Yesterday, I was lucky to meet the new Graduate Teaching Assistants for the 2015-2016 school year in the English Department. For many of them, next week will be their first experience at the head of a classroom. Teaching for the very first time can be intimidating. Luckily, advancements in technology can help you make that transition more comfortable for both yourself and the student.
In my presentation yesterday, I talked to our new GTAs about using blackboard in a lecture classroom. It’s easy to forget the online component of your class when you see your students at least once a week. But, if used correctly, Blackboard can help build your relationships with students. Although I covered a variety of information in that presentation, here are some major ways Graduate Teaching Assistants can improve their lecture classes and their experience at WSU by incorporating and using Blackboard:
- Update your grade book, often: Students rely on their grades to help track their progress in a classroom. If they are unaware of where they stand in any class, instructors run the risk of demotivating them. In order to keep your students motivated and confident, it’s important that you frequently update the electronic grade book on Blackboard. That way, when a student stops by your office to chat about their grade, it’s as easy as pulling up Blackboard to give them a good picture of where they stand in the class. While paper grade books are a great, traditional way to record grades, the Blackboard grade book also has the advantage of calculation. Rather than rely on your own math skills to calculate total points or weighted grade point averages, Blackboard can do this for you immediately.
- Provide electronic copies: This probably goes without saying, but GTAs should definitely provide electronic copies of their syllabus and course schedules on their Blackboard pages. Even though it is likely that you will pass out a paper copy on the first day of class, it is probably just as likely that your students will misplace this copy over the course of a four month semester. Rather than carry around stacks of extra syllabi, post an electronic copy to your Blackboard page. If students ever lose track of their syllabus or schedule, you can point them to your Blackboard page.
- Make it personal: Sometimes, it’s important to remind your students that you’re more than just their instructor, you’re also a human being. If students feel that you are approachable and relatable, they might be more likely to ask questions and remain engaged in your course. Adding some personal touches to your Blackboard page can help your students get to know you. In my own courses, I include a “Meet Your Instructor” section on Blackboard where I provide a photo, contact information, and a little bit about my professional and personal life. Through discussion and conversation in the classroom, you get to know your students well. Now, let them get to know you!
- Give students quick access to campus services: Sometimes, students need a little extra help from services provided on campus. Unfortunately, many are afraid to ask about these services, and their needs go unnoticed. By providing your students with information about things like Counseling & Testing and Disability Services, you give them a better shot at success. You don’t need to go into great detail about these services, but a web link or phone number could make all the difference to your students.
- Experiment: Blackboard contains numerous tools that go unexplored by teaching assistants. When I was just starting as a GTA, I continuously used the same tools with little to no effect. As time progressed and I became more comfortable with Blackboard, I continued to discover new ways to personalize my online classroom. Becoming more experienced with the Blackboard LMS will not only improve your teaching: it can unlock other opportunities as well. As online education continues to develop and grow in the United States, more opportunities for online adjuncts and instructors become available. Fluency in the Blackboard LMS can look great on any CV or resume. Don’t limit your career possibilities!
Blackboard, like teaching, can be intimidating, but with practice, both can become something you excel at and really enjoy. Good luck to all of you next Monday. We’re lucky to have you here at Wichita State!