Practical Teaching Ideas

Pilot Course Entry #1: Setting the stage

shield-229112_640The story arc of a course, especially when it involves technology, can be unpredictable. We hope it isn’t. We want events to follow plans; a smooth predictable arc, but there are always blips. Variables introduced with each new student, or different technologies and devices, lead to building a plan that can accommodate a little chaos. So when some friends asked about how the story arc of my courses go, it took me a while to respond.

After another hour of discussion, we were still debating over how teachers, classrooms, students and technology can all be accounted for in the planning process. After all, each new variable introduces new and different opportunities, challenges, and the possibility of a crash and burn. It was at this point of the debate when I was finally put on the spot. It came out as, “Why don’t you do a pilot of your new course, and show us how you integrate technology into your classroom.” It may as well have been, “Put up or shut up.”

So, there we were. The challenge was set, and my colleagues proceeded to choose the course for me. The initial decision was to work with a class of incoming Freshmen, as it was agreed that it was the closest to a ‘clean slate’ than the upperclassmen. Additionally, as this is a required course students are assigned to classes by ability, so the variable of student ability is greatly reduced. Then they changed their mind. The challenge will be the third year class.
Fortunately, we also track this 3rd year required class, so I did get an upper level group, second out of nine.

I’ve set myself one tech goal and one pedagogical goal this year for all of my classes. I aim to “go mobile” so as to create materials that work on smart phones. No need for laptops or tablets in class. Indeed, not much need for tech in class, as we have the wonderful resource of other students to use.

Which leads to my second goal, more autonomy. I’ve tried autonomy before, and found, oddly enough, that it works better in groups, here in Japan. Getting people to study on their own by themselves is like pushing a string. But get them together in a group, a small group, and they play off each other. Once you get over the “face” issue, and keep rotating the groups (a new mix every 3 weeks), it leads to a lot more discussion, interaction, and plain old interest.

So, to add to the autonomy, this year my goal is to get students to lead the small groups. To come up with their own materials, their own ideas, and host a group as if they were the teacher. Lots of planning, and lots of guidance are in order, and those first 2 weeks of the course will set the tone, but I hope to have students take over, more creatively, what I do. But with me pointing in the background…this way, no that way.

Next Post: The Syllabus.

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