Tag Archive | hybrid classes

Thoughts on Teaching – Pre-Semester Preparations – 1/10/2015

Well, here we go.  Another semester is set to start, with just a little over a day left until we get going.  I am teaching six sections this coming semester, three online sections and three hybrid sections.  This last week has been the preparation time to get ready for the semester.  We were worried over the course of this holiday break because we were updating our learning managements system (LMS), and so there were some cautions about doing too much ahead of time in case there were problems.  There turned out not to be any problems, but I scaled back most of my plans for possible changes.  In fact, with my online class, I am simply redoing the course I did last semester, meaning that there were mainly just some changes of dates and a few minor updates.  Otherwise, that course is ready to go.

I have put together a few more changes for my hybrid class.  They have finally gotten my hybrid classes scheduled correctly here, as they are set for meeting only one day a week.  In the past, I have always had them scheduled for two days a week, and then I met for one of those.  Now, I have one class on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, and one on Thursday.  The only negative to that, is that I used to meet for both of the days in the first week, which gave me two days to introduce the class.  Now, I have to get that introduction done in one day.  So, I have developed some introductory materials to show the students how to access my online material and the textbook material.  I used iBooks Author to develop the material, making a .pdf file that is set up like a book and includes both images and links.  I am hoping this provides my students with the information they need in an attractive and accessible format.  If I knew how to attach a .pdf file to this post, I would put an example here, as I am pretty proud of what I did.  It is something new I am trying out, and it worked well.

On that same note, I have put together similar presentations for my hybrid class weekly assignments.  In the past, I had very basic assignments for the students, such as having them watch a documentary, write a response paper, and then discuss it.  Over the years I have been doing this, I have come up repeatedly unsatisfied with my students’ preparation and background knowledge.  So, I have beefed up the activities, providing background information, helpful links, stronger and more involved assignments, and more detailed response papers.  I want the students to be more prepared and to have more engagement with the material.  Again, if I had the ability, I would post one of these up, as I do feel that the iBooks format works pretty well for the material and presentation.  I am not planning on publishing these to the Apple Store, but I do like the ability to create something that looks nice and can be exported in a format that is generic enough for anyone to use.

So, that is what I have been working on.  I have all of the dates in my classes adjusted to the Spring semester.  I have all of the Course Outlines done.  I have the online classrooms ready to go.  The first five weeks of the online course are visible and ready when students get in on Monday.  I have the first three weeks of the hybrid course ready to go, and I hope to get the fourth work done tomorrow and have that be my preparation point to get the students in on Monday.

How about you?  Are you teaching a class this semester?  Are you taking a class?  How ready are you for the semester?

Thoughts on Teaching – First Week of Classes – 8/30/2014

Well, the first week of classes is drawing to a close.  I went from not at all ready as of the middle of last week to making it through the first week with minimal problems.  I can’t really complain about that, as I know many people have many more problems come up in the first week of classes.  

I found out about midway through last week that I, once again, have a double overload this semester, with 7 class sections on my schedule.  I did not ask for the seventh, and I had specifically said that I did not want a 7th class.  But here I am, teaching this semester with 2 hybrid sections and 5 online sections, and there’s not much I can do about it at this point.  Luckily, I only have two actual preps, as I am just teaching sections of each of the halves of the American history survey.  

It has been a bit of a rocky start so far in what should be my least problematic sections, the online ones.  I had recycled the class from last year, and I neglected to remove one link that had the students going to the textbook website.  I did not realize this until the second day of classes, meaning that I have a bunch of students who initially got into the wrong section (the one from Fall 2013).  So, I have had to deal with the issues of getting everyone to the correct place, which takes time and patience. It would be easier if students actually read the announcements that I posted rather than me having to deal with each of them separately, but, considering this was the most problematic thing I had to do in the first week, I really can’t complain too much.

