There are a number of books on the market today that aim to guide new collegiate instructors on the pathway to success. This review is an attempt to evaluate a guide that is specifically targeted to new adjuncts and graduate students. Erika Falk's 2012 Becoming a New Instructor: A Guide for College Adjuncts and Graduate Students is a solid framework for the novice instructor embarking upon course design and implementation for the first time.
In a succinct and direct style, Erika Falk provides a step-by-step plan for those approaching college teaching for the first time. The author blends personal experience with carefully placed scholarship that underscores her strategies. Like a trusted mentor, Falk provides tips to assist and points out pitfalls to avoid in simple language that comes across to the reader as an easy conversation.
The contributions of the book are divided into two main areas; course preparation and class management. In the first half, novice instructors looking for the details on approaching collegiate teaching discover the amount of planning and preparation required for an effective course. Topics covered include the development of course goals and objectives, the conceptualization of assignments, grading rubrics and syllabus design. Falk highlights an essential of course planning lies in the objective and goals and revisits this concept. Once the heavy lifting of course and assignment design is complete, the author briefly mentions incorporating a course calendar in the syllabus which leads me to my first criticism. As a doctoral student who is in the midst of designing a new course for the fall, I am struggling with how much time to dedicate to topics and how to arrange them for my students. While I recognize this will vary by discipline and course theme, I was personally hoping for some general strategies that Falk utilizes when approaching this portion of course design. Unfortunately they are not forthcoming.
Moving on to the second half, the context shifts to classroom management. Falk suggests approaches to create an engaging classroom from the first session through the last class with specific strategies sandwiched in between. A strong recommendation advocates for a mid-semester check that asks students to provide anonymous instructor feedback on two things the student likes about the class and two things they would change. Often waiting to hear this information through end of course evaluations diminishes the opportunity to develop as an instructor and provide the best learning environment. Grading issues are addressed emphasizing constructive and timely feedback. Falk argues taking the time to design grading rubrics during planning provide the needed fairness and clarity required for addressing this sensitive issues with students.
While a brief chapter, Step Seven, Interacting with Students, provides an important consideration regarding the core value of respect. Falk's experience has taught her that "the single biggest predictor of good course evaluations is how the instructors treat the students" (p. 88). The author couples this important point with the ideal of believing in students, seeing their potential and communicating messages of empowerment to them. She goes on to challenge readers to find the good in each assignment and communicate caring toward students, even those who are struggling.
The final chapter, "Taking Your Class Online," is not a simple add-on as Falk cleverly incorporates online techniques throughout the book via callout boxes translating traditional methods into online suggestions. This emphasizes that preparing a class for traditional instruction or online delivery is quite similar and both take an incredible amount of planning. The incorporation of online learning is an important addition to this text considering the future of higher education and the required skills of instructors today.
Throughout the book, research highlights and reinforces suggestions made; however I must address a limitation. Several of the sources were dated and a cursory review of the literature reveals some new considerations for today's learner (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro & Lovett, 2011). In addition, while a great source for effective college teaching, Falk utilized Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do (2004) as a main reference in many chapters. I do not fault this entirely, as I too have been greatly influenced by Bain, however the use of additional authors who have recently added to scholarship to learner centered approaches in teaching would strengthen the argument of methodologies (Nilson, 2010).
As a student preparing for the prospect of becoming a college instructor, I found this book informative and thoughtful. While there was little covered in great depth, the topics provided a framework to approach the seemingly overwhelming task of course design and implementation. Generally this tightly written guide, with solid examples and templates, provides a point of reference for new instructors of any discipline in a sequential and logical manner.References:
Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., & Lovett, M.C. (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Nilson, L. (2010). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-based Resource for College Instructors. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Robin L. Dankovich, is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Foundations at the University of Texas at El Paso. Email correspondence should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org