Puzzle Pieces: Part 3

Jigsaw Puzzle 3As I’ve discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I’m redesigning my first-year seminar for its second iteration. In the original version of the course last fall, students individually completed frequent reading responses on the three books I had assigned. Teams of students produced Twines on each of the books. These projects enabled students to interact with each other much more than during in-class discussions of their reading responses, but but their interest seemed to flag as the semester progressed — though the class’s 8:00 a.m. start time was probably also a contributing factor.

Whether the lack of interest was caused by boredom or sleep deprivation, I think my first-semester college students need to engage in a greater variety tasks. But as I mentioned in my previous posts, my choices are constrained by my course outcomes: interaction with peers, practice in developing higher order thinking skills, and exposure to cultural perspectives that are different from their own.

I am keeping the reading response technique; I use it in all my courses and it works well. The team-based Twine on An Ordinary Man seemed to be a success last fall, so I’ll keep that also. The Chasing Chaos book and its associated simulations generated a favorable student response when I first used them in another course, so I’m somewhat confident the same will occur in the first-year seminar. That leaves the third book, The Big Truck That Went By.

The Chasing Chaos simulations might be a different enough experience for students to remain engaged while working on a second Twine in the last part of the course. The problem with this idea is that in the first iteration of the course, teams wrote their Twines on each book’s protagonist. In The Big Truck That Went By, the protagonist is a U.S. journalist, and I don’t think students will benefit much from creating a fictionalized version of what he recounts in his book.

Would it be possible to involve the entire class in the creation of a single Twine on post-earthquake Haiti? Maybe. This is a video version of what I’m thinking of — the player chooses from one of several roles but the storylines derive from an integrated body of content.

The tricky part is figuring out how to build in individual accountability and a means of assessing it. I could leave the organization of responsibilities up to the students as a lesson in project management, but I should probably establish some signposts before students begin so that they have something against which to measure their performance. Or perhaps the whole idea — which I really did think of as I was writing this post — is likely to be an abysmal failure. Thoughts and suggestions are welcome.

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