Teaching the same (or similar) courses repeatedly has its benefits and burdens. One common perspective is that doing so saves energy for other, more institutionally valued responsibilities such as publishing.
In department lingo, teaching an introductory course multiple times in a single semester is often categorized as teaching one course or having only one prep. The underlying assumption is that you can prepare one lecture and simply repeat it in every class. This is true—but only to a certain degree. In reality, every repetition will be different because the students in the room will be different and the broader social, political, and campus context changes each semester. Below are a few suggestions for refreshing courses you teach multiple times to ensure the best experience possible for both your students and yourself.
Discuss your research in the classroom
Integrate your research projects and pedagogy, whether your research is about teaching or not. Most faculty do not have the opportunity to design seminars based entirely on their research, making these linkages all the more important.
Engaging with materials that I know inside out is my favorite approach for bringing my research into the classroom for two main reasons. First, it offers good practice in discussing said materials with folks who have varying degrees of background knowledge. This is a useful skill to hone not only for the job market but for any cross-disciplinary setting like conference presentations.
Second, bringing my research materials into the classroom creates the conditions for new insights. Every time I re-read Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera alongside students, I learn something new even though I’ve been engaging with the book for fifteen years. In the past, I have also assigned texts pertaining to my work in progress, which can serve as a window into research methods.
Collaborate with students to make changes
Another way you can refresh course content is to collaborate with students to make changes in real time or for a future term.
I invite students to provide anonymous feedback and use that as the basis for tweaking my syllabi. If they offer suggestions for something we’ve already done (for example, a midterm essay), I apply those to future iterations of the course.
In other cases, I revise my syllabus as it unfolds. This suggestion goes hand in hand with my technique of giving over part, half, or all of the syllabus to students. Teaching is a shared practice. Co-creating curriculum with students unsettles what philosopher Paulo Freire calls the “banking concept of education,” whereby a professor narrates or “deposits” predetermined content.
Address current events
Prepare to engage social justice issues no matter what you’re teaching. This is vital in any semester but it is particularly acute right now.
A lot of faculty had originally planned to teach fall 2020 courses on campus but those courses will now be fully or partially online. As you rethink your fall syllabi, I urge you to make space specifically for talking about our contemporary moment. Facilitate a discussion about the Movement for Black Lives, the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they are connected.
Whatever you choose to discuss—or students bring to the table on their own accord—make ample space for it. Dedicate a series of meetings to the topic so that together you can navigate traumatic conversations with care.
Teaching the same (or similar) courses repeatedly may be a personal choice or the result of hierarchical scheduling processes with little consideration for your preference. Refreshing courses through the above-mentioned strategies can allow for increased self-determination while enhancing the nexus between research, teaching, and learning.