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On Course: A Review of James M. Lang’s Guide for Beginning College Teachers

by Heidi Tworek, Ph.D.

James Lang’s On Course is an accessible and wittily-written guide to all the major aspects of the first semester of teaching. Lang takes readers through their first semester week-by-week, from writing the class syllabus, lecturing, and leading discussions right up to the last days of class and designing and interpreting student evaluations. The major contributions of the book stem from its down-to-earth practical advice and its excellent summaries of existing literature on teaching and learning.

bookThe most important service of Lang’s book is its immense practicality. Rather than simply advising that teachers dress as they feel appropriate on the first day of teaching, he suggests ‘safe’ outfits for men (long pants and collared shirt) and women. Similarly, he advises new lecturers to concentrate on enunciating the final words in their sentences, as we tend to run out of breath toward the end of a sentence, yet often the most important information occurs in those final words. Over and above such straightforward practical tips, Lang encourages reflection on the best means to promote student learning and engagement in the classroom.

Rather than merely advocate group work for its own sake, for instance, Lang grounds his argument in

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