Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 1 Getting off on the right foot

The first week of class is done, and I think we're off to a good start.
There are a couple of things I designed the first week to help ensure this.
The first is that while I normally only post weekly announcements on Saturday, prep and tips and resources for the coming week, this first week I ended up posting announcements just about every day as questions from students came up.
I keep a Google Doc of the announcements, which not only lets me keep it for future reference, but lets me plan announcements in advance.
These announcements have several key purposes:
  • Inform: students of information/corrections/clarifications they need
  • Connect: be sure that students know there's a real person on the other end of the course. Someone who wants them to do well, is a resource, and will post silly memes, gifs, and pictures of her dog
  • Model: I like to use these announcements and the rest of the course to model certain strategies, and Web 2.0 tools

Knowing My Students
I've a firm belief that we should teach students where they are.
In order to do this, you have to know where they are.
I design two assignments for this first week to help.
  • A skills information sheet that asks them what programs they feel comfortable using
    • This lets me know what I need to front load in the course.
    • I also print each of these out, hole punch them, and keep them in a notebook as a way of keeping track of anecdotes, notes that come up, accommodations, etc.
    • Addition: I also make sure I ask them what name they prefer to be called, which also addresses pronoun usage. I use either gender neutral pronouns for the class as a whole, and just refer to students by the name they say they prefer.
  • A discussion board where they introduce themselves to me and the class
    • I encourage them to play with the WYSIWYG tool bar, changing the color of the fonts, adding images, etc. so by the time they first post for an assignment, they feel comfortable doing this.
    • I make sure I respond individually, and personally, to each and every one. With 75+ students this takes time, and this first week I work a little every day to keep up with the work versus my just grading on Saturday normal routine. 
    • But it's worth it to make sure that personal connections are made, and that we get off to a good start.
    • I direct them too how to change their avatar, so we can all put a face to the name and I also copy and paste the students' avatar images into my Excel gradebook so I can put faces to names. In such a big class, this helps me a lot. 
With such a big class, I have a pretty diverse group of students. I have a lot of English majors, a lot of theatre majors, a lot of future teachers. I'll tailor the course and resources to these interests. I'm posting resources for the teachers that they might want to use. I'm letting them create lesson plans as part of their presentations, or projects. I'm encouraging theatre majors to look at the acting or production of the plays, and encouraging my other students to pursue their interests.
I have students across the state, in different states, and in different countries, so I'm looking forward on moving forward as everyone shares their perspectives.

I set my announcements to also email blast out to students, so they get the information. And I advise them to make sure their email is correct in Blackboard so they get the announcements.
In addition to this, I try to check in as much as possible.
Yesterday, I went into my gradebook to see what students hadn't logged in/submitted work yet. I sent a bcc email to all of them reminding them of the first deadline of work, and what they needed to do. This is the only time I'll do this en masse, although if a student who has been working drops out I will always check in on them.

I am also using Twitter, and a class hashtag #E352ES again this semester. I still don't require it, it's an extra resource.
Even though it's an online class, for every play I'm holding an on campus movie night, and encouraging students who can't attend to watch with us virtually and live tweet. This is a new thing, but a lot of the media professors I know do this with their viewings so I think it could be fun.

A pretty common issue in online courses is that sometimes students think that they are correspondence courses, where they just race ahead, complete all the work in a couple of weeks and then take the rest of the semester off.
I know that students often take online courses for the flexibility, but also know that I'm their best resource. While there are movies, lectures, and assignments built into the course that I made last semester, each Saturday, when I build announcements, I also add items that address needs/questions I noticed the week before that my students needed.
So I try to strike a balance. Each play module is two weeks, and I encourage students to work on their own within the module, but not to work more than a week ahead. They can, there's no penalty, but in my experience, students who do don't do as well. They don't use the feedback on each assignment to improve, and they don't see how each assignment builds on the previous one. They earn lower grades. But it's a choice they can make.
If I notice a student doing it, I email them once, warn them about the possible consequences, but that's it. It's part of that "not policing" attitude I've adopted.

With so many students, it's a lot of grading. And a lot of discussion boards. The assignments I grade as I'm in the course during the week. Discussion boards require a posting plus two comments, so I wait until the deadline midnight Friday for posting to pass (I grade Saturday morning). Students get a 77 for posting, 85 for posting plus one comment, 100 for posting plus two comments. I make hash marks on my spreadsheet to track, then put the grades in manually.

I do have a TA, but they've never taught online. I was taught to observe the first few weeks, ask questions about approach and design, then norm, then was able to start grading. So this is the model I'm following. I know professors who teach but make their TAs do all the grading. I have never understood this. How do you know your students this way? How do you know what they need? How do you tailor instruction? While I appreciate the TA, especially as we get into longer papers further in the course, it's important for my students to know I am grading their work, I am giving them feedback.

So that's my for week, my tips for getting off on the right foot.
What do you do in your classroom, online and face to face, to set the right tone?

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