The Best Laid Plans

Cat and MouseA while back I wrote a series of posts on reworking my first-year seminar. My assumption was that this fall’s version would meet three days a week, as happened in the course’s initial iteration. I recently learned that instead it will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Given that much of the course involves student-to-student interaction in the classroom, the new schedule necessitated further changes. To start, I dropped the book that I had originally fit into the last third of the semester, and with it plans for a class-wide Twine project. The course now looks like this:

  • Team-based Twines on the book An Ordinary Man (Rwanda).
  • Simulation exercises on the first four cases in Chasing Chaos (Rwanda, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone).
  • Team-based Twines on the last case in Chasing Chaos (Haiti).

Since this is a course for incoming college students, I added The New Science of Learning and some other meta-cognitive content on skills for academic success. This means that students will have on average three writing assignments on readings per week even though the class only meets twice a week, which I think this is a good thing. Students won’t be able to forget about the course between Thursdays and Tuesdays.

As I discussed in my informal assessment back in January, I had a problematic formulation for the briefing memo that prepared students for each Chasing Chaos simulation. I’ve rewritten the assignment instructions accordingly, and created a new sample memo for students to use as a guide. The effort that I’m putting into the design of this course reflects something about how college works that I’ll discuss in more detail in my next two posts.

2 Replies to “The Best Laid Plans”

  1. As a 4-4 adjunct and low person on the totem pole, my schedule changes every semester, and I even have multiple sections of the same courses in the same semester meeting on different schedules (MWF vs. MW vs. TR).

    I’ve ended up making notes and activities for two meetings per week and leaving Friday meetings off entirely as office hours or “writing time,” but this seems unfair when another section that isn’t MWF can’t enjoy the benefit. It’s really a disservice to both students and faculty when schedules cannot be more standardized.

  2. I’m not enough of an academic historian (or rather “historian of academe”) to know why the U.S. credit hour is defined as equal to X minutes of classroom time per week or why those minutes are usually distributed twice or three times per week. Anyone out there know?

    First, there is the academic calendar — summers off, plus often a Christmas break that extends through much of January (when staff gets vacation only between Christmas and New Year’s Day). Did this originate with the need for the scions of the elite to summer where it’s cool and winter where it’s warm? Or did it start because of a summertime need for agricultural field labor, a form of employment that < 4 percent of the country's population now engages in?

    Second is the notion that seat time equates to learning, which is based more on institutional convenience than anything else.

    Third, even though many undergraduates are classified as "full-time students," they are playing sports (the USA seems to be the only country in the world where people attend universities specifically to engage in athletic activities), working jobs, taking care of family members, etc. — all of which consumes large amounts of time and energy. I suspect that students would greatly appreciate a two-day per week class schedule, with classes at standardized times, that is consistent across semesters or quarters. Easier to plan one's week out that way.

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