Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Course Management

Handle Course Management Issues

Teaching involves not only identifying and addressing pedagogical challenges but management challenges as well. These include working with teaching assistants, handling communications to and from students, organizing and managing student groups, dealing with attendance, recording grades, returning student work, using media technologies, and organizing special events (e.g., field trips, guest speakers). It is not possible here to provide detailed advice and information concerning all these issues, but in general we suggest:

  • planning ahead
  • requesting what you need (e.g., materials, equipment, rooms) well in advance
  • keeping careful records
  • observing FERPA regulations protecting student privacy
  • communicating clearly and often
  • anticipating potential problems

While the information below is far from exhaustive, it includes questions, information, advice and links to resources that can help you manage the practical aspects of your courses more efficiently and effectively.

Managing course information

Blackboard, the university’s course management system, can help you store, organize, and communicate the information for your course. Here are some of the options it provides:

  • course documents link to files and provide information for your course (e.g., syllabi, assignments, handouts, pdfs of assigned readings, photographs, mp3 files)
  • assignments for collecting student work and providing instructor feedback
  • communication tools, including discussion boards, e-mail, announcements, chat rooms and tools for synchronous communication
  • assessment tools for designing and administering exams, quizzes, and surveys
  • gradebook for recording and calculating course grades

Working with TAs

Teaching Assistants (TAs) are a valuable resource and play a crucial role for the faculty they assist. They grade student work, run discussions and review sessions, and sometimes help to design exams and deliver lectures. Moreover, because they have more personalized contact with students in recitations, labs, and office hours, they can provide us with feedback on common student difficulties so we can adjust our teaching appropriately.

These functions require significant coordination so that the instructor and TAs are operating under the same set of assumptions about roles and responsibilities and with the same vision for the course.  This is especially true in large courses with multiple TAs. It is important to communicate with your TAs at the beginning of the course and regularly throughout, so that everybody stays on the same page, and issues can be identified and resolved before they snowball. You should consider and discuss with your TAs the following questions, adapted from the Eberly Center TA Handbook Collected Wisdom.

  • What are the main course goals?
  • What responsibilities will you assign to TAs (e.g., grading and providing feedback, holding office hours, leading recitation sessions, attending lectures, giving guest lectures, attending weekly TA meetings, drafting or revising grading keys, keeping records, proctoring exams, maintaining course websites)?
  • How often will you meet with TAs to discuss the course?
  • How many hours on average should TAs expect to devote to your course? How will that fluctuate over the course of the semester?
  • What are the grading criteria and how do you plan to ensure consistency among TAs?
  • How much authority will TAs have over various issues (e.g., request for regrades, extensions, accepting late work, responding to suspected cheating)?
  • How much flexibility will TAs have in fulfilling their responsibilities?
  • How will you support and evaluate their work (e.g., review of graded papers, classroom visits, videotaping and review, early course evaluations, end-of-course evaluations)?

If you are using Undergraduate TAs (UGTAs) the list of questions above still applies, but you should be alert to additional issues that may arise. According to research conducted by the Eberly Center on UGTAs experiences, two issues that differentially affect UGTAs are:

  • Social concerns ­– navigating the potentially delicate situation of having their friends in the course
  • Time and schedule pressures – managing their time commitments when their UGTA responsibilities peak at the same times as their academic ones do (e.g., midterm and final weeks)

The Eberly Center has produced a series of publications offering guidelines for UGTAs, instructors, and departments who use them. All are available on-line:

Using technology in the classroom

In some classes (e.g., computer science, film-making, engineering, design, architecture), technologies are integral to the material being taught. In others, technologies offer the chance to complement standard lectures or discussions with relevant visual or auditory information: photographs, maps, animations, music, radio broadcasts, etc. Using a variety of media technologies can enhance our teaching and student learning, but only if these technologies advance course goals and are thoughtfully integrated.

When making decisions about technology in your courses, first ask:

What are the learning objectives for this course, and what media (e.g., music? film? historical documents? photographs? podcasts? maps? power point presentation?) can help support or enhance those learning goals?

  • What equipment (DVD player? iPod hookup? slide-projector?) will I need?
  • What is already available in the classroom? As of Fall, 2007 all HUB-administered classrooms had the following technologies in residence: data projector, DVD/CD player, overhead projector or document camera, auxiliary ports for video, audio, and laptop hookups. Auditoriums also have resident computers.
  • Will I need additional equipment and/or support from Media Technologies Services? If so, how far in advance should I request it?
  • Will I need a technology support person to show me how to use any of the equipment? If so, how far in advance must I request help?
  • Where can I obtain materials (e.g., films, videos, slides, audiotapes) and how far in advance should I request them to assure that they are available when I need them?
  • Will I need to reserve a computer cluster? If so, what are my cluster options, and how far in advance must I do this?

To reserve computer clusters, visit: Computing Services.
To find out about equipment installed in classrooms,
visit: MediaTech.
To find and reserve available films, slides, music,
visit: University Libraries.
To find out more about a new technology or if you are unsure of "how to" use an educational technology, contact: OTE for an individualized consultation.
To discuss appropriate ways to use technology for teaching,
contact: Eberly Center.