This section offers background information and tips on the logistics of preparing for your first semester of teaching. We especially highlight the aspects of your course you may want to consider before it begins, and offer suggestions about different preparation strategies. We conclude by identifying places where you might seek additional support.
- Roster and Course Information in CUNYFirst
- Scoping the Course Basics: Who, When, Where, and How Many?
- Course Materials
- Modes of Instruction
- Resources and Support
- And remember . . .
CUNYFirst is the centralized student information and business platform that connects all CUNY campuses. The platform facilitates course registration, grading, and many other instructional functions at CUNY. Important information for instructors that can be found in CUNYFirst includes:
- a list of the classes you’re teaching;
- the number of enrolled students and the cap (maximum of students) for each class;
- your assigned classroom;
- a roster of enrolled students (if you click on the roster [an icon next to the title of the course that looks like a group of three people], you will find some preliminary information about your students, including their major, if declared, and level); and
- the mode of instruction, usually “P” for In-Person (see section below for more information on this).
Throughout the semester, instructors should plan to check CUNYFirst no fewer than three times:
- at the beginning of the semester to find course information (including roster and room number);
- a week or so into the semester to verify student enrollment and to mark students as “attended” so they can receive financial aid; and
- at the end of the semester to enter and post grades.
CUNYFirst can be quite confusing and frustrating, but you can rest assured that nearly everyone on your campus has struggled with it in the past. Your department may be able to supply documentation or directions for completing administrative tasks in CUNYFirst. If you need training on CUNYFirst, reach out to your department’s administrative assistant.
There are a number of factors outside of your control that impact much about the classroom experience for you and your students. Consider these elements as you prepare your course:
The number of students in your class can shape your instructional choices, including the type of activities and assignments you’re including, the ways you use educational technology, and the kinds of classroom management strategies you implement.
Graduate Center students tend to be assigned courses in the 25 student, 50 student, and 75 student range on their teaching campuses. As the course size changes, so does the challenge of building community and implementing active learning strategies.
If you teach in-person or online synchronously, your class meeting days and times can affect the general atmosphere of your class and the energy level of your students. If your class meets early in the morning, just after lunch, or late at night, student energy may be a bit low. If your class meets late morning or afternoon, you may find that your students are full of energy. Evening classes tend to attract older students, who work full-time. Sleepy classes may favor quieter, individual activities, and students may need some extra encouragement to participate in group discussions or more boisterous or unusual activities. By contrast, energetic classes may adapt more willingly to the latter types of activities, but may require some effort to focus in order to productively engage with other types of activities or content.
Similarly, keep in mind when during the week your class meets and how this might affect both your and your students’ capacity to show up, participate, and teach or learn. If, for instance, you find it easier to learn or be productive on a Monday morning than on a Friday afternoon, remember that this might also be the case for your students, and plan to balance work across your meetings accordingly. Adapting your strategies to the rhythms of the semester, which always take a while to settle in, is a prime way to ensure that you are being responsive and intentional in your teaching.
Will your students mostly be first-year students, juniors and seniors, or a mix across all levels? You can find this information on CUNYFirst (discussed above). Consider how this might impact your class. How might a student just beginning college respond differently to your course material, or relate differently to you and their peers, than someone who has been taking courses for several years? How might this shape your objectives for the course, the material you cover, your classroom management strategies, and/or the class’s activities, assignments, and assessments?
First-year students may need more scaffolding for certain assignments or class discussions, while advanced students may thrive with a more hands-off approach. Recent high school graduates, unlike more experienced students, may expect some carry-over from common high school classroom policies (such as asking permission to use the restroom), which may or may not apply in your classroom.
Additionally, keep in mind the different social and emotional needs of students at different stages in college. First-year students, especially in the fall semester, are often in the process of a huge life shift, as they navigate a new social reality and learn new ways to relate to themselves and each other. Seniors may be preparing for another kind of life shift, and may have a different set of social and emotional challenges, such as dealing with burnout or fear of an unknown future. All of these dynamics influence the contexts in which you will teach, and it can be much more productive and rewarding to consider how they might impact student engagement in your course than to tune them out.
Your assigned teaching space will impact your teaching choices: knowing details about your classroom in advance can help you make decisions about how you’ll conduct your class, from whether you’ll be able to easily integrate audiovisual materials to what types of group work are possible. If the classroom to which you’ve been assigned doesn’t fit the needs of your class, you may be able to request a room change. These requests should be made as early as possible, and sometimes take a bit of negotiating. Depending on the campus and department, these questions will likely be handled through the department or require that you contact the Registrar directly. Always start with the department’s program assistant; people in these roles are best positioned to get things done.
