Side projects: early attempts to invent courses

Posted: January 20, 2009 in Brainstorm, Course Design, Pedagogy, School

The semester has begun, and while I have not yet actually been to any classes, I am doing my best to dive into work regardless. This semester, I am doing research rather than teaching. This is a definite change of pace for me. Over the next day or so, I intend to sequester myself in a library and begin discovering everything anyone has ever said about the topic I am researching.

In the meantime, since I’m not teaching, I have been thinking about it.

I went through the comments my students wrote last semester. Many of them were positive, some were not. I’ve noticed that I don’t take criticism well, so I am trying to focus on the negative and make sure that I am not dismissing those students out of hand. But looking at the comments, the main trend I notice is that students either love me or hate me, and it seems to be based entirely on how badly they want their hands held.

Some of my students said that they liked the way I made them figure things out for themselves, never offering help but having it any time they asked for it. Others said that the very same thing was bad. It makes me want to add something to my opening class speech. It makes me want to say: “I will give you as much help as you ask for. There will probably be other help too, but I can only promise what you ask for.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be doing that. It isn’t my responsibility to teach students to ask for help. It’s not up to me to make them learn how to research on their own, without strict guidelines. Maybe this is a throwback to when I taught Freshman composition, and I saw it as part of my job to prepare them for college classes generally, and specifically the writing in them. Maybe I was going beyond the boundaries then as well. But these skills are skills students need.

On another topic, one thing I’ve been considering a lot lately is courses I would like to design and to teach. Part of this has come from talking to friends in other programs, and part has come from the realization that some day, I will have to design my own courses. So why not get started early?

I first began this brainstorm process by playing fill in the blank. “Rhetoric and ____” for example. This led me to “Rhetoric of Evil,” and  “Rhetoric of Science Fiction,” both of which I’m interested in.

That led me to ask what else interested me. Where does rhetoric show itself? Well, everywhere, some would argue. There could be rhetoric of video games, or of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Neither of these are things I’m an expert (or in many ways, even experienced) in, but they are potential courses (for someone else).

But what about role playing? Surely there’s a lot of rhetoric there. A lot of communication, and even technical communication. Take, for example, rules. When rules aren’t clear, loopholes come up and people start to argue. It’s a fun argument, but at the end of the day, someone is always disastisfied. Do I want to teach a course in rules for gaming?

Finally, I asked myself what I wanted to research. When people ask me what I’m writing my dissertation on, I say something along the lines of futurism and technology in the classroom. Who knows if this will still be what I’m interested in even at the end of the semester? It’s an answer, a place holder. Do I want to design a course like that? One that examines technology and strategies for using that technology in the classroom. Sounds very similar to the rhetoric of sci fi I mentioned above. Maybe the two go hand in hand.

Unfortunately for me, no one has ever sat me down and said ‘this is how you design a class,’ so I’m more or less floundering. I know I could ask people. There are dozens of people I could ask. But right now, I’m designing for my own curiosity, and I’d like to try a few methods. If it becomes an issue, and I can’t figure it out, then I’ll ask for help. But it seems like a waste of other people’s time to ask for help before I need it.

So what are the parts of a course? The syllabus could be called the place where these things come together. Much of the syllabus I can already do: scheduling, grading policies, classroom policies, etc. But there are two things I have never done: put together a reading list, and pace out the readings.

The way I figure it, I need to pick a theme for the class, then develop what the goals of that class should be. Once I have those goals, I have to pick what I want the students to read in order to reach that goal, and what work I want them to do in order to demonstrate that they have reached the goal.

There are four options, and I may just do them all:

  1. Rhetoric of Evil
  2. Rhetoric in Science Fiction
  3. Developing rules to promote game balance (needs a better title)
  4. Future technology in the classroom

It might help to write a course description that a student might find in a course catalog. But something tells me that will be easier and better if done last.

This could be an interesting side project for the semester

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