I saw a job posting that noted that a strong candidate would want to fail miserably. I don’t have that link, but honestly I think that I have done that recently by taking some chances with my courses. And, guess what? I am fine with it. I am willing to take risks and have it fail. Fail miserably. It is a learnable moment. Sure, I often note the importance of a teachable moment; however, when I have failed miserably with a course I am learning. It is important to push boundaries and push myself.

My happy place is to push my students. But, recently I have pushed and failed. I have failed with books that my students did not like at all or assignments that did not work well. I held office hours in the last week and was a bit surprised to hear that the students liked the assignment. I am not convinced that it was a resounding success, though. Either way, I will have at it again with the next class.

3769283867_01c3214399 image is via Chris Griffith

On the Fly

Innovation requires that you are willing to fail. I am not willing to always do what is easiest in the classroom. Occasionally my assignments include working with a non-profit or another entity and then reflecting on this work or having students do podcasts or vidcasts. I find that there are some students who are most comfortable with papers and exams.

The students need to trust me with the assignment. How do you support non-paper and exam assignments?

Blogging Assignments: Yes, I’m Sold on Them

For the last four to five years I have included a blogging assignment in my Women’s Studies or Political Science courses. During the last three years the blogging assignment is mandatory and I have found that most students find the assignment(s) liberating in that it offers them a place to combine analysis with a creative assignment. However, I find that it is good to offer some flexibility with the assignment. Last Summer students had an opportunity to blog, put together a zine or make an iMovie that responded to a series of course readings. Six to eight of them put together zines and more opted to blog. For the second year in a row–no one opted to complete the iMovie assignment. However, one person did vlogging for her assignment and I was pleased with her vlogs.

These creative assignments are coupled with class participation, and lots of writing–a major research paper. The students get ample opportunity to think and write. My expectations are that the series of blogs helps the student hone her/his analysis of the course readings and my comments, then, help them improve so that the final paper is not merely an extension, but the final product for their thoughtful analysis related to the course material. I will continue to offer them this opportunity to blog.

The blogging assignment also allows the student to become familiar with a blogging platform and I find that most students enjoy learning how to add different matter (photos, video clips and the like) to their posts. The students experience some pride of ownership with their particular blog and then they get to do that practical thing—add familiarity to said platform to their resume. That said, there is also a growing area of literature that is examining blogging as a genuine assignment in the classroom and the benefits of blogging. I do think that we will continue to see social media use in our classrooms and here I do not mean that student laughing or smiling into their hands, as they text one another. No, we will see more colleagues using social media platforms in the classroom assignments. How are you using Web 2.0 in your classroom?

Explanation for an Assignment

I did something a little different in my class on Tuesday. I walked in and gave them what I felt was a good explanation for an assignment. I distributed the guidelines and reviewed them with the students. But, what I did differently was explaining WHY they had to do this assignment. I don’t think we do this enough. Our syllabi notes how the students will be evaluated.

But, do we explain why each assignment is important or why it is necessary? These are not cheeky, deep questions that I pose here. I do think that there are times when you need to put your cards on the table and explain to them:

This assignment will make your next assignment easier. I know that some of you get uncomfortable that I am evaluating your writing, but this evaluation is not about you as a person. I know that I walked in to the classroom wanting to do this based on a few difficult office hour meetings during the last two days. A few students shed tears and were not completely able to separate their marks from who they are as a person. Their mark is not them, but for some students (especially the first year students) it is really hard to separate the mark from their identity.

Perhaps some of the third and fourth year students in my afternoon class found my explanation tedious? I don’t know, but I wanted to remind them about the why for the next assignment. And, I also wanted them to realize that I know that they feel vulnerable when they submit their written work for review. How many of us has shuddered when we’ve opened up the email that includes reviewers’ comments? I know that for some of them my purple pen is like a weapon of personal destruction and I don’t want them to feel like that. Their grade and my comments is not a rant. It’s an assessment of following directions, critical thinking, and overall presentation.

Do you give your students the why explanation?

Fri Fun Facts: Following Directions

My Friday Fun Facts for today are about following directions. How many times have you looked at some directions and then realized that you read too much into them? I attended a lunch meeting the other day and wondered why they weren’t providing lunch. I showed up with my own bag lunch and lo and behold lunch was served. I verified the email and the email was clear. I just missed it.

I have been marking blogs and paper proposals this week and I am finding that the first error or misstep that many students hit against is following directions. Directions stated in the syllabus and announced in class. Now, there is a marked difference between the stakes involved with my attendance at a meeting on campus and lunch versus students’ marks. Clearly marks are more important. But, this grading experience is making me listen and read more closely than usual!

I have found a few things work best:

1. The directions need to be clear.

2. Include an example of a good or strong assignment. However, do not expect that is a fool-proof solution.

3. Be patient. Some will argue that they were~ being more thorough, did not understand, never read the syllabus, wanted to do the assignment their own way, etc.

4. Learn from each section of the class and augment as needed the next time around!

5. I want to emphasize patience. As some students do not realize that the assignment guidelines apply to them. This can include the topics and due dates.

Directions and marking offer me teachable moments. Back to grading…

Using Social Media in the Classroom: Quick Tips

Fri Fun Facts is dedicated to some pro-tips on the classroom. I use this term pro-tips in a tongue in cheek way.

1. What is the purpose of the social media use in the classroom? Transferable skills? Make sure that you are clear with the students about this.

2. Give the students as much direction as they need. Cheat sheets, primers in class, office hours, and your patience as you work with them.

3. Celebrate their work! Ask their permission to share it with one another. Encourage them to explore the assignments as an additional way of engaging in class work.

4. Keep organized! Stay on top of the students’ assignments and make sure that they understand the grading rubric.

3. This will offer a more hands-on approach by the instructor, but using social media in the classroom does become easier and easier.

4. Confer with other colleagues who have used social media in the classroom. Look online, via Twitter and other places for tips and information. Likewise, does your university have a teaching center that offers workshops? Contact them and find out or suggest that you run a workshop!

5. Talk with the IT or Computer Help people on your campus. You might find out about new initiatives that they are willing to support.

Have fun and get out of your comfort zone!