Struggling With the Semester System

I was teaching class the other day when something struck me – the way we have designed college courses (through a semester approach) limits me. This isn’t a revolutionary thought, I know, and it’s probably not the first time it’s ever crossed my mind. But I was thinking about it in relationship to constructing course projects. It went something like this….

I Have a Great Deal of Voice in Project Design

When I create projects for a class, I have to do so in absence of the actual students. When I’m sitting around thinking about what assignments make sense, I have to do so in the absence of students. For example, in creating the multi-authored class blog project, I had to design it without student input. I do think I did a decent job of designing it, but because I wanted the project to be as authentic as possible it would have been nice to have had student input on it. Initially, I didn’t want just a blog. I thought we should have a FB page, twitter account, and so on – but I scaled it back to just a blog. As an instructor, this makes sense for now. Get the blog started and then add other components in future classes. But what if the students had input on it from the get-go? How might the project had been shaped differently? What are there interests and skills?

feedbackPart of this may just be my own fault and feelings of insecurity.  I feel like I have to have things relatively nailed down in the syllabus on the first day of class. I do change things based on what students say when they show up, but I change them within an existing framework. So while I am incorporating student voice, I am doing so inside my framework.

What Does This Have to Do With the Semester System?

I really can’t expect anything of my students until the first class of the semester. I can ask for input in advanced, but I cannot require or expect it. The semester system sets it up so that the instructor shapes the class the way he/she wants to and students fit into that framework and work within it or around it.  The system is not set up so that I work with my students in ways that align with who they are and where they are headed.

I have been thinking for months about my class blogging project. I’ve had adequate time to consider different ideas and make decisions. I don’t think I can walk in to class on Day 1 and expect students to start having input about something they have not had the chance to give any thought to.

So How Do I Work Around This?

I’m interested to see how the blogging project goes this semester (FYI: We are now live!). Since I am scheduled to teach this same class in the fall, I am looking forward to seeing how to tweak/add to this project for the next class. BUT, I really want to get student input on where the project should go next fall. Obviously one way to do this would be to ask my current students for ideas about how to move the project forward, but the problem with that it is doesn’t tap into the expertise of the incoming students. What I need to do is find a way to connect with future students in ways that allow them to have input on the class and particularly the direction of the class blogging project well before class begins.

In the end, I really struggle with working within the confines of a semester system. It’s very isolated and disconnected. It’s isolated from class to class and, in some way, from teacher to student. Having everything in its own neat little box works well to serve the overall system, but beyond that I’m not sure how well this system functions anymore.