Novel Ideas [25]: On Course

Posted February 20, 2013 by Tara in Novel Ideas /// 0 Comments

Novel Ideas

This week I’ll be reviewing a professional book I read because it sounded interesting and relevant to my future work teaching college students:

On Course

Title: On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching
Author: James M. Lang
Publisher/Year: Harvard University Press/Caravan, 2008
Length: 7 hrs and 14 mins, 319 pages
Series?: Standalone
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible

No book about teaching is perfect, since everyone teaches a little differently. On Course is a great book for beginning teachers on the ins and outs of college teaching for both graduate students and first-year professors. Using the fifteen week flow of the average semester, Lang guides readers through what to expect in planning, teaching, and evaluating students in college-level work without going crazy. Lang also gives specific advice for strategies to try and reasoning behind different choices to be made (papers or exams?), while also suggesting excellent books and campus resources to consult for more in-depth information.

Though the book is organized by weeks in the semester, it is not intended to be read that way. Lang even explains this in the intro. His intention is for the book to be read 1-3 months before teaching the class, and then consulted as a reference throughout the first semester. I really liked how the week-by-week format keeps each topic focused so new teachers can tackle one task at a time without feeling overwhelmed. I also liked how Lang addresses multiple ways of tackling certain tasks, yet often takes time to explain which option he uses and why.

The audio book format works well for this book, even though it is not read by the author (which disappointed me!). I was able to listen on my commutes to work and while walking through campus. It’s a very easy listen, as Lang never throws too much information out at a time and his tone is almost conversational, like that of an experienced mentor. As a former middle school teacher, this was a great read for me to starting thinking about bridging the gap between K-12 teaching and college teaching.

FINAL GRADE: B+ You’re not going to find everything about college teaching here, but it’s a good start. Lang is likable. The resource lists alone make this a good pick or gift for anyone who ever wants to teach at the college level. You may not find anything mind-blowing or world changing here, but that’s not the point — it’s intended to help and comfort teachers without stressing them out!
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all graduate students (Lang tried to keep things interdisciplinary). Check it out from the library if you want, borrow it, skim it, and feel free to say, “Eh, this isn’t for me, I already know this stuff.” But at least give it a try.

Which resources helped you in your first teaching position? If you’ve never taught, which resources helped you as a student?


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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