Non-traditional Students

The non-traditional student, often an older student with a career or a family, or both, has become a strong presence on American university campuses over the past thirty years. Non-traditional students must meet the same standards as all students, but, often, because they are only attending part-time, they will take more time to complete their degree requirements.

Unlike the lives of many ‘traditional’ Rutgers students, those of non-traditional students will probably not be centered around the university. Their schoolwork is important to them, but they are equally committed to their jobs and families. This is not to suggest that they are less interested in their education; for the most part, they are dedicated and demanding students, often more actively involved in their education than other students. In many ways, they are closer to graduate students in their dedication and commitment than to most undergraduates.

Many have jobs that have accustomed them to carrying out assignments independently. This experience may make them more demanding as students, less tolerant of wasted class time, poorly-prepared lectures, and careless grading. Changing requirements, policies, or due dates mid-semester, while never a good idea, could cause severe hardships for these students whose time is necessarily carefully budgeted. Always be clear with your classes about requirements, whether work is voluntary or required, extra or no credit.

Your policies on deadlines and attendance may have to be more flexible than is usual. A student may have to travel occasionally for her job. A sick child may prevent another from completing his paper. All the work, of course, must be completed, but deadlines should not be totally inflexible.

Because non-traditional students often have a much wider range of experience than traditional students, classes with these students are often livelier and more challenging to you as a teacher than those with only traditional undergraduates.

Improve your teaching technology skills!

It’s not too late to register for a Teaching with Technology workshop!

Topics include:

  • Copyright Issues
  • Creating PowerPoint Presentations
  • Excel for Grading
  • Lecture Recording & Podcasting
  • Making Conference Posters
  • RefWorks & Flow
  • Using Media with PowerPoint
  • and more!

Attend four sessions and earn a “Teaching with Technology” certificate that you can put on your C.V.

How to Write a Reverse Calendar

One of the biggest challenges facing a graduate student instructor is finding ways to balance your teaching responsibilities, the need to make progress on your dissertation, and the rest of that thing called your life. It is particularly tough because there might not be anyone waiting to hear about your dissertation on any given day, but you will definitely be in front of a classroom once, twice, and even three times each week. Your dissertation committee probably won’t know if you take one night off, but if you walk into a class without anything to say, your students probably will. One way to keep perspective is to write a ‘reverse calender,’ which you check regularly, to see if you are progressing according to your plan for yourself.

The core idea of a reverse calendar is that it can be hard to conceptualize the time and steps between ‘now’ and ‘defend my dissertation in two years.’ We all know that there are many steps involved, but it can be difficult to know intuitively when those steps need to be completed in order to achieve your larger goals. Before you write a reverse calendar, you must first decide on what your goals are and by when you want to achieve them. A simple example of this might be that you wish to graduate in May 2017.

The next step is to identify as many of the different steps this requires as you can (one thing you will likely find is that when you start to break down a project into steps, many smaller steps all of a sudden become clear). Obviously, the steps are going to be different depending upon your research, but here are a few examples of basic research structures and the steps required to complete them. It is important to remember that some steps have time constraints beyond just you (such as, you have to defend by a certain date in order to have a May graduation date). It is also likely that your department has specific timelines that they require as well. So, if for example, you expect to pass with revisions, you need to build 30 days for revisions into your calendar.

So your initial calendar might look something like this:

  • February 15, 2017 — Send final draft to advisor

  • March 1, 2017 — Circulate final draft to committee

  • March 15, 2017 — File diploma application

  • April 1, 2017 — Defend dissertation

  • April 30, 2017 — Submit revisions

  • May 16, 2017 — Graduate!

Once you’ve got the endgame lined up, it then becomes a matter of filling in from where you are at the moment to where you need to be. From this reverse calendar, you now realize that if you want to graduate in May 2017, you need to have a final draft by mid-February! Knowing that it is always hard to get things done at the start of a new semester (in this case, January 2017), it is also a good idea to build in some extra time to get things done. Say that right now, February 2016, you have drafts of 3 out of 6 chapters. That means that you will need to write three more chapters, get feedback from your committee, and do revisions/edits in the next 12 months. Below is an example of what that work plan (for a dissertation where the initial research is completed and writing is a substantial part of the work) might look like:

  • March 31, 2016 — Revise chapter 1

  • April 30, 2016 — Revise chapter 2

  • May 31, 2016 — Complete first draft of chapter 4, revise chapter 3

  • June 30, 2016 — Complete first draft of chapter 5, revise chapter 4

  • July 31, 2016 — Complete first draft of chapter 6, revise chapter 5

  • August 31, 2016 — Complete revised draft of entire dissertation, discuss w/ advisor

  • October 31, 2016 — Send edited chapters 2 & 3 to advisor

  • November 30, 2016 — Send edited chapters 4 & 5 to advisor

  • December 31, 2016 — Send edited drafts of introduction and conclusion (ch. 1 & 6) to advisor

  • January 31, 2017 — Complete revisions from advisor

  • February 15, 2017 — Send final draft to advisor

  • March 1, 2017 — Circulate final draft to committee

  • March 15, 2017 — File diploma application

  • April 1, 2017 — Defend dissertation

  • April 30, 2017 — Submit revisions

  • May 16, 2017 — Graduate!

This might change a thousand times before the actual graduation date—indeed, you might realize that you need to finish your first draft before you revise the earlier chapter, you might realize you need additional interviews, and you will have to spend a month barely writing anything at all! But what a reverse calendar does is it gives you a clear, visual timeline so that you don’t bury your head in your teaching and then look up four months later and realize that you have no idea how you can finish on time. One of the great challenges for many of us is that our work can be so largely self-directed, the key is to make sure you’re the one doing the directing.

Using Article Reviews to Teach Writing in Large Classes

Over at the TAP website, we have many interesting and useful articles. One such example is Using Article Reviews to Teach Writing in Large Classes by Audrey Devine-Eller. A brief excerpt is below.


One of my great dilemmas teaching large classes at Rutgers has been how to get my students writing. I wanted them, especially the first year students in my Introduction to Sociology class, to practice writing and to get engaged with sociology in a deeper way than filling in scantron bubbles. But none of us get paid extra to grade papers, and in fact, my class sizes were already swelling above 100. And it’s not just the crunch of having 100 papers to grade; it’s the crunch of how to grade all 100 in one week.

In this article, I lay out how I negotiated this problem, describing the writing I assigned and how I managed it in class. I drew on other experienced teachers to develop this system, and I hope it can be of use to other teachers to use or modify. After outlining the nuts and bolts of how I managed this in class, I discuss the instructional side.

I decided to use article reviews as the basic writing assignment for several reasons… (read more)

Being Enthusiastic About Your Class

“The Eight-Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged”