As I wrote back in December, I decided to continue using the Quality of Failure essay as a final meta-cognitive reflection. But given the course’s emphasis on community engagement this semester, I thought I should modify the assignment a bit, in part by tying it to a classroom activity: map-making. A few weeks ago I had each student draw a map of the local community — the place where most will live for eight semesters prior to graduation. The purpose of this exercise was to make them aware of the fact that their knowledge of the people who live nearby — their neighbors, in a sense — is quite limited. After some discussion, I collected the maps. Toward the end of the course, I will have students draw the same map, then return the first version so they can see how their thinking has changed. I hope this process will generate some awareness about how the meaning of “community” can differ, even among people living in close proximity to one another.
On at least two occasions over the semester, my class will be meeting with students who are enrolled in an art course. The art students will be creating objects with 3-D printers and CNC cutters at the nearby IYRS School of Technology & Trades. The interviews will form the basis for a writing assignment in my class that I hope illustrates globalization’s effects on design, production, and trade — something that I am calling the Placemaking Essay. Here are my directions for the assignment:
1. Review course readings on terroir, Irish pubs, McDonald’s, and trade.
2. Read the rubric.
3. Write an 2-3 page essay, based on your interviews with ART 202 students and observations of their work, on the following:
How does the process by which an object is made affect its ability to create a sense of place for people who use that object?
Has globalization altered the meaning of places or of the objects within them? Why? If so, how have meanings changed?
Make sure to clearly define your use of terms like “place” and “community.” Cite course readings as you would for a reading response.
This essay also connects to a reflective writing assignments my students will be completing at the end of the semester. I’ll save the details on that for later.
Reading Chad’s post yesterday – talking about the structural pressures on student demographics in the classroom – was an excellent touchstone for me, as I received my feedback for my course on negotiation.
In common with other UK institutions, we have a system of centralised evaluations of courses, which we encourage students to complete: I’ve written before about these, but suffice to say that while it’s good to get a more standardised measure across provision, it’s not without issues.
In the case of negotiation, I’m often aware that I benefit from the unusual delivery – hardly any lecturing, but instead practical sessions, together with some flipped learning: students like the freedom it give. However, this year I’ve noticed some new comments creeping in, somewhat akin to Chad’s situation. Continue reading →
Happy New Year everyone. Today I’ve got some additional exploration of ABCs for my spring semester comparative politics course, as an update to posts on the subject from September.
I did in fact abandon the book Around the Bloc because of its age and length, and this freed up space in the syllabus for more more articles from the Journal of Democracy. The contents of Journal of Democracy are more concise, contain less jargon, and are overall much better written than what’s found in other journals, making it an excellent source of material on comparative democratization. I’ve inserted a few more questions into the syllabus quiz that require students to find these assigned articles at the beginning of the semester. If students don’t have this skill, they have plenty of time to acquire it by talking to a librarian.
I’m going to begin using Egypt as a small case study. Egypt complements my use of Russia as an example of failed democratization and authoritarian resilience, and it also makes a good contrast with Iran on the subject of revolutions.
I will continue to use the assignment that I created last spring in which students compare two nation-states using either a most similar systems or most different systems design. A year ago, I created a template for students to use for completion of these assignments; however, some students seemed confused about the relationships between variables because of the way I formatted the template. Also some of the completed assignments were awkward for me to read because students had stuffed multiple paragraphs or lots of bullet points into each table cell. So I have revised the templates and changed the assignment directions:
I will continue using the somewhat tried-and-true knowledge plan and quality of failure essays, but I am going to modify them yet again. I want these assignments to push students toward the realization that they need to take responsibility for their learning by evaluating how and why it happens, instead of assuming that they can displace this task entirely onto me. However, I still see a large portion of students responding to these meta-cognitive prompts without much thought, as if they are following a recipe in a cookbook.
So I have condensed the questions that I ask in these assignments even further, making them more open-ended, in the hope that it will force students to exert more effort in examining their own attitudes and behaviors.
The knowledge plan prompt now reads as:
Plan for this course by writing a 2-3 page essay (double-spaced, equivalent to 11 or 12 point font) that answers these questions:
As promised in my last post about teaching risk-averse students, I am going to again apply Simon’s ABC technique to last semester’s teaching. And since I taught two sections of my first-year seminar, I’ll focus on that.
First item on the “abandon” list: in-class peer review of student-designed games. Although I think the rubric that students use to evaluate classmate-designed games is good, they simply refuse to use it to provide honest feedback. I know that the majority of the students understand at least some of the principles reflected by the rubric because of the way they have analyzed the games in the final exam. In the classroom, though, they rate the games as perfect. A potential replacement for the peer review process — and this is really more of a “begin” item — is a short writing assignment after each round of game design in which they compare the game their team designed with another team’s game that they played in class.
Second thing to abandon: my organization of memo-writing assignments. I have assumed, incorrectly, that first-semester college students can grasp the purpose and format of a memo with minimal instruction on my part. After three separate iterations of the assignment, complete with an opportunity to rewrite each memo, I didn’t see significant improvement in the quality of students’ work, which was the same thing that happened in the course last year. A possible solution is to walk students step by step through the mechanics of writing a memo in class, so that by the end of the process they have in their hands a document that they can submit for a “perfect” grade. But this would remove pretty much any opportunity for students to independently engage in creative thinking, which is another term for problem solving. More holding of students’ hands to protect them from anything they might find unpleasant. I’ll have to think more about how to better organize an assignment like this.
Third item on the list, which is speculative at this point: abandon the whole course. I’ve been teaching this first-year seminar since its inception four years ago, when it came into being through a revision to my university’s general education requirements. The developmental rationale for the course is not well-defined, and the learning outcomes associated with it are mostly not measurable. Valid data on how the course may be of benefit to students simply isn’t being collected, which means that it is really nothing but an empty three-credit curricular requirement. While I think the topic on which I have built the course is a good one, I am finding it less enjoyable to teach over time. And interaction with university administrators about aspects of teaching it have been less than satisfactory. So, if I have the opportunity in future fall semesters not to teach the course, I might take it.
The Agricultural History Society has extended its call for proposals for panel sessions and papers for its May 2018 meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA. The new deadline for proposal submission is January 1. The conference’s theme is Tropicana: Commodities across Borders. The theme locates the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America in a global history of commodity production and consumption. Full details on the CFP can be found here.
Since I have shepherded a new minor on food studies through our faculty governance system, and applied for a federal grant on the same subject, food as a field of academic study has been occupying a growing — pun intended — amount of my time and energy. I’ll probably be writing more on this blog about teaching food production and consumption systems during the spring semester, but for now here is a simple assignment that uses food to get at socioeconomic inequality, public health, globalization, and environmental sustainability:
First, ask students to collect grocery receipts, either from their parents or from members of the off-campus community.
Second, have the students go into the markets where the foods listed on the receipts were purchased to identify the origin of these foods. Fruits and vegetables, at least in major U.S. supermarkets, are labeled by country of origin. For processed foods, like canned soup, additional research into corporate supply chains will be required.
Using some guiding questions, have students analyze — either through discussion, an individual writing assignment, or a team project — what they have discovered about who buys certain foods, where, and why. What broader conclusions can students reach about the effects of people’s food choices?