This is an important question because so many institutions now offer regular courses in shorter time frames. It might be a course offered in a monthlong summer session or one taught in January between regular-length semesters. It’s also important because there is a perception among students that shorter courses are easier. How could you possibly do as much work in a four-week course as in a 15-week one?
With each semester’s end comes the often-dreaded course evaluation process. Will the students be gentle and offer constructive criticism, or will their comments be harsh and punitive? What do students really want out of a course, anyway? A better time to think about course evaluations is at the beginning of the semester. At that point, an instructor can be proactive in three areas that I have found lead to better course evaluations.
Not being a visual learner, I always struggled with ways of graphically representing course content. I was never very successful until I discovered that students could do what I couldn’t. During those summary times at the end of a class session, I often asked them to show graphically their sense of how the ideas related. I was surprised how clearly those visual representations showed whether or not they understood. Even more surprising, they sometimes depicted relationships I hadn’t thought of or positioned ideas so that they highlighted different aspects of a relationship.
What skills do you wish your students had prior to taking your course? Reading comprehension, time management, listening, note-taking, critical thinking, test-taking? Let’s face it, most students could benefit from taking a course in learning how to learn. But who wants to take a study skills class?
This 17-page report features proven course design alternatives implemented in courses of varying sizes and disciplines. It’s sure inspire you to rethink how you could change certain components of your courses to build a better learning environment.
At a symposium about teaching projects on our campus, one group of faculty presented a set of projects they had done that involved giving students control over course design issues. The projects had grown out of a reading group that studied When Students Have Power by Ira Shor. The faculty presenters said that they let students design the syllabus and that the students typically created a rigorous course that was enhanced by the student ownership. I think I’m a student- and learning-centered teacher, but I’m also a teacher who has determined essentially all the course structure. So a few days before classes started, I decided NOT to spend my last few hours before the opening of the semester organizing, selecting, and deciding on syllabus issues, but to step (off a cliff?) into a world where students have power. Would chaos ensue if I gave students power in my general chemistry class?