Best Practices

How much homework should I assign?

The University attributes credit value to courses based on an estimate of the amount of time it takes the (average) student to master the material of a course, both in the classroom and at study.  A standard 4-unit class in the quarter system requires about 120 hours of student commitment, or 10 hours per week for a 12 week course; or 30 hours per unit.  If delivered in a traditional format, three hours of classroom time per week will be supplemented by another six or seven hours spent at homework and reading (less by students who are fast and somewhat familiar with the material; more by those who are neither).  A useful rule of thumb is to assign two hours of reading and study for every hour of lecture.

Align homework and in-person or online class exercises with the learning outcomes for your course.  For every reading assignment, frame a class activity or discussion related to that reading.  By doing so, the homework will not be seen as outside the scope of the course.  If you can show students the importance of every step through repeating, re-framing, and threading the homework with the classwork, you will have established credibility for the assignments you give.

The arithmetic works the same for online classes where all activities are thoroughly integrated.  Consider 10 hours of study, reading and writing per week, or demand more or less based on the unit valuation of your class and its duration.

How should I pace a three-hour class meeting?

Start on time.  Break up the three-hour session into blocks.  Every 30 minutes or so, the classroom activity should change. Consider that your students are probably best prepared to learn at the start and right after the break.  Try to save your most important learning activities for those times.  Schedule discussions, group work, and practice activities when they may be fatigued – right before the break and near the end of class.

Here is one way to schedule a three-hour class session:

Elapsed Time Sample Activities
0:00 – 0:30 Introduction, ice breaker, overview of session topics, attendance taken, review of past assignments, readings, or topics, discussion of relevant current events
0:30 – 1:00 Presentation of new material or skills, e.g., lecture, class discussion, guest lecture
1:00 – 1:30 Practice with new material or skills, individually or in groups – e.g., vignettes, teach-back, role play – followed by feedback
1:30 – 1:45 Break
1:45 – 2:15 Presentation of new material or skills, e.g., lecture, class discussion, guest lecture
2:15 – 2:45 Practice with new material or skills, individually or in groups – e.g., vignettes, teach-back, role play – followed by feedback
2:45 – 2:50 Review of lesson and overview of assignment

How much material should I try to cover in a class meeting?

Prepare more rather than less.  Experienced instructors suggest you map out two class meetings at a time instead of one. That way, if a class meeting goes faster than you anticipate, you can begin the next meeting’s material.  You might also want to organize your syllabus so that you show a chronological list of the topics to be covered but do not indicate precisely where you will conclude each time.  That way, your students will know the order of presentation but you will have the flexibility to spend more or less time on the individual points, depending on the emphasis you want to give and the students’ abilities to comprehend.

What do you consider effective instructor attributes?

We have in the past prompted students to comment on these characteristics as part of the course/instructor evaluation process:

Effective Instructor Attributes General Suggestions
Planning and Organization Carefully consider your audience and try to prepare for all contingencies.  If teaching online, are you keeping ahead of the curve with respect to the deployment of material?  Are you “present” and checking in regularly?   
Able to cope with multi-level students Use a wide variety of examples, model the behavior you’re teaching, and incorporate collaborative and Active Learning techniques.
Motivating Gradually move from the simple to the complex and provide opportunities for further study.
Enthusiastic about teaching Weave humor and storytelling into case studies and real-life scenarios. Sharing authentic narratives conveys experience, expertise, and provides students with examples of real-world relevance.
Encouraging There are no wrong answers – they’re just thinking differently than you are – so find something to praise.
Responsive Always provide prompt feedback and constantly assess students’ progress. 
Caring Personalize your feedback and make sure it’s meaningful. Spend additional time with the person who is having difficulty with the material. 

How does teaching adults differ from teaching younger learners?

Extension’s students are highly motivated to learn from you and want to receive feedback on their mastery of the course material.  They expect to be able to immediately apply what they learn to their work or personal interests.  Here are some general observations concerning the differences between teaching younger learners and teaching adults:

Younger Learners Adult Learners
Rely on the teacher to take full responsibility for their learning. Are more self-directed and responsible for their learning, so instructors should incorporate their input into the instruction.
Have little experience in the content area. Have accumulated a lot of experience, though differing in quality and range.
Tend to be subject-centered and respond best to an organized and sequential curriculum. Tend to be life-centered, task-centered, or problem-centered, so curriculum should be organized around life situations or themes.
Are motivated to learn by external sources, (e.g., parents, teachers, peers, competition, consequences). May be motivated by job or salary concerns, but more potent are internal motivators, such as self-esteem, recognition, quality of life, confidence.

