Poll: What’s your preferred teaching arrangement?

Recently, there was a twitter discussion about whether to compress all teaching into one semester. I suspect this discussion is most relevant to folks at research-oriented institutions, since high teaching loads at teaching-oriented institutions often make it impossible to combine all teaching into one semester. Thinking of tenure track faculty at US & Canadian research-oriented institutions, I know several folks who prefer to do all their teaching in one semester. I do all my teaching in one semester right now, but would prefer that it not be arranged that way. So, I’m curious about how much variation there is in preferences, in actual practices, and in reasons for preferences. I could get all fancy and do this as a google form that would allow for cross-tabs, but I’m not sure I’ll have time to do the analyses. So, here’s the quick-and-dirty approach:

First, let’s ask about what you would prefer to do. (We’ll get to what you actually do below.)

Now on to what you actually do.

If you prefer compressing your teaching for research reasons, what is the primary motivator? (Please only answer this if you indicated that you would prefer to compress your teaching and said that was either for research or for research & teaching.)

I know some people prefer to compress teaching because they think it allows for more focus on students during that semester. I haven’t heard other reasons, though, so don’t know that I could come up with a complete poll on it! The same goes for people who prefer *not* to compress their teaching. I have a couple of reasons for why I would prefer not to have my teaching so compressed, but I think it probably makes more sense for me to save those for a comment or a future post. But I would love to hear what people do, what they prefer, and why in the comments! And I’m also really interested in hearing if your preferences have changed over time (and what factors drove those changes).

11 thoughts on “Poll: What’s your preferred teaching arrangement?

  1. I like to have gaps in the teaching semester (currently accomplished by doing much of my teaching in the form of 1-credit intensive modules) because it leaves time for holidays. My institution gives us a very generous 6 weeks of holidays a year, but I find it very difficult to take more than 2 in the summer due to fieldwork.

  2. At Calgary it’s basically never possible for me to fit all my teaching in one semester. But skewing my teaching is possible. This year 3/4 of my teaching will be in one semester.

  3. I chose fit all teaching in one semester for both teaching and research. It just makes it clear and simple what I’m supposed to prioritize at any one time. If its teaching semester (fall for me) then the background things like updating slides, updating homework assignments, and foreground things like responding to students are my top priority. And must do research (basically collaborations) has to fit around it. Conversely in the research semester I know I’m supposed to initiate new projects, write first author papers, etc. It also helps organize my travel (maximum one trip during teaching semester), once a month during research semester.

    I’m sure people will say balancing is good. But I find having a clear sense that students are a priority one semester and my own research is a priority one semester just makes me happier doing both tasks (both of which I love). And I suspect students can tell the difference that they are my unhesitating priority when I’m teaching.

  4. Only 50-something respondents so far, but it looks like a majority would prefer to concentrate their teaching in one semester, mostly for research-related reasons. But only 22% actually are able to concentrate their teaching in one semester (aside: that surprises me, I’d have guessed that hardly anyone is able to concentrate all their teaching in one semester.)

  5. I felt like there were a few things missing in the last poll. I chose “more time for writing”, but what I was looking for was more time for deep thinking – less task switching, more ability to let my brain rumble on in the foreground and background without teaching ideas or logistics getting in the way!

    Also, there was an option about time for field and lab work- what about theoretical and or computational work? I wasn’t sure if the implication was “things that can only be done at a specific time of year” or “things that take awhile” (in which case computational work would fit!).

  6. I’m curious if optimal teaching configuration changes when prepping a new course from scratch vs teaching one you’ve taught before. I prefer the spread out approach normally, but if I’m prepping a new class I like to teach another class at the same time, to force me not to spend my entire time developing course materials for the class I’m prepping. It is so much fun/work prepping a new class that it is easy to get lost in it and not work on other things. Teaching other classes at the same time forces me not to do this.

  7. Would have been interesting to add a question for how many contact hours/week year a person teaches, to see how that relates to responses. As much as I would like to fit all my teaching into a single semester, I usually teach 8 contact hours / week per semester, plus one graduate course each semester (2-weeks, full-day concentrated courses). I feel teaching 16 contact hours per week while still having to manage research, student supervision and service would be too overwhelming.

    • Yes, this would have been interesting, but would have required a google form and me doing all the analyses/cross tabs!

  8. We are actually prohibited to compressing all of our teaching, as our grants buy us out of some of our teaching responsibilities, but the University dislikes that, and dislikes stacking teaching even more. Junior faculty are often given one year they can stack, but not always.

    • I guess I’ve been lucky to be at places that don’t have policies against stacking teaching. I understand that the need to offer courses when logical for the courses (based on outdoors for field courses, sequences of 2-part courses, etc) and to spread out the course offerings.

      But I cannot figure out why those goals have to be applied at the grain size of a professor. It would only be a problem if everybody wanted to stack their teaching in the fall or everybody wanted to stack their teaching in the spring. But I’ve not seen that happen. It seems to me that when stacked teaching works with the course needs (which has to come first), its a cost-free way to make faculty happy.

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