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Optimizing Your Teaching Load

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Classroom Management

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.961.1 - 24.961.16



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Paper Authors


Edward F. Gehringer North Carolina State University

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Dr. Gehringer is an associate professor in the Departments of Computer Science, and Electrical & Computer Engineering. His research interests include computerized assessment systems, and the use of natural-language processing to improve the quality of reviewing. He teaches courses in the area of programming, computer architecture, object-oriented design, and ethics in computing.

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Optimizing Your Teaching LoadIf asked whether it is easier to teach two sections of the same course, or one section oftwo different courses, most new instructors would opt for the single course. And, ifasked whether it is easier to teach a small course or a large course, almost all would optfor the small course. But they would not always be right. This paper explores some ofthe reasons why.Teaching multiple sections of the same course does have certain advantages. There isonly one set of lectures to prepare for. The same homework assignments—and maybethe same exams—can be used for both sections (but be cautious if the exams are not backto back).On the other hand, if you are teaching multiple sections, you may be the only instructorteaching the course. Then you are responsible for all the homework, exams, and labs. Tomake matters worse, multiple-section courses tend to be introductory courses, wherestudents need to be given more complete guidance on how to do the projects, and are lessprepared to deal with ambiguity. Any mis-specification can lead to mass confusion. Ifproblems arise, you cannot rely on a colleague to help fix them. Teaching multiplesections may also increase the interval until you get to teach the same course again. Thenyou are less fresh on the material, and as technology evolves, more about the courseneeds to be changed.If instead you teach a single section of the same course in consecutive semesters, it iseasier to come up to speed. Software, labs, and other issues change less from oneoffering to the next. You can collaborate with other instructors in making up homeworkand labs. We teach students that collaboration produces better products; why not practicewhat we preach?Downsides of teaching the same course semester after semester include more“preparations,” since it is likely that you will be teaching two different courses each term.You have to make up more total assignments, since it is riskier to assign the samehomework or exams in multiple semesters than it is to assign them to multiple sections inthe same semester.Though conventional wisdom holds that small classes are easier than large classes, that’snot necessarily true, especially when the same instructor teaches them repeatedly. Alarge class has more teaching-assistant support. TAs can specialize on particularassignments, equipment, software, etc. The instructor can supervise, rather than handleall the low-level details. Student-generated content also works better in large courses.Assign students to create homework problems, test questions, etc., and the larger theclass, the more usable material you will get.Related topics include the efficiency of teaching piggybacked undergrad/grad courses,on-campus/DE courses, and the ability to cooperate with instructors at other schools. Thefull paper will report on a survey of instructors on several listservs about their experienceand outcomes with different ways of handling all these issues.

Gehringer, E. F. (2014, June), Optimizing Your Teaching Load Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22894

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