Adult learners respond well to group discussions where the instructor finds creative ways to introduce material to the group while the group is actively engaged.  We learn by doing.  When physical skills are taught and practice is required, the over-the-shoulder demonstration format is a very effective way to scaffold learning.  The teacher does it, the class does it in small groups, and individuals do it.  If applicable, the show-and-do format (where participants complete a task while the instructor demonstrates it) is most involving.  When formal class instruction is necessary, running a Socratic-type dialogue is more effective than a monologue lecture.

How do I handle requests for off-hour access?

You are welcome to meet with your students either right before class or during the break, but not after evening classes have concluded.  For safety reasons you will want to end your class on time and not linger.  You can also use Canvas to respond to questions between meetings, in which case expectations regarding “office hours” will simply vanish – especially if you login following an announced schedule for just this purpose.

For the online instructor, “office hours” are not an issue.  Instructors teaching online will engage their classes multiple times per week while in session, affording ample opportunity for students to ask questions of you (or their classmates) through Canvas.

What are some assessment methods other than traditional exams, tests and quizzes?

Think of real work that is done in the occupations that your students might want to enter.  Then simulate those kinds of assignments by gradually introducing activities that eventually become the assessments.  Projects, portfolios, proposals, research papers, case studies, vignettes, critiques, role-plays, teach-backs and presentations are all appropriate substitutes for the traditional exam.

How long do I have to grade students after the course ends?

You will receive an email seven days before the end-date of your class informing you that the recording of final grades can begin using the Instructor Portal.  Submit official final grades as soon as you can.  Recall that students are often dependent on having their final grade to qualify for tuition reimbursement.  If submitted more than two weeks after the end date, the submission will be considered late.

Those of you teaching online and hybrid classes may want to offer more substantive feedback using Canvas’s Gradebook where you can post extensive comments.  The Canvas shells remain open for four weeks beyond the end-date of the quarter to allow students access to your comments.  We recommend you post comments in Canvas as you submit grades via the Instructor Portal which is to say, as soon as possible.

What do I do if a student is not on the roster and keeps attending class?

Students may attend the first meeting in courses of six or more sessions without enrolling unless the class has already reached its enrollment limit and has therefore filled, or the Catalog specifically states “No Visitors Allowed.”  Through the Instructor Portal, you have access to a roster showing which students are properly enrolled, waitlisted or withdrawn.  If any student claims to be enrolled but their names do not appear on your roster, suggest they contact the Registration Office at (310) 825-9971 to ensure no errors were made.  Instructors of online classes will only see students affirmatively enrolled in their classes –unauthorized visitors cannot gain online access.

Auditors are not permitted. Students not wishing to take a course for credit may enroll “Not for Credit.”  All students must be enrolled. If by the third class meeting there are still persons attending who are not on your roster, call your program rep for advice on next steps.

Once underway, how do I gauge whether or not I am teaching effectively?

You can devise your own mid-term evaluation form (to be completed anonymously) and distribute it to students halfway through the course. Talk to your program rep or department director about midpoint evaluations as they may have suggestions and can work with you to distribute and collect midpoint evaluations from your students.  The evaluation can be as simple as asking a few questions such as: What would you like to have more of in this class? What would you like to have less of in this class? What do you think is working very well in this class?

If you choose to use an informal mid-term evaluation, take the input seriously.  Then let your students know in general how the group responded and what you are going to do as a result of the input.  Even if you are not going to change something, let them know your reasoning.

How do I draw out quiet students?

Students may not be participating in class for several reasons:  they may be more familiar with a classroom culture in which they listen to lectures, take notes, and perhaps once in a while answer a question that the professor has specifically directed toward them.  Your encouragement of open class participation may be new to them. They may not be confident about their verbal language skills. They may be international students who do not yet understand our social rules or conventions. They may just be shy or introverted individuals who need to be coaxed to participate.