If possible, visit your classroom before the start of the semester. CUNY campuses vary drastically in their setup, and just because you know how to get to the campus does not mean you’ll be easily able to find your classroom. Depending on the school’s security measures, you may need a key to access your room and/or a campus ID, and you’ll want to be familiar with those requirements in advance. When you visit your classroom, take note not only of the room’s layout and features, but also of basic facilities and general environment, including temperature, lighting, smell, sounds, and anything else that might affect your and your students’ experiences in the class. Plan accordingly: for example, if your classroom is very hot, consider scheduling a short water break during each meeting. If your class is on an upper floor, assume that students may be delayed by overcrowded elevators, and plan to take attendance later in the session and to avoid covering crucial material at the start of class.
Increasingly, instructors are moving away from using textbooks created and sold to students by publishing companies. They can be very expensive, and may not be tailored effectively to your conception for the course. You might consider using Open Educational Resources (OER), a series of books or articles, or assemble a selection of readings from journals and other sources. You might consider exploring how to post open-access course material to an online platform, such as a blog on the CUNY Academic Commons. Reference this Handbook’s chapters on Educational Technology and Conceptualizing Your Course for more guidance.
Many schools require that you upload your required textbook information to CUNYFirst and/or request that you order your textbook directly through the campus bookstore. The date to order books is very early—often it has passed even before you’ve even been assigned your course. Contact your campus bookstore about timelines if you plan to work with them to order books. Also presume that students will actively pursue the best deals they can find on course texts.
Other questions to consider if you are using a textbook:
- If the department requires a particular textbook, what options do the students have for accessing it? Can they rent it? Are copies placed on reserve at the library? Is a desk copy available for you? If not, can you contact the publisher for one?
- How much does the book cost, and are there cheaper alternatives? For instance, are used copies widely available for purchase online, or could students use a previous edition instead of the most recent one? Is the book available for purchase at locations other than the campus bookstore? It’s a good idea to include ISBNs for all assigned texts on your course syllabus so that students who choose to order the book from an outside source have the correct edition.
If you do not require a textbook for your course, you can have your course listed as a Zero Textbook Cost course in CUNYFirst (ZTC).
Tip: It often takes students some time to get their hands on the required reading. You might think about making the first two weeks of readings available through other avenues. If you are using an online platform like Blackboard or the CUNY Academic Commons, you can upload the materials you want students to access there.
In recent years, there has been growing interest at CUNY in developing classes that primarily use open educational resources (OER) for course content. New York State has made significant investments in OER-based courses since 2018 and with this support, development of OER and ZTC courses has been on the rise throughout CUNY ever since.
Open Educational Resources are freely available, re-mixable, and reusable teaching and learning materials that teachers may choose to use in place of textbooks, which in some fields can cost students significant amounts of money. In addition to reducing cost of attendance for students, OER adoption can also facilitate pedagogical innovation and experimentation, helping faculty to curate a range of materials to meet goals in the specific context of their courses and disciplines.
For beginning instructors, developing an awareness of OER and how they’re deployed can create opportunities not only to respond to the needs of your students, but also potentially to work with others to design teaching and learning resources and influence conversations about pedagogy within your field. OER are now available for courses in a wide range of disciplines. To find OER that might be relevant for your course, check out online repositories such as OERCommons, OpenStax and the CUNY OER Repository, OpenEd CUNY.
To learn more about New York State investment in OER visit: http://open-nys.org/.
To learn more about the Teaching and Learning Center’s work on OER read, “Building Open Infrastructure at CUNY” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY.
You can also reach out to your campus library for more information about what OER are available in your field.
Integrating OER into courses may also create opportunities to use other open digital tools and platforms in your teaching. Many professors at CUNY are moving towards these increasingly open teaching and learning strategies, often called Open Digital Pedagogy. Open Digital Pedagogy refers to a teaching philosophy and set of practices that value active student involvement in knowledge creation and teaching methods that foster experiential learning, critical thinking, and digital literacies.
Open Digital Pedagogy aims to connect the classroom to the outside world by drawing on students’ lived experiences and harnessing free and open digital tools to facilitate collaboration, sustained engagement, and active learning. Open and digital pedagogical practices can help students develop digital literacies they can leverage beyond your course.
Open and digital approaches can be built into every aspect of a course, used for a single assignment, or somewhere in-between. Those new to teaching with open tools might consider starting small, with a single assignment or task, and then add more as they become more comfortable. Instructors at all levels of experience can benefit from integrating open resources and practices, which requires and benefits from the conscious interrogation of pedagogical choices.
Open digital pedagogical practices can include designing a ZTC or OER course, integrating digital tools and assignments into the course, and using an open teaching platform like the CUNY Academic Commons or Manifold.
Mode of instruction refers to the medium in which the course will be taught. CUNY offers various types of courses and uses the following codes to designate how much face-to-face versus online time you can spend with a class. You should be told by your department if you’re teaching an “online” or a “hybrid” course, but just to be sure, you and students can check the mode of instruction codes (see below) in CUNYFirst.
Students can also see the mode of instruction listed in CUNYFirst when they register for the course; however, if you are teaching in any mode other than in-person, you might work with your department course scheduler to attach a “note” to the course explaining the mode of instruction in more detail. You might also email enrolled students 1-2 weeks before the semester to let them know how the mode of instruction will impact how time is spent in the course.
