Time management for professors–wise words from Wheaton’s Alan Jacobs


Wheaton professor and author (e.g. The Narnian) Alan Jacobs’s Tumblr site (ayjay.tumblr.com) is a perennial source of illuminating and useful stuff.

In a recent post about time management for academics (that is, professors), a number of tips about how professors can make best use of their time caught my imagination. In particular, frankly, Jacobs is talking about clearing time for writing–always a pressurized activity in a busy academic activity. But he is doing so in a pedagogically sensitive mode. This is not a man who wishes to sacrifice his students’ experience to his own writerly ambitions. Here are the particular bits that I found most illuminating:

4) Many academics are control freaks, and one of the most common ways that freakery manifests itself is in over-preparation for classes. That’s bad in a couple of ways. First, you spend more time than you can really afford, and second, once you’ve spent all that time you want to make sure that you squeeze it all in to your class time. So you end up talking more than you should, talking too fast, and shutting down potentially interesting conversations because you’re afraid that you won’t be able to cover everything you’ve prepared for. Over-preparation is thus not only time-consuming but has many bad pedagogical side-effects. You’ll do real damage to the classroom environment if you think getting through your outline is more important that allowing the students to pursue an issue that really fascinates them and gets them involved. Invest less time in traditional course prep and more time in thinking about how to manage the time in the classroom that increases student involvement.

5) Many academics, in the humanities anyway, also over-comment on their students’ essays, and end up giving far more feedback than the students can absorb, even when they want to, which is not that often. If you write dozens of marginal comments and a page or more of summary comments, students will rarely be able to differentiate between the major issues and the minor ones. You need to make comments only about major things, and let the little ones go. In that way you’ll give your students feedback that they can actually use.

6) Also: I ask my students to give me, by email, a proposal two weeks before the essay is due. I tell them what I think is good about their idea and what they need to watch out for; more often than not I advise them to take only a part of their topic and focus on that. Then, a week later, I have them send me, again by email, a rough draft. Once more I comment briefly with encouragements, warnings, and indications of where they should invest their major energies. This process would be valuable to them even if I gave no comments at all, because it makes them think about their work well in advance of the due date, which gives them the chance to turn ideas over. By the time they turn in a final version, I don’t have to make many comments at all: those who put in the work will have improved significantly, and the others will already know what their problems are. I spend less time that I would have spent in writing extensive comments; I spread that labor out over a longer period, thus making it feel less onerous; and I get better results.

The whole post may be found here.

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One response to “Time management for professors–wise words from Wheaton’s Alan Jacobs

  1. Pingback: Gryphon Gazette: Student journalists share their final reflections on working … | Better Time Management

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