Here are some techniques to consider:

  • Let students work in pairs, then have them present or summarize on behalf of the pair.  This gives them the opportunity to participate with a classmate as well as to present material they’ve prepared in advance with the help of others.
  • Have students work in small groups of three to five. Present them with a group analysis or puzzle, then encourage presentation on behalf of the small group. This way, they can partly rely on the thinking and input of others.
  • Give groups some time to process ideas and responses after asking a question to provide students with adequate space to formulate thoughtful and substantive contributions to the discussion.
  • “Whip around” – fire off questions and ask each student to contribute a short answer.
  • Tell students you expect them to participate voluntarily.  Explain that they can select the topics they wish to comment upon, ask questions, or give answers. This may sound less stressful to them than being called upon.
  • If appropriate, allocate a percentage of the final grade to participation. Be very clear about how you will assess participation.

How do I manage students who “over-participate?”

The most common reported annoyance in the classroom is the student who chronically monopolizes class time.  Such a student almost always wants attention.  If you can find ways to give it, the annoyance will usually subside.

If the student is skilled in the discipline, you might want to acknowledge the extent of their savvy and perhaps ask if they might use their knowledge to benefit the class.  For example, they may be willing to assist some of the other students in paired work, or give a mini-presentation (10 minutes) on a particular aspect of their particular expertise.  If a constructive approach fails, tell them privately how important it is for all students to have an equitable access to classroom time so that all can learn.  Reference the Instructor Contract – Terms and Conditions for more about issues of student conduct.

How do I galvanize my students around a given topic?

Make the subject relevant to their particular lives. Why should they care? What will it do for them? How does the topic affect them? Solicit their input on what the personal connections would be.  Make the subject relevant to the world of today.  Relate the course material to current events.  Refer to articles and have them participate in distributing and discussing them.  Show your passion for the subject matter.

Begin with an ice-breaker to get students to share their experiences or thoughts on the topic.  Then frame the instruction and discussion around what you hear.  Use student experience to unpack and analyze the findings in your field.

I’m teaching online. How many times should I be logging in each week?

Meeting your students’ expectations and covering the learning objectives are the real tests.  If you build the pace of your class around many short challenges and frequent contact of four or even more times per week, then slip to two, you may have difficulty covering the learning objectives and your students might worry about the change of pace.  Also, remember that your students login following their own schedules, and therefore may fall out of rhythm if your contacts are infrequent.  If you have built the pace around deeper, longer exercises requiring fewer touches from you but many by and between students working in groups, progress in the material can be maintained.

Our most experienced instructors report it is the quality of the contact more than its frequency that deserves your attention; and that expectations are best met when defined.  Let your students know what to expect, especially when the material calls for a change of pace.  Let them know when you plan to login to review submissions and be clear about submission deadlines.  Check in with your Program Director about the experience of other instructors in your field to see if he or she can suggest a useful baseline related to your discipline.  Until an effective pattern is established, Instructors should access their online classes daily to ensure that emergent student needs are met and that issues needing particular attention are addressed within 24 hours.  Instructors who will be offline for more than 48 hours at a time need to communicate this to their reps, to OIE, and to their students.

How do I respond to students in my traditional class who don’t want to use Canvas?

UCLA Extension is committed to sustainable and environmentally sound practices, including going paper-free by use of Canvas for the distribution of handouts.  To help make clear our expectations, we place an alert in our catalogs stating that internet access is strongly recommended for the retrieval of course materials in any Extension class.  Even so, we do not currently require internet access by our students as a condition of enrollment, and therefore expect accommodations will be made.

If you intend to distribute handouts online, find out at your first class meeting how many of your students have internet access.  If the number is significant or unanimous, announce your intent to use Canvas for handouts and announcements.  If there are some students who will need some traditional support, make special arrangements for document copies with your program rep.  Your rep will arrange for delivery of hardcopies to you or to your classroom.  (Your rep will require evidence of copyright clearance for handouts you have not authored, and one to two weeks to manage the reproductions.)

And don’t forget the babysitter!

Our students are time-bound, time-sensitive and demanding.  Make sure your classes begin on time and continue for the full period—students will expect you to provide the full measure of teaching-time described in the schedule.   Even on the first night it is important that you come prepared to begin teaching, meet for the full period scheduled, and finish on time.  (Some of your students will have arranged for a babysitter who would like to go home.)

With online classes, it is important to begin with the scheduled opening session, to “be present” throughout the duration of the class, and close it on its finish date.  Keep the pace.  You will not have the option of continuing beyond the finish date if you haven’t covered the material.  And stay close.  If students have an expectation for frequency of login and you’re not meeting it, your students might begin to feel (and report) a sense of abandonment that will be hard for you to shake.