Course Director / Student Relationship

As a Course Director at York University, you may be a full-time faculty member (Contractually Limited Appointment (CLA), tenure track etc.) or a contract faculty member.  Regardless of your role, as defined in STATEMENT OF RESPONSIBILITIES, 1. Teaching in (for full-time faculty) or on p. 21 of (or the updated Unit 2 collective agreement available at: (for contract faculty), your main responsibilities are the same.  Aside from your responsibilities to the University (e.g. following all of the Senate Policies), your primary responsibility is to your students.

The Teaching Commons recommends that you design your course  and recommend to your students that they spend about 100 hours of their time in completing a 3 credit course.  This breaks down to spending approximately 5 hours working outside of class each week.  This is a general recommendation to provide some guidance, but does not supersede any Departmental or Faculty recommendations.  Moreover, certain courses may require more or less of your students’ time depending on the nature of the course.

The main goal in teaching as a Course Director is to ensure that each one of your students learns what is required of them in the course that you are teaching.  Success is measured by how much is learned in your course, rather than by how much you teach.  Therefore, you are not in complete control of all of the variables of student learning and hence success.  Since students are co-producers of learning they can and must take responsibility for their own learning.  So, how can you, as the Course Director, ensure success?


Know your students

By getting to know your students, who they are, why they are taking your class, what they know and how they learn, you can better support their learning and ensure you are all successful.

Who are they?

Did you know that relative to the Ontario average, York students:

  • are diverse;
  • are more likely to live at home with their parents;
  • are more likely to be first-generation PSE participants;
  • are more likely to be enrolled as part time learners;
  • spend more time working for pay;
  • spend less time on campus outside of class hours; and,
  • spend more time commuting to school.

In fact,

  • Our students have citizenship from 178 countries
  • English is not the mother tongue for a third of our students
  • 28.7% of York undergraduates are first-generation PSE participants
  • 45% of our first year students report working off campus an average of 16.2 hours per week and 61% of senior year students report working off campus an average of 18 hours per week
  • 42% of our first year students spend 5 hours or less on campus each week (outside of class)
  • 57% of our students commute a minimum of 41 minutes and 28% of those commute longer than an hour.

The above information was compiled by the Division of Students at York University in 2013-2014 from OIPA and the NSSE results.  Other information can also be found in York’s FactBook.

As a Course Director, it will be even more valuable for you to know who your students are in each of your classes and why they are taking your class.  There are a number of strategies that you can use to learn who your students are and promote interaction and a positive classroom environment.

  • Distribute a questionnaire via email or through Moodle before the first day of class, or on the first day of class.
  • Use Icebreakers to learn your students’ names, help you all get to know one another and create a positive classroom environment conducive to interaction and discussion.

What do they know?

It is important to pre-assess your students’ knowledge.  By asking students what they already know about the particular topic or concept they are meant to learn, you can determine the appropriate level needed for your students to be able to access the lesson.  If the majority of your class already has a firm grasp on the concept, then you can recommend supplementary reading for those that desire or require it and can proceed to more in-depth study and higher level thinking and doing activities.  On the other hand, if the majority of your students do not even know about a key pre-requisite concept necessary for understanding the concept or topic you plan to teach, then you need to adjust your lesson to cover this lower level material, which is now more than review since the majority of your students haven’t yet learned about this pre-requisite material.  Although this may be frustrating for you and require you to adjust your lesson plans, it is necessary because otherwise your students will not have the knowledge and skills needed to learn what you plan to teach them.  Remember your responsibility is to ensure your students learn the material rather than for you to teach it.

Examples of Methods of Pre-assessment:

  • Quiz or Questionnaire
  • Discussion
  • Q&A session
  • Activities (like Icebreakers etc.)

How do they learn?

Students learn in different ways, at different paces, have various needs; essentially, they have different learning preferences.  You are probably all familiar with various learning style questionnaires that tell you whether you are a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner.

Developmental Psychologist, David Kolb (1984), developed a learning styles inventory and identified a complete learning cycle considering how knowledge is both taken in and processed.  The cycle includes four specific ways of learning: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation.  Kolb claims that individuals develop a preference for one way of learning and enter the learning cycle at that point of preference, but for mastery to be achieved, the individual must experience all four ways of learning within the cycle.

Therefore, it is essential that you vary your teaching style to not only accommodate the various learning preferences and needs of each of your students, but also to ensure their successful mastery of the content and skills of your course.  It is also useful to be aware that you yourself have a learning preference and as a teacher you will often prefer to teach in the ways you prefer to learn.

Vary your teaching style

You may have noticed that in this section our focus is on learning as opposed to teaching.  We are facilitating a transition to the learning paradigm from the instruction paradigm (Barr & Tagg, 1995) where the possibilities for instruction are bounded only by the success of student learning.  “The Learning Paradigm does not prohibit lecturing, for example.
Lecturing becomes one of many possible methods, all evaluated on the basis
of their ability to promote appropriate learning.” (Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 15).  Varying your teaching style means that you meet the needs of all of your diverse learners and engage them as well.

Research shows that an information transmission/teacher-focused approach to teaching is strongly associated with a surface approach to learning whereas a conceptual change/student-focused approach to teaching is associated with a deep (non-surface) approach to learning. (Trigwell, Prosser, & Waterhouse, 1999).  That is, students whose teacher focuses on facts and skills, but not the relationship between them, often delivering content in a lecture style without regard for the prior knowledge of their students, report a surface approach to learning.  On the other hand, in classes where the teacher focuses on what the students are doing in order to ensure the students reconstruct their knowledge to change their world view or conception, students report a non-surface approach to learning.  Therefore, to promote deep learning in your students and ultimately be successful as a Course Director, it is important to pre-assess your students, learn who they are and how they learn to then challenge them with a variety of approaches.

We have discussed differing learning preferences of your students and applying multiple teaching styles to meet these needs of your diverse learners, but you may have students with more specific needs.  For example, some of your students may have a disability, which means that they will have unique needs that may require an accommodation and/or additional resources provided by the university.  However, Universal Instructional Design (UID) provides simple strategies you can employ that do not impact the academic integrity of your course, but give your students the same opportunity to learn.  Moreover, many of the strategies directly benefit all of your students!


Svinicki and Dixon (1987) have identified a variety of activities to support and differentiate between each of the learning preferences in Kolb’s learning cycle.

The Teaching Commons provides a wealth of information on a variety of topics related to Teaching Strategies.

Information on Universal Instructional Design (UID) can be found on the Teaching Commons resource page Accommodations and Inclusive Teaching.