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Faculty Development Committee

Lessons Learned

January 2000

Using a Daily Agenda for Course Management and Organization
By John Surdick, Department of Accounting and Information Systems  

One of the key dimensions that students rate highly in evaluating a professor and a course of study is organization. Research studies that have analyzed the responses obtained from course evaluation instruments completed by students have shown that professors who are perceived as being organized have higher student ratings (Feldman, Research in Higher Education). Many other factors also affect student ratings of faculty. However, for purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the one dimension that has been empirically demonstrated to be one of the most important--the professor's course organization.

Note that this article will not be discussing the specific selection and arrangement of course content, since that is unique to each discipline and to each professor. What I will be discussing is a day-to-day organizational tool that should enhance any professor's course management and favorably impact student outcomes. 

From a class management standpoint, I often found myself having to deal with the following issues and questions:

  1. For most of my academic career, I would go to each of my classes with a mental list of what I wanted to cover in lecture that day. Occasionally, I might have a small card on which I would list certain key ideas or topics that needed to be addressed during a particular class session. The card would then disappear shortly thereafter. 
  2. Every semester, students who were periodically absent from one, two, or three class sessions would ask me about what we covered during their absence. While I could often remember most items that were discussed, frequently I was not able to provide a detailed list. 
  3. On other occasions, especially after a quiz or an exam, a student who had not done particularly well would see me and complain that I had not covered a particular assignment during lecture because if I had they would have understood the concept and been more successful on the test. My response usually was that I thought I had addressed the particular topic (during which class session I wasn't sure) and also had the vague recollection that the student was absent from class on that date. 
  4. I distribute numerous handouts during the semester, and students who are absent would want to know what I had distributed during a missed class session. I did not keep a list of the items distributed during the term, and determining what they needed became difficult. 
  5. Certain discussion questions, class illustrations, and assignments that I thought would be effective in covering a course topic sometimes did not accomplish what I had originally intended. I would make little notes in a book or on a random piece of paper to remind myself not to assign or use the item again next semester. Unfortunately, most of the time I could not find these notes again and sometimes assigned the same errant item in a future semester.  
  6. Topics that I intended to cover during a class lecture sometimes were not addressed during the scheduled class session due to a variety of reasons. Naturally, I would make a mental note to cover the topic during the next lecture.  Unfortunately, I would occasionally forget to come back to that topic at the next class meeting. 
  7. I teach many different courses during a semester and the academic year. A few of these are the same course each semester. However, some of the courses I only teach once each year. Preparing for numerous courses that were offered at varying intervals became a major retooling effort each time the course was taught. 

I knew I needed some sort of aid to assist me in addressing the issues and problems discussed above. Approximately six years ago, I began using a course management tool that has been very helpful--a DAILY AGENDA. I prepare a written daily agenda for each course that I am teaching during the semester. Course management has significantly improved since I started doing this. 

If my course meets once per week for two and one-half hours, I end up preparing fourteen or fifteen of these agenda pages during the semester. Likewise, if the course meets twice per week, I accumulate approximately thirty-two agenda pages. I save and file the agenda pages for future reference. As a result, when I am scheduled to teach the same course again next semester or next year, I am able to refer to the previous agenda pages when structuring the course offering. It has definitely helped avoid the problem of
"reinventing the wheel." Reviewing these previous agenda pages gives me an instant replay of what I had done the last time the course was offered.

I use a fixed structural arrangement for each agenda page (see the accompanying illustration). I number each page sequentially, list the course number, and the day and date. Each item is then listed and numbered. I prefer to list administrative items first, such as class announcements and handouts distributed to the class. Then I list the key topics to be covered and any specific cases or exercises that will be used during class to illustrate the concepts. Next I list the assignments for the following one or two class sessions. The last item is a list of absent students from the class.

As each item is covered, I check it off at the end of the class session. If something could not be covered that I had listed, I make a notation that it is to be covered at the next session. For those topics or items that did not accomplish what I had anticipated, I make notations on the agenda not to cover them again or to modify their coverage. I color code various items and subdivide the agenda sheet by colored lines into three sections: 1) administrative, 2) lecture, and 3) assignments/absences. During class, the agenda is easy to refer to. Also, at the beginning of each lecture, I put a very abbreviated version of the agenda on the board. I list the topics and exercises that will be covered during the class session. Feedback from students has been very positive. Students have told me that they really appreciate this courtesy. 

Agenda Illustration

AGENDA L25 ACCT 431 T12-7-99

___1. Announce: Accounting Society meeting -- Thursday @ 6:00 p.m.
Meeting for all co-op students -- CBA 17 @ 3:00 p.m.
___2. Distribute: Excel worksheet template for foreign currency conversion.
Solution to Exercise 11-3.
___3. Lecture Chapter 12: Multinational accounting and financial reporting.
___4. Discuss Case 12-2: Selecting the functional currency.
___5. Discuss Problem 12-10: Using foreign contacts to hedge foreign currency
exposure.
___6. Assignment (R-12-9): Read Chapter 13 (pages 456-478).
___7. Absent: 1.
2.
3
.


Now, when a student asks about what we covered when they were absent or what handouts I distributed, I can readily refer to my agenda sheets to respond to their queries. The listing of absent students directly on the agenda helps me to match them with topics that they missed so that I can more appropriately counsel them on what they need to catch up on. 

As we move to greater use of electronic communication -- web pages or Lotus
LearningSpace -- I plan to post each agenda (minus the list of absent students)
electronically. The students will be able to refer to these if they have questions as to what has been covered or distributed during a particular class session. 

Lesson learned: I cannot imagine teaching a course without using a DAILY AGENDA as a course management tool. I know the students appreciate it and I think that it has impacted positively on student achievement. My course evaluations have been positively affected because the students perceive that I have preplanned what we will be doing during each class meeting. They know that I have organized the class to enhance their achievement. 


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