I’ve got the online courses fully ready to go for the semester, with just having to open up each thing as it needs to open.  Of course, I also have to grade the things as they come in, and, since I am a grading masochist, that is three papers and three essay exams from each student this semester in my online sections.  The hybrid classes are planned out for the first 5 weeks.  I set up the class last fall, and I am doing things a bit differently this semester, which is why I can’t just run things as they are.  I have actually added more class meetings where I will be having activities for the students to do.  That means that I am actually doing some real creation of materials and assignments.  Thus, in the time that I was working to get ready for the semester, I had time to get the first five weeks ready.  So, over the next four weeks, I will be preparing the rest of the material for the later ten weeks.

So, this semester, I am teaching 195 students.  Of those, about 45 are high school students.  We are teaching a lot of high school students in dual credit sections, and almost all of mine are in my online sections.  There are 4-5 in my hybrid sections, but the 9:30 in the morning start makes it hard for many more high school students to make those classes.  

Thoughts on Teaching – A New Semester and a New Beginning – 1/31/14

It seems like I am always starting blog posts off with an apology for not having written in a while.  Since the birth of our daughter 15 months ago, spare time has been harder and harder to come by.  However, she is settling down into a good routine, so I hope to do better this semester.  I had hoped, after the post in November to be back on track, but shortly after that, we had a major family health issue come up that pushed out non-essential items.  Now I think things have settled down, and I hope to be going again with my blog.

So, here we are, with a new semester (three weeks in but, hey, what can you do about that).  I have, yet again, been given a double overload in classes, meaning that I am teaching 7 classes this semester for the second semester in a row.  I have 4 online sections and 3 hybrid sections.  My online sections are running as they always do.  I am in roughly the 5th year of my current configuration of my online class, as so they can largely run without much effort on my part.  That is one of the truths about online classes, that they are very involved and difficult to get going, but they can run pretty easily once you get them done.  However, if you have followed my blog so far, you will see that I am rarely satisfied with how my classes are going.  My online class is far overdue for a reworking, and I hope to start thinking about it this summer.  I have made some changes over the last 5 years on the margins, moving assignments around and changing a few things here and there.  However, I think it’s about time for an overhaul soon.  And, the model that I will use for my overhaul are my hybrid classes.

I have started getting my hybrid class really going in the direction that I like.  I am in the second year of working with this new hybrid format, and I am adjusting and working with the class as it moves forward.  Following what I worked with last, this semester, I have moved into a model of weekly work and a long paper at the end.  There are no exams, although I do have some chapter quizzing going on.  The big part of the grade (about 45% overall) is discussion based, both online and in-class.  Then, to keep the students on track, I have weekly, one-page response papers.  I have returned to this model from what I did the first year, because I tried not having response papers last semester, and I found that students did not do the work if I did not hold them directly responsible.  So, I am hoping that this semester they will do more of the work I expect them to do outside of class.  I don’t have any great desire to grade weekly papers, but I want my students doing the work, and their grades will improve (hopefully).

As I have this hybrid model settled in well, I think I can use a lot of the ideas from this format in my online course.  I would like to move beyond the exam model and include a lot more activities and discussions.  Right now, the online class is primarily made up of reading lectures and the textbook and taking quizzes and exams.  That is exactly the format that I have moved away from in my hybrid class, and I would like to move the online class beyond it as well.  I hope that I get it together relatively soon.

Anyway, that’s a good start for the semester.  Wish me luck.

Thoughts on Teaching – A Depressing Class – 9/19/2013

I know I missed last week, so I will try to double up this week on posts.  This first one concerns last week’s class, which was quite depressing.  That is one reason that I did not have the motivation or energy to write about it last week.  Yet, I want to make sure to write about my class weekly, and so, I am not going to leave last week out.  I just needed some cool down time before I set anything down on “paper.”

So, here’s what happened:

