Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare This Semester Step by Step: Prepping the First Week

It was fun watching so many of my professor friends and colleagues post this past week about classes starting. Their enthusiasm is great to watch.
We don't start until this upcoming week, and I'm excited to get started.

Saturdays are when I do my lesson planning and grading, so today I sat down with coffee in front of my computer and logged onto Blackboard.
I post weekly announcements on Saturday as well- reminders about due dates, things that are coming up that week, what they need to do.

I planned the first week as a soft start. For a lot of reasons- the first couple of weeks we tend to have a lot of turnover, and I didn't want to penalize students for that. Also, I can tell from emails I've already answered, I may have some drops as students realize this is an online only class, although my experience as an online teacher means that it's a very beginner friendly course.

I have two welcome announcements, a generic course one, and then my personal one:

I go out of my way in my online courses to personalize myself so students realize there's a real person on the other side of the computer. Nehi figures heavily in this.

You'll see this announcement clarifies some things I've been asked this past week, introduces me, then lays out for them the goals/assignments for the week. Because it's the beginning of the semester, I thought I'd share here my thoughts on the syllabus.

Complains by teachers and professors about the syllabus run the gamut, from amusing:

To condescending and mean:

And here's what bugs me about this- this is a horrible way to start your semester. It's a horrible tone to set with students. And I think this type of attitude and tone at the beginning taints your entire course.
There is a better way.

My heartfelt plea at the beginning of each semester is always before you make a complaint about students not reading your syllabus, that you ask yourself (or better them) WHY they're not reading it.
I have several thoughts on this.
  • Many professors present their syllabus as a "contract" between you and them. The problem with this is that most students have no experience with contracts and so the connotation of this is lost on them.
  • Many professors quiz students on the syllabus, but this becomes a search and destroy on the syllabus, not a deep reading.
  • Many professors read the syllabus in class, and students know this, and this is their only contact with it
Now, I too have been guilty of the above- both the complaining, and how I covered the syllabus. Then one day I stopped. I stopped and asked myself WHY they were not reading it. And I kept thinking that it was because they just didn't see the point. If the teacher was going to read it out loud, and hit/review high points all semester, why bother?
So I shifted how I presented it.
I introduce it as the "how to do well in my course" guide.
My syllabus is also a hyperlinked Google Doc. Something students love because it's all right there. The weekly calendar has their readings and assignments, and is updated each week with hyperlinked resources. Because it is their one stop shopping for the class they HAVE TO use it each week. And because of how I present its importance they use all of it.
I don't cover it in class. I don't read it. Instead, I make a short video that I tell them hits the highlights and pet peeves then point them to the "how to do well" syllabus guide.

Since I changed my approach on this over a year ago I have no answered a single "It's in the syllabus" question. I still answer plenty of email questions, but not on the syllabus. And the hyperlinked syllabus as Google Doc is one of the things students say they like best on end of semester evaluations.

So that's my prep for the first week.
I'm sure I'll answer a lot of questions this week as students new to online learning get acclimated- it's a big class (75 students) and a diverse group of students, I already know I have some older students and one overseas, but I'll bet you while I'll answer lots of questions as I get to know them and vice versa, they won't be about the syllabus.

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