Another End of Semester Reflection

A few thoughts about the semester that is about to end:

Not quite.

First, the “open notebook” in-class quizzes did cause many more students to take notes than in the past. However, creating the quizzes — with most of the questions based on prior class discussion — was a pain. Same for  printing and grading them. For three undergraduate courses with small enrollments, the task wasn’t very complex, nor did it require a lot of effort, but it did become yet one more thing I had to organize throughout the semester. Also I gave fewer quizzes than I originally anticipated, which forced me to alter their weights in the final course grade. I’m now thinking that I could deliver the quizzes more easily and frequently through our Canvas LMS — they would be machine graded. But I would still need to invest in designing questions and building each quiz throughout the semester. A more rigid, pre-planned system for class discussions would allow me to generate all the quizzes before the semester starts, but I really don’t want to do this because it would move me back in the direction of lecturing.

Second, I created too many assignments tied to campus events. I think it’s beneficial for students to connect what they learn in the classroom to what happens outside the classroom, so I incentivize the process by assigning short written responses to questions I dream up. These responses have to incorporate properly-cited ideas from relevant course readings. Any points earned are added to the student’s cumulative total for the entire course. This semester there were a lot of events that related to what I was teaching, and I don’t think the benefits that may have accrued to my students from going to them necessarily exceeded the added work for myself or for them.

Third, I followed Michelle’s advice: I scheduled simulations for the end of the semester in two of my three courses. These were not off-the-shelf exercises so there was some work designing them, but I think the benefit outweighed the cost. I’ll write more about them in separate posts.

Last, my globalization course had several problems.

  • The 8:00 a.m. start time meant students were sluggish, and it probably caused enrollment to drop by more than half compared to previous years, to only twelve students. As I have written before, running team-based activities becomes difficult in small classes.
  • I again used my semester-long global commodity ethnography project, with students collaborating in teams. Each team partners with a local business. Someone else at the university is supposed to identify these businesses. Of this year’s three teams, two had to partner with businesses used last year, and I had to find the third business myself, after the semester began. There does not seem to be enough institutional support to make this practice viable over the long term. Figuring out an alternative to this project is going to take some serious thought.
  • The classroom had multiple technology fails. None of them were catastrophic, but in general the technology was much less of a convenience than it should have been.

I’ll write more on how this semester went in another few weeks.