For my hybrid class, I have the last assignments close on Sunday night at midnight.  That means that I spend Monday going through and entering grades from the previous week.  So, we were essentially heading into Week 3 of my class at that point, and I had a chance to see, before I met them that week, how the previous assignments had gone.  In addition to the normal weekly assignments, however, I also had a set of assignments that I call the Initial Assignments and Orientations, which is a basic set of things like reading the syllabus, signing up for the textbook site, taking a few introductory surveys, and the like.  To get credit, you simply have to complete these things, at which point I will give you a 100.  If you do not do them, you get a 0.  It counts for 5% of the overall grade.  Largely, I see it as an assignment to get the students going and get them comfortable in the classroom.  So, I was entering both the grades for that assignment and for the weekly assignments due just before.  What I found was a completely dismal set of grades.  This has nothing to do with my online class but is unique to my hybrid class this semester.  When the only grade on the orientation assignment is either a 100 or 0, then a class average of 50 means that only half of the people did the assignment.  And, I had between a 45 and 55 average with the hybrid sections, meaning that roughly half of the class did not do them.  The assignment had been open for the first 12 days of the semester, and only half of the students had bothered to complete it.  Then, as I was entering the weekly grades, I noted that not only had a significant minority not done the chapter assignments they had in the textbook website, but that about a quarter of my students had not even signed up yet, even though we were already two chapters into the assignments at that point.

That made me rather depressed right there.  The assignments that I have set out as graded assignments, and, not to mention, the first graded assignments of the semester, are not being completed by my students.  Then, I took a dangerous turn for the worst.  I had set up the students for the coming week to do three things — to access my online lectures, complete two chapters in the textbook, and view some video lectures on an external site.  What the students don’t know is that I can directly track who does what in my LMS (Learning Management System), as the LMS allows me to see how many “clicks” there have been on each thing that I have given the students to do.  That is always a depressing thing to look at, because it puts directly in your face as a teacher how few students are bothering to access the material you are requiring them to do.  What I found confirmed my suspicions, as a dismally small number of students had accessed anything at all in preparation for that week’s activities.  They had not read my online lectures.  They had not completed the textbook material.  They had not looked at the external link to the video lectures.  When I say they had not, I mean that the number of clicks in the classroom equalled about 1/4 of the students in the class.  That is even optimistic, as it assumes that each click is a distinct student, which is not necessarily true.

The problem with this is probably obvious.  I assigned something, and the students did not do it.  Beyond that, however, I am currently employing the flipped model of classroom, which means that the students access the central “lecture” material for the course outside of the classroom, and then we apply the material in classroom activities.  So, if the students are not prepared, we cannot work.

So, all of that is depressing enough, but what made it a depressing class is that I then had to address this in class.  I have to have a talk with students every semester that I teach.  It is the nature, especially, of a community college that the students are not ready for college.  They do not know what it means to be in college, and most approach it as just an extension of high school.  We have a large DFW rate each semester (a D (which does not transfer), and F, or a withdrawal.  It usually runs between 40-50% of students in the freshman core classes, like mine.  We have done everything we can to try and fix this, and one of the things I have to do is have that heart-to-heart talk every semester about what they are doing here in college.  I ask them directly to think about why they are there.  I ask them to consider what is making them come to college and whether they are putting out the effort necessary to succeed.  I also talk about what it means to be successful in college.  And, honestly, I ask them to consider if this is something they value at all.  I point out that nobody is making them show up to class, do the work, and so forth.  I can do everything on my end to try and get them to succeed, but if they can’t meet me at least halfway, then it will be a failure.  This is not high school, and nobody is going to get a C for showing up.  I can and will fail them, which is something that most have not heard before.  I ask them to consider what it is they are wasting by being in college and wasting the opportunity they have — whether its money, their time, my time, another student’s chance to be in the class, or whatever.  I am blunt.  I am direct.  And, I am not particularly nice about it.  I don’t like doing this, which makes for a depressing week, as I then had to do the same thing in all of the other classes that week, which meant that day-by-day I had to drag myself to class to deliver one depressing talk after another.  And, sadly, I don’t know if it does any good.  I can’t know, really, and that is also depressing.

A week of depressing talk later, and I, as you can probably imagine, really didn’t have much interest in blogging about it.  Now, I am a couple of days out of it, and things are a bit further in my mind, leaving me able to talk about it without getting all worked up again.

And, in case you were wondering, after having that talk, no, the rest of the class that day did not go particularly well either.