P = In-Person. No course assignments and no required activities delivered online. (Note: this designation does not mean that digital tools won’t be used in the course. You may still integrate educational technology into your face-to-face class.) This is the default mode of instruction when no other information is given to CUNYFirst about the course.
W = Web-Enhanced. No scheduled class meetings are replaced, but some of the course content and assignments, as well as required or optional activities, are online.
In practice, many courses probably fall under this category, but are not always listed this way by the department or the Registrar.
PO = Partially online. Up to 32% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. Between twenty minutes to fifteen hours of required online work per semester could replace time spent in the classroom.
H = Hybrid. Between 33% and 80% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. Between twelve to thirty-seven hours of required online work per semester will replace time spent in the classroom.
O = Online. More than 80% but less than 100% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. Between twenty-eight to forty-six hours per semester will replace time spent in the classroom.
FO = Fully online. 100% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. All of the class work, including exams, is online. Note that a major difference between O and FO is that in an Online class, the final exam can be given in person, but in a Fully Online class, the exam must be given online.
Two other key terms to know are “Synchronous” and “Asynchronous.” Synchronous teaching refers to teaching and learning that occurs in real time. This mode can occur in the same location—a classroom—or digitally, via Zoom or Blackboard. Particular classroom practices work best within a synchronous mode of instruction such as collaborative group discussions, peer to peer interaction and real time feedback.
Asynchronous teaching refers to forms of teaching and learning that do not occur in the same place, or at the same time. Within this mode of instruction, students can engage with class materials at their own pace. Instructors can flexibly use a range of digital tools and assessments, and create videos for their course materials.
Keep the instructional mode in mind when you’re designing your course. Most campuses offer additional support for faculty teaching in modes other than face-to-face. If your department tells you that your course is being offered in one of these modes, ask them about resources for faculty in your position.
For more information on online and hybrid course design, see the chapter on Educational Technology.
As you prepare for your class, it’s helpful to identify early what kinds of resources and support you’ll have outside of the classroom. You can expect the support you get from the department and campus where you are teaching to vary, but you can also tap into a range of formal and informal support networks. Many departments will provide you with answers to the questions below, though you will often need to take the initiative of seeking out this information yourself. Department staff members are usually the best places to start. And while your teaching campus resources may be your initial source of support, the Graduate Center also has resources to support you.
Resources for Graduate Teaching Fellows and adjuncts (part-time faculty) vary greatly across and even within CUNY campuses by departments. Here is a helpful checklist of things to ask about in your new department.
Do I have:
- campus ID?
- Keys to
- my office
- the department
- my classroom
- staff bathrooms
Do I have access to:
- office space? (Keep in mind it’s typical for office and desk space to be shared among faculty)
- a computer?
- a printer?
- a photocopier?
- paper for the printer and copier?
- a mailbox?
- classroom supplies (whiteboard markers, erasers, chalk, pens, notepads, etc.)?
Does my classroom:
- Have moveable seating (can students get into circles, semicircles, etc.)?
- Have a podium and microphone?
- Have its own computer, or do I need to bring a laptop to class?
- Having working speakers, if I want to play recordings?
- Have a chalkboard, a whiteboard, or a smartboard/projector?
Also keep in mind that some departments may not allow for large print jobs to be printed using the departmental printer or copier, and may require those to be sent to a campus print shop. Your department, or Graduate Center peers who teach at your campus, may have other resources to assist you in preparing to teach your course. In particular, you might ask about sample syllabi and previous semesters’ exams; departmentally held instructional materials like videos and visual resources; proctoring support and free blue books for exams; or anything else you imagine might help you plan ahead.
All CUNY campuses offer a range of support for instructors and students. These services may include:
- librarians who can work with your students to shape research projects;
- instructional designers who can support your use of educational technology, including Blackboard and CUNYFirst;
- writing center staff who can help refine your assignments and work with your students on their papers;
- tutorial services focused within specific disciplines;
- offices of accessibility that support students and faculty with disabilities; and
- counseling centers for students experiencing mental health and emotional struggles.
Like most offices at CUNY, however, these units are often overextended and under-resourced, and the earlier you can integrate them into your planning for your semester, the better.
At minimum, you should be aware of what services your campus offers so that you can pass such information to your students via either your syllabus, orally in class, on your course’s website, Blackboard site, or through other means.
For a list of such services by campus, see our TLC Guide to Navigating CUNY.
Whether you have months to prepare your course or you receive your teaching assignment just before the start of the semester, preparation is essential. Thinking through elements like textbook procurement, classroom technology, and class size will help ensure your course runs as smoothly as possible. At the same time, be sure to make use of the many formal and informal support structures available to you. Your Graduate Center colleagues can be a helpful source of information, whether you’re chatting over coffee or exchanging syllabi and assignment ideas. And finally, remember that the Teaching and Learning Center is always here to help, no matter where you are in your course preparation process.