Before a New Term Starts

I realize that many of my colleagues in the United States are still teaching. It’s the Spring term for them and they are slogging through those last few weeks or months in some cases. But for me, it’s the last harried week before my Summer term begins. So, it’s that time of year when many of my college students are thinking about the next year’s classes. This is a slow teaching time for most regular faculty (note this doesn’t include the sessional instructors, who usually have to teach full-time in order to stay afloat). One of the things that we forget though, is that this time of year is very busy for advisors and others who help students figure out courses and other important matter that is important to student success.

This quick note is a reminder for patience. In the last week, I’ve had many emails about books and course outlines/syllabi. Students want to know–where are the books? Bookstore. Where is the course outline. In my head, it’s in draft stage and gets distributed on the first day of class and possibly early on Moodle.

Patience for the frantic student who needs a little reassurance about classes. For instance, I am finding that I am fielding more emails where a student really wants advice. “Which classes should I take?” A few have actually said, I want to know your recommendations. This is a big responsibility for me. Typically the student who asks, has already taken a course with me. So, I need to think about his/her interests and weigh my knowledge of the department’s courses. At first I would suggest all our courses, but now I am more careful. This is not based on content, but rather thinking more strategically about the student and her/his interests and possible grad school interests. Students asking for more help with planning their academic career is more common today in my experience.

One common response from students is that they have heard that a colleague is a GPA buster. I always smile at this and explain that if the student wants to focus on Area A, for instance, in grad school that she absolutely needs to have a class with said colleague. The majority of the students come back to my office the next term and thank me for my suggestion. I’m sure that there are some who have opted to not come and complain to me, too! I would have never asked an instructor for advice about which course or professor to take, but from talking to other undergraduate advisors these sort of queries are more apt to take place today. I think that when I am queried–it is acceptable for me to make course suggestions to students. I am one of three undergraduate advisors in the department.

The other thing that happens lots is students want to check in and see where they stand with their programs. I get more queries that essentially are asking, “Am I on the right track” during these Summer term months. Many students have caught their breath after a busy year and are now assessing what they’ve done. I look forward to these conversations, as most students are pleasantly surprised with the progress made. I certainly do wish that more students would check in annually with either Academic Advising or the department advising team to verify where they are in the undergraduate program.

Summer Courses~ Post-Mortem

I always like to think about my courses after the grades are submitted. What worked. What did not. What did I learn. This Summer term I taught Poli 103: The Worlds of Politics and Poli 433: Politics and Popular Culture. Both courses ended up with two dozen students, which was odd considering that the first usually enrolls at 180-225 during the others school terms.

What worked: I borrowed a tactic from my colleague, Dr. Michael Webb. The syllabus stated that a student could not pass the class unless 70% of the courses were attended. So, yes, I did take roll. And, this was not for mere attendance, but also for participation. I do have an area for evaluation where roughly 5-20% of the students’ mark is assessed based on their quality participation. This worked well. Every student who completed the course attended the requisite number of courses or more. Now, some students’ engagement and participation in the course varied. But, by and large most participated some. It is hard and unfair to compare the courses, since one is a first year level course and the other is a fourth year seminar.

What did not work: Popplet. I could see from the students’ faces that many of them had a hard time following Popplet. I’m a visual learner and I like outlines, mind mapping, and brainstorming. Popplet did not work for all or even most of the students. I think the branches were too thin and didn’t catch them.

Related to this, I think that many liked my use of Prezi and I know that the majority really found the Slide Rocket slides useful. I am not surprised. The Slide Rocket slides had slightly more information on them and would offer them visual cues of sort back to the course materials, while the Prezi presentations were really about the concepts and less for them to hurriedly type or write down!

The students like that they have a choice with one of the major seminar assignments.  Specifically, I have a creative project and the students have the option of putting together a zine, blog or vlog. This term more students opted for the zine compared to last term and I am not sure why this was the case. Regardless, some wonderful zines were submitted, as well as some interesting blogs. The blogs varied in terms of quality and part of this was not just web savvy, but really about the students’ writing and creative analysis. Some obviously spent more time thinking and refining their blog posts.

Overall, I do think that the courses were successful and I look forward to the official course experience surveys (the evaluations), but I will add that the half dozen emails thanking me for the course(s) have been saved and will go in my reappointment file!