Thoughts on Teaching – The First Week – 8/30/2013

We are just finishing up the first week of classes.  It is my eighth first week of classes since I got my first full-time teaching job, and it is certainly starting to feel relatively normal at this point.  I was fairly prepared this semester going into my classes, which did help.  My online class is pretty much set in place at this point until I am ready to do a major overhaul.  So, it is largely a matter of updating the dates and links, and then that class is ready to go.  The hybrid class was a bit more work, as I really did want to make some overhauls from what I did last year.  However, my best-laid plans from the summer of spending a lot of time recreating the course did not pan out.  As is true most academic years, I do my primary prep in the week before the semester starts, and so I get a limited amount of work done.

I did have one big change come my way in the week or so before classes started.  Late in the week before our in-service week, I was asked (with refusal not really being an option) to take on another course.  Our normal course load at my community college is 5 classes a semester.  I normally have an overload, so I generally teach 6.  As I was given this extra course, I am now teaching 7 classes this semester. 5 covered by my normal pay and 2 more at adjunct pay ($1800/course).  So, my semester is now set at the highest number of students I have ever taught in one semester (around 230).  There are two good things about this.  First, I was given another online course section, so largely I just have to integrate in 30 more students to my existing course.  There is not an extra course prep, just more students to respond to and grade.  Second, I was given this extra section with enough time to be able to compensate for it in my assigned work load.  I reduced the number of assignments in my online class and changed up some of the ideas that I had for my hybrid class in order to make up for the extra grading I knew I was going to have to do.

Now, we have reached the Friday of the first week of classes.  I have met each of my hybrid classes twice, and they have now been divided up into the sections that meet once a week.  I have fully introduced the course to them, and I have them set to be ready to start real class work next week.  My online class is in its fifth day at this point, and, while there have been some questions and issues, I would say that this is one of the smoothest starts to the semester that I have had.  In fact, things are really going so smoothly so far, that I am really waiting to see when the wheels are going to come off and the fist major crisis is going to begin.

For now, however, I think that the first week has been a success.  I’ll write more specifics about the classes I’m teaching in the next couple of days, so I will get more into the nuts and bolts of the particular classes and talk about what I am doing, what I plan to do, and how things are going.

Thoughts on Education – Teaching Mistakes I – 8/1/2013

I came across an article recently that had me reading a long list.  I’m not crazy about lists, but when I use them, I try to keep them short (under 5-6).  I also write a lot in general, so a long list format doesn’t work great for me because I tend to make each item way too long.  But this one was interesting to me, and should be interesting to anyone who teaches or takes classes.  The article is The 67 Worst Teaching Mistakes.  What was interesting to me was that the list was not produced by some editor at an online publication somewhere, as those types of lists tend to be so vague and general as to be completely useless.  Instead, this list came from user submitted mistakes, all submitted by current educators with both their names and institutions included in the list.  This makes it inherently more interesting and worth looking at.  Here are some of the highlights that I agree with:

3.  Always standing behind the lectern – This is something I have come more and more to do as I move forward with my teaching.  In fact, I believe teaching from any single spot is a drawback, as it easily lulls the students into a torpor upon looking at the same spot for 75 minutes.  I may walk around excessively, but it is better than standing still the whole time.

7.  Talking too much or doing too much – I fail at this every day I teach.  I am a talker by nature, and I have a hard time controlling myself in a classroom setting.  I know I say too much, and I know I don’t leave enough time for the students to speak.

26. Telling students they must read the textbook or other materials and then not following up on that requirement – I have been working on this one, but it is something I do not do well.  I don’t like having my students read a textbook, but it is something that is a requirement in my department, and so I have to.  My feelings on textbooks in general are mixed, as I don’t find them to be very useful, and I think students rarely get much out of reading them.  At the same time, however, I can’t assume that my students have a strong level of knowledge on my subject prior to my classes, so there has to be something there to give them the basics.  As well, since I do a hybrid, flipped classroom, they have to get this information from outside of class in some way, and the textbook is the least objectionable form for it.  Because of all of this, I am not good at integrating the actual material into my course.  There are chapter quizzes, but they are separate from anything else in my class, making them disconnected.  This was the biggest negative comment about my class from last semester, and I am working on ways to improve the integration of the required readings into my course.

30. Testing for knowledge and understanding of course content through multiple-choice tests and exams only – This is what inspired me to move to a hybrid, flipped model of teaching, as I strongly believe that rote memorization is an abject failure of teaching in the history classroom.

