What would a post coverage model history survey course look like?, Part III.

15 04 2011

Part one is here. Part two is here.

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m nonetheless proud of the fact that I haven’t handed out a piece of paper in class (except for xerox copies of newspaper articles) in about ten years. I learned what was then called Microsoft FrontPage so long ago that it was the last century, and have been producing ugly but functional web pages for my syllabi ever since.

You can see my current US survey syllabus here if you are so inclined. The key part is at the bottom where all the assignments go. While you’ll see that the switch to documents has left some holes in coverage, those are going to be gone by the fall. One reason for that is that Milestone Documents is going to help me add stuff where what they have doesn’t meet my needs. The other is that without the crushing burden of feeling that I have to cover EVERYTHING, I’m going to substitute some more of that lecture time for other activities the next time around.

What will those activities be? Historiann reminds me of one those things I’d like to do much more often:

I’m a SLAC grad, and I rarely had classes with more than 20 students in them. Even many of our “lecture” classes were taught around a seminar table and focused at least half on discussions of the assigned readings.

I already do decent discussions with up to 40 students in a class when a book is involved, but a post-coverage model survey course could conceivably offer much more of this sort of thing. For example, the Milestone Documents folks have explained to me a way to throw their web site up on the screen with my highlights on the documents already there. I’m definitely going to try that. And while I’m still worried that the need to run a class discussion through Twitter is the first step down the slippery slope to an academic sweatshop, if you HAVE to teach class with a hundred students or more it’s undoubtedly better to have Twitter discussions than no discussions at all.

For online discussions, over 140 characters is certainly better. I’ve used blogs before to start discussion as an extracurricular activity, but this semester is the first time I’ve used one as part of regular class time (albeit outside the survey course). What’s been missing for me this time is getting that blog integrated into regular class functions. I imagine picking reading questions out of blog posts and crossing my fingers in the hopes that the discussion will occur after the class period ends, but other blog integration suggestions in the comments below would be much appreciated.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows of my interest in teaching with film clips from YouTube. These can be incredibly valuable, even if they do take time away from a lecture. I imagine I might also visit entirely separate web sites during class time if they have something unique to offer. Now that I think about it, the coverage model strikes me now as nothing but an excuse to keep doing nothing but lecture. In an entirely online environment, where lecture is functionally impossible, it must be easier to break such habits. [That might be the only good thing I can think of to say about online learning other than the fact that it offers great new opportunities for out of work Ph.D.s to earn extra money.]

At least with an online syllabus, I can assign (or perhaps just visit during class) not only documents but websites by posting all kinds of links embedded in that document. Too bad I haven’t quite figured out everything that ought to go there. At least this way, what students have to read will be perfectly aligned with what I actually teach them during our classroom sessions. This way I won’t feel guilty about making them read things that I don’t cover in class already.

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17 04 2011
Middle Seaman

Many colleges in the US enjoy (and somewhat suffer) the services of Blackboard. The latter is a huge software package that enables running a class without paper.

In case you haven’t used or are familiar with the tool, Here is a very brief description of my use. All my presentations (power point or Adobe) are there. I post my exams there, send emails to students through it, maintain my detailed grades for the class there, it’s where students deposit their assignments and exams. Students have access to the items I want them to see and use (e.g. presentations, exams, assignment, email services).

I didn’t have a classroom exam in at least 10 years. Copying didn’t turn out to be a problem. (It happens, but not frequently and not more than in classroom exams.)

Paper is passé.

Blackboard is not the best tool on earth; it does frustrate you at times.

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