our best season ever.

Now it’s your turn. What are your New Year’s Resolutions for the classroom? Please share in the comment box.

Middendorf, Joan, and Elizabeth Osborn. “Learning student names.” National Teaching and Learning Forum. Vol. 28. 2002.

Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence. Using Rubrics.

Karen Hughes Miller is an associate professor of graduate medical education at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.