2012 Fall teaching reflection

This fall I had the opportunity to re-teach a section of Media, Culture, & Society (MCS) and prepared a new course for Principles of Organizational Communication (OrgCom). I'd prefer to be teaching classes related to my domain (new media and digital communication), but until that happens -- fingers crossed for Fall 2013 -- there's been a lot to learn from teaching unfamiliar classes. Following up on the previous reflection and plans for this semester, here's my new thoughts.

  • In both classes I pushed meta-cognition and learning. I'm not sure it stuck, but I'll be going even further in the future.
    • I followed a colleague's practice of asking students to give peer feedback to one another.
      • I'm always surprised by the gap between what I expect and students do. Many took this as doing a quick edit of their peer's Word file.
      • In the future, I'm going to be more forceful and explicit, stressing feedback should be based on the writing rubric and that assignments must have an appendix with the name of reviewing peers and their actual feedback.
  • These are not writing intensive courses with "draft and revise." However, despite my presentations, rubrics, and feedback, some students still make the same stupid mistakes. Hence, I will likely:
    • Require, rather than recommend, students purchase a college writing style guide and require APA explicitly. (I used to give them a choice of citation style.)
    • For the first writing assignment, permit students to resubmit with a memo detailing the changes they made based on the rubric, style handbook, and feedback for a half-letter grade boost.
  • My preferred mode of teaching is discussing excellent readings based on student reading responses. However, students requested slides (especially when using textbooks), so I started using slides. Then they requested handouts. I was resistant. However, I read up on the literature and experimented with partial handouts. I will continue this experiment in the future. However, I'm going to purposefully have projector free days.
  • As you can sense, my experience with textbooks has not been good so far -- even though the OrgCom one is about as good as they can be. I'm toying with the idea of abandoning textbooks, focusing on excellent readings, and making use of a reference work, even if its Wikipedia.
    • For example, I suspect the following is better than a textbook chapter: have students read Wikipedia's "Organizational culture" and excellent articles by, or making use of, Schein and Hofstede.
  • I'm also not fond of quizzes and tests. However, on the quiz front, I'm now happy with low-stakes and pass-fail quizzes. My intention is to motivate effective reading. That is, I stress they should come away with the big question, key concepts, and important cases/examples. That's (now) pretty much the exact format of the quiz, and they must get 3/5 questions to pass. I'm looking forward to reading Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers.
  • In Media, Culture, & Society we are saddled with a horrible textbook. I tried to mitigate this by giving two "level-up" quizzes. If the student did decently, I gave them a portion of my notes on the book; otherwise, they had to come by my office to discuss their reading skills. This meant I could assign more reading outside of the text and have more contact with students needing help. I think it worked well. That said, this was a mitigation, there's no subsitutue for a syllabus full of excellent readings.
  • I did two surveys (in each class) followed by the final university survey.
    • My surveys were useful, though participation was low, especially on the second one.
    • University surveys used to be meaningful when students wrote them in class. Their usefulness decreased with the arrival of scantron; this was doubly so with large online surveys, where response rates are ~20%. I'd prefer the university incentivize students (e.g., through early access to grades) but failing that I experimented with giving a 1pt (out of 100) task to take a screen-shot showing completion. I don't like to do this, but the response-rate was almost 100%.
  • One of the things I learned form my second survey was that students felt I sent too much email. Every email I sent to their class list ended up on their phone! This contributed to my realization that most students don't know how to do things like filter/label their email and manage bookmarks. They aren't able to manage or use digital communications effectively. This semester I created small exercises to teach these tasks; I'll continue this in the future.
  • In OrgCom I followed other sections and had student's teach the second half of the semester. (This is the first time I did this.) I may continue this but I will assign the groups (otherwise the quality is far too uneven) and I will have them teach fewer classes, spread out through-out the semester. This, honestly, did not go well. I had them do a reading on how to structure a class, but we might need to spend more time on this. I'm still looking for a good reading on effective student group work.
  • On the technology front, I used to keep the whole syllabus in a Freemind mindmap. This is great for planning the semester (very easy to rearrange days) and generating the course bibliography. It's not so great for editing prose with a lot of hypertext. (Freemind doesn't have a spell-checker and requires hypertextual prose to be edited, awkwardly, within tags within a node.) I've added a syllabus option to my pandoc-wrappers so now everything except the reading schedle can be edited in a text editor.
  • I made lots of tweaks to my HTML-based (pandoc/dzslides) slides; and partial handouts are automatically generated from the the same source as the slides themselves (see my dzslides fork and create_talk_handout).

The student evaluations for the classes are disappointing. As a point of reference, in my first semester I taught two sections of New Media Culture. I created an awesome syllabus and students wrote reading responses for every class, which we discussed. There was a midterm and two essays. I received a 4.5 and a 4.8 (out of 5) in overall instructor effectiveness; both sections had a mean grade average of B+ and median of A-. I'm sure the class would've been better had I had a chance to teach it again. I then took a big hit with Media, Culture, & Society (4), which I was able to slightly improve upon this semester (4.1). (Both median and mean GPAs in my classes have since been B+ after the first semester.) OrgCom, especially because of the group work and student teaching, was very poor (3.3). In the fall I expect to be teaching OrgCom again, and I will improve. I also hope to be transitioning into digital communication courses. Not being able to teach and hone classes in my area has been frustrating but I hope I'll be able to start in fall 2013. In any case, I am learning a lot. A few of the great books I read this past year are listed on my teaching page.

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