Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ideas for 2015 First-Year Seminar

Blogging got too behind in the end-of-semester crunch.   Big changes afoot (First-Year Seminar no longer QU 101, theme of Inquiry, not Individual in Community), but I re-read these notes and realized that they were about facilitation and process, not content.

As the Fall 2014 semester neared its end, I started collecting thoughts for next year.  Now, in a calmer moment, I reviewed and revised some, and here they are:

Students (in pairs) take turns at starting the class on time and doing general announcements.  This gets the focus off me and is a visible reminder of students taking the lead in their own learning.   This would require some contact with me and the peer catalyst ahead of time to share the day’s agenda.  It also provides a structured way for the quiet and fearful of public speaking to get their classmates’ attention.  I remember being in that mindset in fifth and sixth grade, and getting past it in part by leading the Flag Ceremony at the start of Girls Scout meetings.  That was mostly predictable and scripted, cheat sheets were OK, and it was Girl Scouts so you didn’t get graded on it.

Schedule café hours for general conversation and questions.   

Allow one-on-one or two-on-one in-person visits to substitute for written self-evaluations? 

Journals – the majority of student find they help with focus and thinking through questions, relationships, and discussion points.  I find it burdensome to have to dream up questions, but love reading them.  Alternately, all but the biweekly self-evaluation could go into a blog and be shared with peers or the world.  Then the self-evaluation becomes an “assignment” in Blackboard, and there’s one less “place to put stuff” for those overwhelmed by Blackboard.

  • weekly citation of a reading/media object and why it’s important to our questions, building into an annotated bibliography
  • biweekly self-evaluation
  • alternate weeks from self-evaluation – write about whatever you want that’s course-related

For evaluation, I read in detail all the first citations/annotations and self-evaluations.  After that I sample from all students, all three kinds of journal.  I will have a count of how many were actually done in Blackboard.

Discuss classroom etiquette, teamwork, watching out for one another, and focus in the first week, even if other details get pushed aside.  Come up with a social contract that can go on big paper and be posted.

Barge into groups early and often.  Remind the students that I’m there to join their discussion, not to “judge.”  They tend to clam up and say everything's "fine" instead of sharing their conversation, even when they are on topic.  For me it feels like trying to join a group conversation in high school, so I need to remember it's an entirely different situation and purpose.

Make everyone aware that I do “observe a lot by watching,” both the positive and the negative.

Have a way to get attention with an odd but adult sound, since my voice doesn’t carry well, and the talking quietly trick doesn’t work for me.  Tin whistle? Cowbell? Giggle tube? Clicker?(do any nuns still use those?)

Be firmer about not quickly answering questions that are answered in Blackboard like “what’s due this week?” - often asked multiple times when someone gets his/her eyes off the phone to realize we're talking about due dates.  Encourage students to get online and check.  That could lead to more “Get the app, bro!” moments.

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