Narrowing the field, planning the courses

Posted: April 13, 2009 in Course Design, Pedagogy, School
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Thus far, when I have worked on developing classes, I have been doing so with four classes in mind: Rhetoric of Evil, Rhetoric of Science Fiction, Future Technology Pedagogy, and Systems and Rules. I’ve come up with basic reading lists (though I have to add Foucault and de Certeau to the Systems/rules class), goals, and so on. But I realized that I need to put some of these ideas on the back burner for a while.

Future Technology Pedagogy is probably something that would work better at a much higher level; likely not something I’ll be able to teach until I am a PhD candidate at least. So I’ll put that aside.

Systems and Rules needs to be reframed as a cultural studies class. I may do that, but for now, I’m going to just let it sit for a while.

The Rhetoric of Evil is a great idea, and one I want to work with. But I think Rhetoric of Science Fiction is something I can do very soon.

So I will look more at that class, and at the class I know I’ll be teaching.

First, sci-fi. As a refresher, here are the goals for the course:

Examine the rhetoric of having one major/minor technology change the world, Examine the rhetoric of using a far flung future to tell a story relevant to the world today, and Examine the rhetoric used to explain or circumvent the physics of time

Recently, de Certeau has been ruminating quite a bit in my brain. In The Practice of Everyday Life, he talks a lot about how tales can tell us about culture, how the rules of a culture are writ large within the tales and the stylistic choices of those tales. (I’m obviously paraphrasing and condensing). My point is that this class can be framed as a cultural studies class. And it should; in fact, it probably always was.

So what would I want the result to be? That is, what deliverables do I want? When I make the sylabus, and I come to the part where I say how much of the grade each project is worth, what do I want there to be?

Part of this choice is one of how much work I want to do. I could have the students hand something in every week. But then I’d be grading all of them. On the other hand, if I don’t ask for anything, I can’t even be sure the students are reading. So let me throw out some assignments and percentages:

Paper 1: Brief (2-3 page) essay where the students tell me what they think cultural studies is and what we can learn about culture through science fiction. Graded, but only on completeness of the assignment and clarity of prose. 10%

Paper 2: Slightly longer (4-5 page) essay analyzing one of the works read in class (or another source with permission), applying the theory discussed and read in class to the work, analyzing what it tells us about the culture in which it was written. 25%

Presentation: Each student presents on the reading, including a one page handout for the entire class (which can be posted online). 15%

Paper 3: Major paper (10-12 pages) applying the theory to several works read in class, using them to establish as much about a culture as possible and compare that culture to modern popular culture. 40%

Paper 4: rehash of paper 1. Same goals, same standards. To be handed in with original, demonstrating how and if their understanding has changed. 10%

Participation: +/- 10%

I should explain that last bit. As a student, I loved the participation part of a grade. I talk a lot, and I was always pretty sure I could get those points. They were essentially free. As a teacher, I do like being able to give my students a little bit of a cushion, a net to allow them to try new things without fear of failing. But I found that I gave the same percentage to the really involved as I did to the only sort of involved. It didn’t feel fair to penalize those who were quiet but paying attention.

Not everyone likes to talk. Some people have serious issues with anxiety, and talking in class terrifies them. While I’d love it if they got over that, I don’t like the idea of forcing it on them.

The solution I came up with was to have participation be completely outside the normal class grading. If a student does nothing special, pays attention, and doesn’t disrupt the class, their grade is completely unaffected. If a student is very involved, adds to the conversation and participates in a positive way, then I can give them essentially ‘extra credit’ and give someone the higher grade that they earned, even if their paper doesn’t quite warrant it.

And if there is a student who is disruptive, who detracts from the class, then I can penalize them and give them a lower grade.

Participation to me always seemed to be the professor’s discretion, his/her way to help or penalize those on the borders. That’s more or less what I’m doing. I’m just honest about it.

As for the other class, the one I’m teaching this summer, I think it deserves a post of its own.

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