Type to search

Call for Submissions: Handouts

Call for Submissions:

Do you use handouts in your courses? If so, what purposes do they accomplish? The provision of essential course information? Additional course information? Do they offer advice, provide instructions, organize course content? Do you see them as another way to connect with students? Are students using the handouts for the purposes they’ve been designed to accomplish?

The recent move to much more online and remote teaching got us thinking about handouts and wondering whether the online environment has changed their role in a course. In pretty much all courses now, they’re posted online rather than passed out in class. But do they function differently and serve different purposes when they’re online? It’s hard to imagine the modality not in some way influencing their role and function whenever they’re used.

The more we thought about these questions, the more we realized that handouts are pretty much a taken-for-granted teaching artifact. A search here and there in the literature revealed almost nothing other than advice on graphic design. Course materials should be visually impressive, but we think handouts do more than provide course eye candy.

So we’d like your thoughts, opinions, insights, and ideas about handouts. There are more questions below to prompt your thinking. We’d also like to assemble a good list of the purposes handouts serve. What objectives do you have for handouts? Why and how are you using them?

We’d love some samples. The ones of most interest are those applicable across disciplines. But don’t rule out something like a study guide, especially if you’ve developed a unique format that could be used with lots of different kinds of content. And don’t be quick to assume there’s nothing special about your handouts. Too often teachers devalue the intellectual work involved in designing these important supplemental materials. Sharing examples developed by others triggers thinking about alternatives and adaptations; it’s part of learning from and with each other.

And of course, we’re interested in innovative handouts—ones that accomplish unusual ends and ones that communicate relevant information to students in unique, interesting, and creative ways.

We’ve called out for your ideas and materials on syllabi and extra credit, and you’ve answered with all sorts of good articles, comments, and samples. Thanks, and thanks in advance for considering this request.

Oh, by the way, maybe we need a new “handle” for handouts? Most of the time now they aren’t handed out. They’re posted online, maybe downloaded and printed, but not physically passed from the teacher to the students. What could or should they be called?

Possible questions for your reflection, contribution, or comment

  • How do you know when you need a handout?
  • What purposes do you use handouts to accomplish? Do those purposes differ when it’s an online, hybrid, or face-to-face course? Could you provide an example?
  • Are handouts more important in online courses? Why or why not?
  • How do you get students to read your handouts?
  • If you had to guess, what do you think students would say about the handouts in your course?
  • What about asking students to identify the of handouts that would support their efforts to learn in the course?
  • Is every handout a stand-alone document or are they somehow related, packaged in ways that make them look like they belong to the same course?
  • Beyond their content, what messages can handouts communicate about the course and its instructor?

Ways to use handouts

Teachers commonly use handouts to

  • provide essential information about the course—for example, the syllabus, assignment descriptions, course calendar safety procedures for lab;
  • connect with students—for example, a “welcome to the course” letter;
  • provide additional information—for example, more assignment details, further explanations of a difficult concept, assignment checklists, reading prompts;
  • offer advice—for example, how to study for exams, what to do if you’re not doing as well in the course;
  • provide additional opportunities to practice with the content—for example, course preparation or review worksheets, problem sets;
  • help organize course content and assignments—for example, skeleton notes outlining lecture content, timelines and deadlines for large course assignments; and
  • identify additional course-related resources—for example, reading lists, websites, and where to get help (writing center, career center).

Be welcome to add to this list if you use a handout to accomplish a different purpose.

Innovative handout ideas

If you use something out of the ordinary—not your typical handout—tell us about it, or better yet, share it. Here’s a recent example of an innovative handout: https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/online-learning/planning-for-success-in-remote-hybrid-and-online-classes-a-handout-for-students.

Please submit material to Maryellen Weimer at grg@psu.edu by Friday, December 11, 2020. (Please respect the deadline. In all likelihood we will be unable to use material submitted after it.) Thanks in advance. We look forward to hearing from you.