Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Assigning loading aka playing tetris

Though next year's courses don't start until the Fall, planning for them has started in earnest. We are currently "loading" courses. The person in charge of "loading" or assigning our courses is the department chair. Here's a description of the process, not necessarily in order, which is much like playing "course tetris".

First they must determine how much each person wants to work. Many in our department work 3/4 time, the minimum required to keep our benefits. I have done this for several years. This year I asked for full time. For us, full time is 24 hours for the year (Many of you just drew in a sharp breath. Yeah, that many). For science profs that teach labs with their courses, that amounts to about 3 full courses per semester. For others, 4 courses.

Second they match who is qualified to teach which course. Some courses, like my specialty course, can only be taught by me. Gen. Ed. courses such as our Biol 101 equivalent can be taught by many of our faculty and are often team taught.

Third, the chair and the registrar work to keep a person's courses from conflicting with each other.

Fourth, team teaching assignments are figured out to avoid direct conflicts and overloading. For example, I am teaching a full course on my own and co-teaching two courses. I will need to coordinate which part of each course I teach during which part of the semester . Ideally, I'll have my portion of one course during the first half of the semester, and my portion of the other course in the last half.

But these assignments have to make sense. For example, my colleague's expertise is molecular. The molecular portion of nearly every general course is in the first half of the semester. Once a colleague and I rearranged the curriculum to match the our expertise according to our half of the course. It was a mess, because we took the text book out of order, AND it was a two semester course, so people transferring in and out from other colleges really missed some large sections.

Fifth, the registrar then arranges the courses to make sure that popular courses don't overlap. Our University is small enough that we don't offer multiple sections of many courses. So if the students who take Organic Chemistry are the same ones that take Physiology, then Organic and Phys can't be offered at the same time.

Sixth, the registrar also takes into account our desired work schedule. I love it when the registrar asks me when I want to work. And usually he can get pretty close. For example, I asked NOT to teach any courses before 9a, because I need to take Boy to kindergarten this year.
Seventh, the registrar schedules the courses in the physical space we have. Courses with 30 students need to go into appropriately sized rooms and classes with 60 students go into our lecture hall. Since there is only one classroom on campus that seats more than 60, none of the big classes can be scheduled simultaneously. If all the instructors that teach big classes insist on teaching them at 10am, then there's a problem. Luckily, our registrar is a deeply kind, sincere, and firm when necessary person, and these conflicts never arise to my knowledge.

This year, we have a special situation; we are having work done on the building. We are
down half of our lab spaces and out of our offices. Some courses that need labs will not have them this year, and we will revert to virtual labs for many things. But taking labs away from a course changes how much loading each course is worth. That puts us back to step 1 and step 2!

How is it done in your experience?

a previous post on loading

image: http://www.edge-online.com/review/tetris-review/

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