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The Skills Agenda

Using an after term review to improve teaching

Why a small investment of time now can make future course planning much easier.


Congratulations, academic colleagues: you have made it to the end of another academic term! Classes have concluded, grading is (hopefully) completed, and you can move on to other aspects of your work, like research and writing projects that deserve attention.

But before you put the term fully behind you, I encourage you to consider taking a brief period – say 15-30 minutes for each course you taught last term – to take stock of how things went and to make some notes for the next time you teach the class. I realize this is probably the last thing you want to do right now, but doing an after term review can help you improve your teaching effectiveness and make future course planning easier.

What is an after term review?

An after term review is a self-assessment process I have designed that weaves together elements of reflective teaching practice and the After Action Review technique.

Many readers will be familiar with the idea of reflection as a high-impact teaching practice. As the Brock University Centre for Pedagogical Innovation writes, “Reflection is…an evidence-based, integrative, analytical, capacity-building process that serves to generate, deepen, critique, and document learning.” In addition to using reflection assignments in my own teaching, I have found that structured reflection is a useful tool for personal career development and learning. (Please see my Academia Made Easier blog post, “How to end the semester on a high note (or at least a neutral one)” from April 2021 for details.)

The After Action Review may be a less familiar idea. According to the Harvard Business Review, the U.S. army invented the After Action Review to refine their techniques, and then corporations adapted the idea for business learning. An After Action Review seeks to learn from what worked and what failed. BetterEvaluations recommends that full project teams complete an After Action Review very soon after a project is completed, while memories are still fresh, and that the team identify clear recommendations for the future.

The after term review approach outlined below brings together the self-learning of reflection with the immediacy and action-orientation of the After Action Review.

How do I do an after term review?

For an after term review, you will need a copy of your course syllabus and a way to record your responses (e.g., voice recorder, pen and paper, electronic file). With these items in hand, quickly answer the following questions in the order listed. (Note: These questions are organized around Graham Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle as described by the University of Edinburgh.) But don’t get bogged down by the academic tendency of excessive thoroughness. I suggest setting a timer and going through the sections quickly to get your top-of-mind responses.

1. Syllabus review – suggested time, two to four minutes

2. Feelings – suggested time, two to four minutes

  • How did you feel about the course during the term? At what points do you recall being pleased, overwhelmed, excited, discouraged, content, frustrated, interested, or bored?
  • Now that it is done, what are your dominant emotions about the course overall?

3. Evaluation – suggested time, four to eight minutes

  • What went well with the course for you? For your students?
  • What were the most challenging things about the course for you? For your students?
  • How well did the course schedule work for you? For your students?
  • Was the course workload appropriate for students? For you?

4. Analysis – suggested time, four to eight minutes

  • How could you improve the course learning outcomes?
  • How could you adjust the course learning materials to better align with the learning outcomes and/or address any workload issues?
  • How could you alter the course assignments to better support the learning outcomes and/or address any workload issues?
  • How could you revise the course schedule to address the challenges you and/or your students experienced?

5. Conclusions and Action Plan – suggested time, three to six minutes

  • What about this course are you particularly proud of?
  • What will you retain with your course design the next time you teach this course?
  • What will you change in your course design the next time you teach this course?

That’s it. Review your responses just enough to ensure you will understand them months from now (including your own handwriting). But don’t feel the need to act on anything. This is not the time to redesign the course; only to capture your impressions while they are still fresh.

This small investment of time can save you considerable time in the future. Months from now, your memories of what worked and what fell flat will have faded. Having the after term review information will allow you to focus your next course design on the areas you want to improve and prevent you from tinkering with the parts that worked.

Continuing the #SkillsAgenda conversation

Is your university doing innovative things regarding student skills training and professional development? If so, I would love to hear about it. I also welcome opportunities to speak with universities about skills training. Please connect with me at [email protected], subject line “The Skills Agenda”.

I look forward to hearing from you. Until next time, stay well, my colleagues.

Loleen Berdahl
Loleen Berdahl is an award-winning university instructor, the executive director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (Universities of Saskatchewan and Regina), and professor and former head of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Since 2016, Dr. Berdahl has spoken about student skills training and professional development at conferences and university campuses across Canada. Her research on these topics is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant program. Her next book, For the Public Good: Reimagining Arts Graduate Programs in Canadian Universities, is coauthored with Jonathan Malloy and Lisa Young and will be released by the University of Alberta Press in March 2024.
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  1. Andrea Williams / May 4, 2022 at 17:55

    This is so helpful and inspiring, Loleen, and the perfect time to do it is now as you point out…right after we have finished teaching and the course and it is still fresh in our mind and we have feedback from course evaluations. Thank you fror this framework!

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