65. Believing that you are the answer person for the students, that you should never admit that you don’t know something, because students might lose respect for you as the professor – Although this one is directly contradicted by some of the other mistakes here, I do believe this one is spot on.  I teach my class in a way that has the students question everything, and I could not do that and then set myself up as infallible.  I admit when I don’t know the answer, and I usually hedge a lot of my answers with something like “My understanding is . . .” or “This is how it is currently understood . . .”  The key is that history is changing, and there are many topics that we don’t know the answer to.  If you present history as a completed subject, then you are just asking the students to memorize the accepted answers.  I want my students to think, and the course is centered around that.  I want them to question what they know, what they are told, and what the “truth” is, and I would be failing them if I presented myself as the ultimate source on everything.

Those are the ones that stuck out to me as ones that I have tried to work on or agree with very strongly.  That’s not to say that others aren’t relevant as well, but I don’t want to just sit here and comment on all of them.  As this post is already of a pretty decent length, I’m going to make this one part 1.  In my next post, I’ll go through the same list and talk about the ones I disagree with.  So, keep an eye out here for part 2.

Thoughts on Teaching – 3/26/2012 – Second big activity

I had my second big test toward flipping my classroom today.  For those of you who have not been following, I am in the process of experimenting with reducing the lecture component of the classroom and turning my class into a hybrid class where the primary activity in class will be student-centered activities.  I’ve been taking the first steps toward that by designing two new activities this semester that plug into the regular face-to-face class.

Today’s activity built off of a set of videos on FDR that I had the students watch before class.  This one was set up similarly to the Triangle Fire activity that I discussed in an earlier post.  In this case, the students had to watch eight 2-3 minute videos highlighting different aspects of FDR’s life and politics.  The other option was to have them watch the entire documentary available on him, but that was 4 hours long, and I decided not to push my luck there.  They also had a few supplementary readings on FDR to enhance what I had talked about in class and what was available in the textbook.

I also filled in the students on why I was doing all of this, meaning I basically told them what I just wrote here.  As well, I talked about why I chose to concentrate in on FDR for a full day.  I talked about how influential he was, how he was elected an unprecedented 4 terms, and how he makes up a significant portion of the total time covered in the second half of an American history course.  I have been trying to do this more, talk about why we are studying specific things and what my goals are.  I have no idea if the students appreciate it or not, but it is important to me.

What I did not do, and I am disappointed in myself for this, was do much more than have them look at the material and then have a discussion about it.  Yes, that’s fine, but that’s about where it stops.  The discussion went well in the two classes that I had today, with the first one going very well and the second one being pretty good.  I have one more tomorrow.  I was just hoping to do more than just a discussion.  I just feel that a discussion is just the default alternative to the lecture format.  I know that it does invite more participation from the students, but it is still something largely led by me.  It also lets a large number of students off the hook, as I do refuse to do the whole calling-on-people thing.

As I said, though, it feels lazy to just do a discussion.  I wanted to do more, but I couldn’t really find the right themes in the videos to hold a debate or group work.  I guess it’s also still something that is out of my comfort zone.  I will have to get over that and get more adventurous in the future.  I have also been distracted by our house hunt, which took up much of the weekend, so I did not get to prep as much as I would have liked to.  Hopefully with a full semester of projects like this, I will be able to devote more time and be forced to be more creative, as a whole semester worth of discussions would just get boring after a while.

Anyway, I think it did go well, but I would have liked to do more.  That’s the short version (the tl;dr version).

