It’s nearly the Christmas break here in England, but before I jet off to my chalet for a few week’s powder-skiing with some minor royals, (inevitably) Kim Kardasian and (oddly) Piers Morgan, I’m going to look forward to next semester’s teaching.
In particular, I’m looking at a new module that I have, an introduction to European integration for first-years/freshmen. My central aim in designing this module was to avoid the usual problem with this subject, namely a perceived high level of difficulty and an associated problem of engagement. With this in mind, I’ve aimed to create learning spaces that privilege student activity.
Firstly, seminar activities are centred around the creation of one-page summaries of key concepts and events: students come with materials, then spend their time in the active construction of a collaborative piece, which is then shared with the rest of the students in other seminar groups. The material will all be included in some form in the final exam, so giving students added incentive to produce their best work.
Secondly, to try and reduce free-riding, I’m getting my seminar leaders to use the old stick technique. Each student has their name on a lolly-stick, and the seminar leader will randomly pick someone from the pile of sticks to write the summary, and another person to lead the discussion with a 5-min presentation. This means everyone needs to be prepared to make that contribution.
Thirdly, and largely because I didn’t pay enough attention at the time, there is a mid-term multiple-choice test. However, because I’m me, we’re doing it in class, not only open-book, but also allowing students to talk to each other. With 45 questions in as many minutes, my anticipation is that students will discover that even in such benign conditions, there is no substitution for proper revision and preparation: weak students will spend so much time looking for answers that they can’t finish the test. I can also see it becoming a test of altruistic behaviour.
So, plenty to look forward to and plenty to need on-the-fly adjustment. I’ll be reporting back during the spring on this and other developments. Until then, happy holidays!