Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 13 Reassessing

This is the time in the semester that is both a lot of fun for me, and disheartening.
It's a lot of fun because students are fully in the groove with the class, they know how it works, and this is often the time where they start feeling really comfortable experimenting, and stretching themselves. I always wish they could get themselves to this point sooner. It's great.

Several weeks ago one of the check in surveys asked for a discussion board where students could just talk about the play and share things. This has been a great addition, and the thing I've loved best is that they've found some great graphics and memes.
I use memes and gifs a lot in class, so this makes me happy.

I find this time in the semester disheartening too though.
Students who asked for extensions fall off the planet, never check back in, and when you nudge them, you hear nothing back but days later get an official withdrawal form.
I know that a lot of times this is a combination of factors. And I shouldn't take it personally. But I do. I go out of my way to encourage students- let them know how they can make stuff up, how much of their grade is left, how they can still pass. But despite this, it seems that the number who check in and use this to their advantage are in the minority, that the majority just rather withdraw. I wish I knew why, but I'm also working on not taking this personally.
I also wish there was some way to know why students have just checked out, if there is anything more I could do.

But I have the feeling I'm spending a lot more time on these worries than maybe I should.

Since the class is winding down, I realized over the weekend that we're finishing Titus Andronicus this week, and then the students have two weeks to focus on their final papers/projects. That was one of the comments on our last check in, that having the week papers were due JUST to work on them, share drafts, and get feedback was really helpful. It's weird to think that I'll blink and the class will be over.
We end with Titus because it really is something you need to work up to I think. I gave a trigger warning for it, and let students opt out of the assignment that dealt with production images. Only one did, but a few mentioned in their posts that they appreciated the warning. It's been really cool to hear what they have to say about the affect of the play- how for this one SEEING it and READING it are two very different experiences. I love reading those types of reflections.
Because the next few weeks are light work wise, and because I want to encourage students to experiment with projects as their final assessment, I'm letting students revise their presentations if they want- for a higher grade, but also as a way to explore or revisit ideas before the final paper/project.
I know the end of the semester is busy, and some will prioritize other things, but I wanted to give them another chance. Likewise the last couple of weeks have optional discussion boards if people want to earn some extra credit.

Given all the changes I've made this semester, both content and pedagogically, it'll be interesting to read their end of semester letter to students, and see what the university surveys say. I feel like I made a lot of positive changes but I've also gotten complaints, like not liking the web 2.0 tools and gifs I use. I'm not really sure what to do with those, because my initial reaction is to ignore them as they seem to convey a misunderstanding of what online classes SHOULD be. But again, it's been something I've probably spent more time worrying over than I should.

I am looking forward to the time the next couple of weeks to email/talk/conference with students about final papers and projects, to grade revised work, and see what they have to say. This time to think, time to learn, I think is valuable, and seeing what they come up with for assessment is always pretty cool. A lot of times they just knock me out.
So, we'll see.
Anyone have anything they're looking forward to in particular about the end of their semester?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 12 Looking Forward

Now that final edits and revisions are done on #DevilDiss2 I have about a month before I get final looks/notes on it to fix before turning it around to the committee for my 17 June defense.
This is also the time of year where I start looking ahead. I make notes all semester long on things I want to do differently next time I teach the course. These notes usually take two forms- general things to change in all courses as I think about things and specific things for THAT course. This last year has seen a lot of changes in my teaching.
This morning I continued to think about some issues I've been thinking about the last year:
  • Continuing to remove policing from my classroom
  • Making changes to the course (particularly online ones) to avoid being overwhelmed the first couple of weeks
  • Separating policies from the actual meat of the course
  • Making it clearer what the course is about from the get go
So I've been playing around with a Shakespeare and Film Adaptation syllabus (for a shorter, or summer schedule) and I've implemented a lot of these changes.
  • Notice the document is a lot shorter. In part I did this because I pulled the trigger on an idea I've been playing with for a while- separating required policies and requirements from the content of the course. Now it's a separate document that I linked at the bottom of the syllabus.
    • This also continues to remove policing from my classroom, and not making it a focus
  • The beginning of the document is also (hopefully) easily scanned and understood. I frontloaded the information that students seem to want to know most (readings, objectives). 
    • I also added a couple of new sections. There's now an overview of how the course functions, what they can expect from me, and tips/behaviors to do well. Then the next thing is the more detailed explanation of the assignments. 
  • After this is the week by week breakdown of what we're doing.
I usually have had assignments due on midnight Friday so I can grade on Saturdays.
I've changed this. For a couple of reasons. The first is that in the past students have really liked/appreciated the weekend to finish assignments. The other is that I need to stop working seven days a week. It's not good. I read and grade fast, and while it's commendable that I like getting things back to students by Saturday afternoon, if there's a midnight Sunday deadline and it's Tuesday before they get them back, that's okay. I'm glad that I prioritize getting work back quickly to students. But I also know professors that take weeks to get stuff back. I don't want to do that, but it puts in perspective me taking some stress of myself.
Today is the day I finish the course's weekly grading, and add onto and post the weekly announcement. As we're in week 12, it's also our last check in survey. This survey has (mostly) the same questions as the university's end of semester survey. While by this point (with two other check in survey results) I have a pretty good idea of issues and have course corrected. BUT, I also have had a low response rate this semester. And I've learned that people who don't like me don't fill out these surveys (I require names so I can do follow ups) but ding me on the final university. There's nothing I can do about that.
So I'm going to try and not stress over that. I send out three check in surveys (weeks 4, 8, 12) that ask students what they have issues with and how I can help/improve/fix the course. If they choose not to productively participate in those then there's nothing I can do. 
One thing on this survey, and that I've changed for the last month of the course is office hours. At the beginning of the semester the students voted on the office hours through a Doodle. My thinking was that if they have a voice in determining them they will be more likely to use them. So every Wednesday 1-3p my TA and I have held office hours in Blackboard Collaborate. And in twelve weeks no one has showed up. Several weeks ago I was worried about this and asked in a check in survey what they used to communicate, and more importantly if that form of communication was meeting their needs. All who answered said email was what they used and it met all their needs. So I kind of stopped thinking of it. But since I was tweaking the week 12 check in survey, and wanted to try something, I changed office hours. I put in announcements that for the last month we'd do them by appointment, on Skype or on the phone.

I'm also going to encourage students to do this. I made this change for a couple of reasons. One, why am I stressing about this issue if students say they're getting what they need? I mean, that's what matters right? Second, rather than tying myself into notes about this, I'm simply offering another option, pointing out the bonuses of using it, and then letting it go.

The other added question on this survey is how I can make the first couple of weeks of an online course less overwhelming. There's often a dump of information/large learning curve, between the normal course stuff PLUS the online course stuff. So while I have a couple of ideas, I wanted to ask them what ideas they had for making this introduction easier.

This week is a "light" week because their thematic papers are due by midnight Friday and I don't assign work when papers are due. I want them focused on thinking out their ideas, writing, and revising. So I'll answer email questions and give feedback on drafts but there are no assignments to grade.

So that's this week.
It's all downhill from here!