Thoughts on Teaching – 2/20/2012 – A slow day

Today was an uninspiring teaching day.  I have reworked lectures at various times over the years, and much of that has been to shorten earlier in the semester lectures so that I can make it further into the time period that I’m covering.  Today was one of those lectures where I made cuts that disconnected the material from its real point.  So, I struggled through the first delivery to connect everything together and show the students why this was not just a collection of random material but instead was connected and relevant.  It worked better by the second class, but both classes were also depressing for another reason.  The big problem is that I felt the students were more disconnected than usual today.  The drops are starting, so some students are getting out of the class now, but I really have a large number of people simply not showing up.  And, of those who do show up, it’s hard to peg very many of them as actually paying all that much attention.  Again, it certainly wasn’t my best material at all, but it just reinforces for me the problem with a lecture.  When my lecture is going really well, I might have 50-60% student engagement.  Today, it felt like 20-30%, which is just depressing overall.  In my second class, which is a two-way video class, the high school I was connecting to was not in session, and a lot of people were missing in front of me, so I ended up lecturing to nine people.  Twenty-six out of forty in the first class was already low for this time of year, but nine is really depressing.  And then to see them mostly disconnected is even worse, as there’s no hiding the fact that you’re not connecting on the material with that few students in the room.

I have been saying for a while that my lectures need to be revised soon, and this lecture was one that needs to be worked with desperately.  It might work better as one that is not delivered but that is, instead, seen by the students not as an individual lecture but as a narrative supplement that I have available to enhance the hybrid class going on in the classroom.  I guess that’s going to be the question when I do redo the class, whether it’s a full flip or not, which is do I present the lectures at that point in episodic form, like they are now, where there are distinct lectures, or do I format my own material like a book, putting it together in a narrative that the students can engage with like they would the textbook.  They can read it in pieces or all at once.  I’m thinking of an integrated lecture, with my PowerPoint images combined with the text from the lectures that can be read more like a book.  I don’t know, just brainstorming here.  I started that a while ago and made it through the first two lectures, coding them in Dreamweaver to bring together a web lecture.  Nothing fancy except for integration of the images with text.  Still, it would give the students something to read more interesting than just a Word document with an accompanying Power Point.  And, this would give a good opportunity to rework the lectures, especially if I am to move beyond the delivery of the lectures and think about them more as a way to deliver my ideas to the student.  I can imagine that the lectures would be different if they were aimed at being read rather than delivered.  I don’t know.  This will be something to think about as I move forward.

I guess all of us who teach have these days, but it was definitely less than inspiring.  Beyond that, it was mostly small stuff at work, writing a recommendation letter and weighing in on the choosing of a new textbook for the class.  I wish I could say there was more, but that’s about it.  I have grading to do, but I did not get any done today, because that filled up my day, and by the time I got home, it was time to pick up the kids.  Then, it was chores, homework time with the kids, and dinner.  Now, all of the sudden, it’s 10pm.  So, I shall sign off for the evening and hope for a more inspiring day tomorrow.

Thoughts on Teaching – 2/19/2012 – First major assignments due

It’s the joy that anybody who is a teacher knows — the joy of the first major assignment coming due.  It’s the point where students who have skated by not doing much are going to have to put up or shut up.  And for me, that point has been reached.  In my hybrid classes, their assignments are scattered and due over about a 2 week period, so it’s not quite as bad with them, but with the online classes, they are turning in their first big one tonight.  And, since I’m in online office hours tonight, I am here and witnessing it blow by blow.  What that has meant is that I have been hearing and seeing all of the excuses roll by as to why something is not working or why things will not be turned in on time.  Actually, I haven’t seen that many of those yet, but it’s almost 8pm now, and the assignment closes at midnight.  So, as it gets closer and closer, the fear-induced excuses will grow.  On the positive side, I have seen a lot of drafts so far, which is very good.  Drafting means higher levels of organization and preparedness and generally leads to better grades overall.  Of course, even then, the assignment has been open for 5 weeks, and I am seeing even drafts only in the last couple of days.  I know it’s a joke to say an assignment is open for 5 weeks, as very, very few students will do any work on something more than a week before it is due.  Most will do it a day or two before, so a good number are working furiously to finish it right now.

I’ve also thrown in a different wrench this time to their plans (lovely mixed metaphor there).  They get all of the information for their assignment from the textbook website, but they actually turn it in on turnitin.com.  So, they have to take the extra step of making sure they turn it in to the correct place.  As of right now, I have already been contacted by two who realized they turned it in at the incorrect place, and I’m sure there will be more who will realize it at a later point.  As to excuses, I’ve had two so far — a child in the hospital and a crashed computer — both are probably legitimate (the first definitely so), and those have been dealt with.  The more creative excuses come as we get closer to the time when everything is due.  I do take late assignments at a 10-point penalty per day, but I don’t actually say that up front, as I don’t want students abusing that option.

