Tweaking the Course

The semester has officially begun! This means that my Politics of Reading course is running and, like last year, we will be running our class blog. This time around, blogging is not required. It is one of several options students can choose from, but many did choose to blog. Content starts to go live January 19th and runs through the end of April. I hope you will join us again!

Although my class has only met one time, I’ve already identified some simple, yet important, changes I think I will begin implementing in all my classes (at least undergraduate and masters) from here on out. They are:

  • Make a short series of syllabus videos. This semester, I made a 5:00-ish video for my Politics of Reading class introducing them to my syllabus on wikispaces and showing them how to navigate it. I sent it out nine days in advance of the class. I encouraged them to watch the video and to preview the syllabus before the first day of class. If they had time to process it a bit in advance, they would probably not be so overwhelmed on Day 1.

Well, most people didn’t view the video let alone read the syllabus. Ok. That’s fine. But I have learned that I hate, hate, hate going over the syllabus on the first day of class. Especially because I have gone out of my way to really develop my syllabus so that it contains meaningful content. Read it. Please. In the future, I plan to make a series of short videos that cover the syllabus. This would include the orientation video telling students how to read the syllabus but also individual videos explaining texts and individual assignments. Students can read the syllabus, watch videos. or both.

Then, my next step is to cut off (sort of) an hour from our first meeting. I spent 60 minutes reviewing the syllabus. So, as an example, my Politics of Reading class meets from 11:00-1:45. On the first day of class, I never start off with the syllabus. I always lead with content and end with the syllabus. Content makes up 60-90 minutes. I would do the content part. Let’s say that runs from 11:00-12:30 which is about what happened this year. Take a five minute break. Then, IF you have questions about the syllabus I will be available from 12:30-1:45 to answer them. If you do not have any questions, and you believe you understand everything well enough, then you can leave.

I am not going to walk through the syllabus.

I am not going to dictate the structure of the last half of class.

If everyone leaves, then I guess I get to go home early.

If you didn’t watch the videos or read the syllabus, well, I’m not going to be doing that for you at this time. But you are more than welcome to hang out, ask questions, and listen.

I will also use this time to answer technical questions. For example, blogging requires me to make students authors on the blog. We just do that in class. So any technical things will get worked out. That takes about five minutes.

Basically, what I’ve done here is assigned an hour’s worth of work in advance of class (reading the syllabus), and then offered that time back by ending class early. Even if you have a few questions, you’ll still get most, if not all, of that time back. Seems fair.

  • Collect questions on the wiki. Answer them via video or text. Students have questions. It’s normal. These questions range from content to syllabus. This semester, I have 3-4 students who joined the class after the first day meaning they missed the syllabus explanation (but really, just go read it). This reinforced for me that videos would help.

But, you know what else would help? If I made a page on our wiki where students could go put their questions. It’s not that they can’t ask a question in class – they totally can. But having a space to put them online is a good idea because:

(a) other students can see them and see the response

(b) they might get a response much faster – well, certainly faster than if they waited until the next class session

Although we use twitter, I do not want to encourage students to pose course questions on twitter. If it happens, so be it. But then the responses get lost over time. Having a collected space makes more sense. I’m going to launch that this semester.

I think these refinements will do a lot in terms of efficiency and communication but also in putting the control of learning the syllabus more firmly in the hands of the students.

One Year Ago Today