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On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching 1st Edition

29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674047419
ISBN-10: 0674047419
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On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching + What the Best College Teachers Do + Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty
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Editorial Reviews

Review

I wish I'd had this book when I began teaching. Lang's countless practical suggestions could help everyone from the new teaching assistant to the most senior professor. He challenges us to be better, more creative teachers. At the same time, his description of the strains in learning to teach—especially the anguish we can go through when grading—are both funny and comforting. (Paul Umbach, University of Iowa)

James Lang's On Course is a marvelous book, full of wisdom, wide-ranging and well-synthesized research, and honest advice about what to do, what not to do, and how to get yourself out of many a pickle through knowledge, cleverness, and courage—all qualities that are in the book intself. The book clarifies, demystifies, and inspires. (Emily Toth, author of Ms. Mentor's Impecccable Advice)

Briskly moving through the basics, [Lang] tackles the hard questions…with humor and insight… On Course is a vital resource for educators, even those who don't fit the first-year college-teaching market. My copy is dotted with notes about new ideas to try out in my lecture class this fall. Happily though, I took away from Lang's guidebook much more than techniques. (Barbara J. King Bookslut)

If you are looking for a [college teaching] job, get a head start by buying and reading this book. If you already have one, your teaching still stands to gain much from it. (Greg Garrard Times Higher Education Supplement 2008-09-04)

About the Author

James M. Lang is Associate Professor of English at Assumption College and former assistant director of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (May 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674047419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674047419
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a writer, teacher, and lecturer, mostly on the subject of higher education in the United States. Currently I am a Professor of English and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College. I write a monthly column on teaching and learning for The Chronicle of Higher Education, and occasional freelance pieces in other publications. I live in Worcester, MA, with my spouse (also a teacher) and our five children. They keep us pretty busy. You can keep up to date with current writing at my blog at http://www.jamesmlang.com, or via Twitter at @LangOnCourse.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Daniela Newland on September 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Lang's "On Course" was recommended to me by a friend who also teaches at the university level on a one-year contract. To prepare for my first "real" job after grad school, I bought and read a selection of teaching guides, and "On Course" complemented my little library nicely. The first thing that struck me is its humorous, conversational tone (never too casual, though), and I caught myself laughing out loud several times. The humor that springs from this book is born from insight and ample proof that the author still remembers his time in the classroom and is more than acquainted with the challenge of a group of tired undergrads who routinely rely on their instructor to get them through the day.

The title, Lang admits, is really "a conceit," as a true one-to-one application of each chapter to the responding week in the semester might not be practical. I pretty much read it all the way through, likely skimmed some chapters because they did not directly apply to my particular teaching situation, but I've already, as Lang recommends, reread certain passages and will continue to do so.

Everything in here, from teaching tips, what to wear, first-day-of class advice, university politics, the mid-semester doldrums to the recognition that new instructors probably do spend too much time prepping for class is just a bit off the beaten path--colored by very recent classroom experience, it seems. For example, teaching guides typically herald the use of some type of ice breaker. Lang, while recognizing the ice breaker's virtue, realizes that its mere use can clash with an instructor's personality and comments that new undergrads are typically subjected to an overkill of ice breakers anyway.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Lohas addict on June 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had already read 3 books on how to teach college courses, and looked at two others. Now I wish I had started with this. Nothing but very specific, practical advice. I've TA'd several times before, I'd read those other books, and I have my research to do, so I have little patience for books that tell me what I don't need to be told or that wouldn't make much difference anyway. I can say that this book has no wasted space; I was grateful for all of it. No vague generalizations. Every point gets exactly as much space as it needs and no more. No BS, no platitudes, no rehashes of common sense. Just the right amount of allowance for the fact that different teachers will find that different approaches work for them.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jordan Bell on May 12, 2013
Format: Paperback
I'm a PhD student preparing to lecture a course (differential equations) for the first time this summer, after having been a teaching assistant for several years. I will first write about some useful advice I have taken from Lang's book, and then present a weakness of the book.

Writing the syllabus is a concrete way of planning the course. When you plan what you are going to do in the course, you should be thinking about what do you want students to know, not about a list of topics to cover. This shifts the emphasis from disembodied topics to what students will understand. "Put more broadly, when students walk out of the final exam, or hand you that final paper, in what ways will you have changed them?"

In the course description say why the material matters. Why are the students learning this material? Be honest and concrete. Why do you think the material is important? Be more concrete than just "This is something that someone who wants to do this field needs to know"; explain why in this field we need to know it.

When asking students if they have any questions, don't wait two seconds and then return to speaking. Wait ten seconds. This will feel uncomfortable, but if you don't give long pauses students won't have time to put together a question, and also if there is an awkward pause they will want to break it with a question.

Students have much higher retention for material at the start of a lecture. So front load it. Say what you are going to say, and then say it, so at least they remember your summary. The best is to break the lecture into 20 minutes chunks, because that is a period students can remember well. This doesn't mean you need coffee breaks between the pieces, but segment the material this way.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By EMadison__UO on March 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After 30 years of working in the private sector I've decided to do some college level teaching. My choice seems daunting -- as I make it at age 50. I've also applied and have been admitted to grad school on a graduate teaching fellowship.

While I am quite accomplished in my field, my experience leading a classroom is limited.

ON COURSE has inspired me and eased many of my fears. Lang offers countless ideas on how to engage students and support them in learning. I highly recommend this book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Writer Girl on August 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book about teaching college - I felt the information was moderately helpful, but that there was more theory than practical advice. For example, there's lots about his beliefs about education, where I was looking for more of a step by step guide, as the title pretty much implied. I guess there's a need for a comprehensive, practical book on this subject as I couldn't find one.

I did learn some things from this book, most regarding the grading process. Again, too much theory and not enough actionable steps to my liking.
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