For now, it is the time when I start to see who is really serious about the class and who is not.  It’s funny that it comes to that, but it is true as well.  A good portion of my students do not make it even to the first assignment of the semester.  They are already lost before they’ve even gotten any significant grades, and there is not much I can do about it.  I can notify them that they have missed the assignment (we have an Early Alert system that sends them an official email and letter from the college), but that’s about all I can do.  This semester, there has already seemed to be a larger number in classes overall here at my community college that are not showing up.  One of my hybrid sections is already down a third in attendance.  I’ll have a better idea of how the online classes sit after this weekend, so I can’t say anything there yet.  I’ve talked to some colleagues and even my classes themselves, and everyone has noted a larger than normal number of students who have signed up for classes and not even made it past the third or fourth week.  I don’t really know why or what would make this semester any different than the others.

And so I sit and monitor my classes for now.  I have some other projects I’m working on, so I am doing those on the side while I’m here monitoring my email and my online office hours room, but most of it is just sitting here and monitoring.  Not the most exciting thing, but then teaching, especially online, does devolve into a lot of waiting on the students to do their thing so that you can do your thing.  By tomorrow, I’ll have a mountain of grading to do.  But for now, I wait, do some other things, and keep checking to try to avert whatever crises I can.

Thoughts on Education, 1/31/2012

No links and articles today.  Just some thinking.

I guess the thing on my mind more than anything else is how radical of a change is acceptable and/or appropriate if I am to do a total redesign of my class next semester.  I’d like to jump in whole hog and change everything.  However, there’s the question of how to do it and if it would be accepted by the students and my fellow faculty members if I am doing something completely different.

So, here’s a basic outline of what I would like to do for my hybrid classes:  I would like to remove lecture from the class completely.  They will still have access to my lecture materials, as they do now, ie. through the lecture notes, PowerPoints, and audio podcasts that they have at the moment.  However, they would be material that the students would be responsible for working on outside of class, much like the textbook reading is now.  I would like to move beyond the idea that I am presenting them with the material.  There are two big reasons why I am unsatisfied with the lecture model:

  1. It puts me as an infallible authority on the material.  The students hear me lecture and write it down.  They then parrot those same things back to me on the assessments for the class, as if my interpretation and the things I cover were the only thing that was important out of all of the class.  The relationship of me as the deliverer of information as if from on high is uncomfortable to me, and it just breeds the idea of the students as passive learners.
  2. It covers things the students should have had before.  If I am echoing what the students were supposed to have learned in high school, then what am I doing.  Yes, I might go into more depth.  Yes, I might talk about different things with different emphases.  Yet, at the heart, I am delivering a historical narrative that should be no different from what they have had before.  The idea that a history class should be a chronological accounting of what has happened in history seems ridiculous to me.  If that is what I have trained for and what I get paid for, then this is an easy job.  Anybody can get up there and reread a textbook to them. But, what is that really teaching them?

So, what then takes the place of lecture, as that’s currently what I use 80% of my class time for?  I would like to divide my class of 45 in half, with half meeting on one day a week and the other half meeting on the other day.  Then I would like to have each day have a topic.  The students would come in prepared with having covered the basic information that is necessary and prepared to discuss something in more depth.  We would do history by actually talking about events, people, ideas, and such in history.  I would not give them the narrative and have that stand in as the whole class.  Instead, they would drive the class, through the topics that we would discuss.  The topics would not be comprehensive in nature, and they would not purport to tell the students everything that happened.

This certainly falls into the “flipping the classroom” model, turning the standard class on its head. The thing I worry is that it is too radical.  Could our community college students handle it?  Would they come prepared?  Would they do it?  What resources would I need?  Do I have time to recreate my class?  Is this too ambitious?

An example of what I could do one day comes from what I am currently calling an in-class activity in my class.  The subject is the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911.  The students are responsible for watching a 2-hour video and reading some short biographies of the people involved.  We will then discuss the event in class, talking about what happened, why it happened, what the result was, and how it fits into the history we have been studying.