My experiment in using modular architecture in course design is coming to a close. I don’t have the result of student evaluations yet, but a few students have commented that they’ve enjoyed the structure of the course.
One part of the course hasn’t worked out as well as I’d hoped. My syllabus contains the following instructions:
Five times during the course of the semester you will be asked to write a brief reflection (equivalent to one half to a full page of double-spaced 11 or 12 point text) and raise a critical question (or questions) stemming from a previous class discussion. You may want to clarify a particular point made in class, critique a particular point, wonder about the implications of a particular idea, or consider the relationship between one author’s writing and another. In short, these questions can go in the direction of your choosing, but they should be clear, concise, and original. Discussion reflections and questions are submitted online and questions will be used as a basis for conversation in class.
The above task was intended to 1) get students to write and think more about the reading material, 2) promote peer discussion both online and in class, and 3) get students to create exam questions so that exams became more formative learning exercises.
I had the most success with (1). Students did frequently reflect upon what they had read, and occasionally they connected the ideas of particular authors to what I or fellow students had mentioned in class.
To my surprise students did not engage in online discussion about the merits of each other’s questions, even though they knew I was looking for questions to add to the exams. Instead I had to break students into groups in class, with each group selecting a favorite question that had been posted online to discuss. Each group then reported what it had discussed to the rest of the class.
I would have liked more back and forth between the students, whether online or in the classroom. I would also have liked to see better formulated questions – I was hoping the students themselves would point out the lousy questions, but this didn’t happen.
If anyone has any advice on how I can improve this process, I’m all ears.