Every time I teach, there are elements that I notice that I want to change. I often have a clear idea of what needs to be different (often right as I walk back from finishing class), but I do not always get around to making the change. As CTL Executive Director, and someone who reads and writes about pedagogy (click the image or see the Teaching Professor for some recent work), I often find myself thinking, “Yes, I have to try this or that more in my class.” Then, like an academic version of Groundhog’s Day, the Bill Murray comedy where Bill relives the same day over and over, I forget to make the change and teach the same class all over again. Every new term is like New Year’s day and a New Year is a great time for resolutions. Have you made any teaching resolutions for Winter 2023?
A word of warning. A lot of New Year’s resolutions quickly drop off. If you have problems keeping to your teaching resolutions, here are some ways to make them more likely to happen.
Focus on small changes and make time for it. Let’s start with what you set as your pedagogical resolutions. Part of the reason our resolutions often fail is that we decide on a one-time fix or try to change too many things at once. With teaching, think of one item (e.g., I want to make my syllabus warmer) then carve out the time for change or miss the window to change (for syllabi, before class starts). Then make the change more likely to happen by scheduling time for change. Create time before each new class to make changes. Set aside time during each class where you reflect on what changes are needed. (A good time is after a formative evaluation; see the 2×2FA method.) As much as you want to move on to a break, take time right after a class to list your changes. Here are a great list of resources from the CTL, Academic Technologies, and Ecampus.
Develop a mechanism for change. We have all had classes that did not go well. Maybe we did not cover a topic well, a demonstration failed to demonstrate anything, or we did not anticipate how a difficult a concept would be and so did not have good examples ready. In the moment, it is crystal clear what needs to be different. Make sure you keep a list of what you want to change. I use Post-it notes. Whenever I see something I want to change, I write it on a note and post it on my desk. It stays there until I make the change. I also write short notes for change on my syllabus. Find a way to keep track of what you want to change, and that will be in your face to nudge you to change.
Assess your readiness for change. One of the biggest reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail is that people are not ready for the change. Change is more likely when we make small steps toward change and consider how the changes will lead to better outcomes. The research is clear: change succeeds only when people actively move themselves from contemplating change to action. Know where you are, and actively push yourself forward to the next stage to make change more likely. A model of change for faculty development (Dormant, 2011), urges us to move from awareness (we are passive about potential change with little idea of what to do), to curiosity (we seek information to change and its benefits) to mental tryout (working through the change and its implications) to hands-on tryout (a commitment to implement change) to adoption. The CTL can help. Set up a one-on-one chat.
Change is rarely easy. May these tips start you on your way to ongoing, effective change in class (and perhaps life too). May you have a great 2023 Oregon State!!!
Dormant, D. (2011). The chocolate model of change. Author.
About the author: Regan A. R. Gurung, Ph.D. is Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University and Professor of Psychological Science. This piece is adapted from an upcoming article for The Teaching Professor.