2011-2012 Teaching reflection

My year away from teaching while at the Berkman Center meant I approached this year with a lot of enthusiasm. In the fall, I continued with what had worked well for me in the past. I taught sections of an upper-level elective, New Media Culture, for which I chose many excellent texts. I asked the students to write reading responses and I facilitated each class as a discussion (inspired by Brookfield and Preskill’s 2005 Discussion As a Way of Teaching), sometimes around particular themes, and often simply as a “go around” in which people spoke about their response. There were no quizzes or exams, just two significant essay assignments. Based on student evaluations, they were quite pleased with the course.

This spring’s section of Media Culture & Society was more challenging. This is an introductory level class required of students in the media concentration. I find the required text to be lacking for many reasons, including that the students find it to be stale and unengaging – and I agree. Much of the grade is based on quizzes and exams, which I don’t have a lot of experience with. However, I approached this class with the intention of having lots of great class exercises available (inspired by Barkley’s 2009 Student Engagement Techniques) and a desire to take greater advantage of technology.

  • I greatly expanded my materials on learning and referenced them often, but I’m not sure if the students bothered to consult them.
  • I tried to link the quizzes to specific reading and learning practices, but students found the quizzes to be too hard. If I keep the quizzes, which I may not, I will have to rethink them again.
  • I tried to increase student choice and collaborative opportunities. However, no student ever proposed quiz questions or continued our collaborative outlining (using Google Docs) beyond what I prompted immediately in class.
  • I do think our collaborative exam review, in-class exam design, worked well and I will repeat this. Still, I’m puzzled by students who got questions wrong on the exam that were proposed by student groups, discussed, and answered in class and the resulting document.
  • I did lament our use of the textbook but tried to cast it as a lemon from which we are challenged to make lemonade. I think this backfired as students then associate the textbook with me and the course. In the future I will be more specific in the reading prompts, and more selective in the pages assigned with more supplementary material provided. I’m also considering handing out my notes on the book.
  • I made greater use of class slides; DZSlides is HTML5 which means I can easily embed images, webpages, and YouTube videos. I include lots of prompts and questions and exercises as part of the slides. However, there is always that push by some students to simply be told what they need to know for an exam, and that slides and notes be provided before class. I’m concerned this mitigates higher-level learning and discussion and furthers lazy or rote learning, but I had classes as a student where the instructor provided notes, which I appreciated.

I’m looking forward to having another go at this class in the fall. I do plan to simplify where I gave a lot of choice, and be more clear about my expectations and recommendations; otherwise, there is still much to continue thinking about and experimenting with.

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