Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back in Action: Syllabus Revision

Athens, Greece
Whew! What a whirlwind summer this has been. I have just gotten back from Greece and a long weekend down the shore, and now it is time to get myself back into routine. I apologize to my lovely readers for being MIA for the last month and a half.

Right about now, I'm starting to think about my syllabus (perhaps syllabi) and what changes I want to make to my course this fall. Making changes is both exciting and scary for me. I know you cannot get better without trying something new, but I do always fear the risk of complete failure. Here are some of the big issues I have been considering, especially after reading my last two semesters' course evaluations:

1. Technology

What is the perfect balance? I have a hard time with figuring out the right amount of technology and kinds of technology to incorporate into my classroom. I want my students to have the edge when it comes to digital literacy, but I also see that some of them become overwhelmed by the idea of using new forms of technology, to the point where it affects their work. This topic definitely needs more than a small introduction, so you will see it appear in more length on the blog during the summer.

2. Writing Assignments

I have only 3-4 writing assignments during the semester that have many drafts due, along with smaller in-class and posted writing pieces, and a final portfolio. I see my colleagues giving all kinds of different writing assignments, and I can't help but wonder if mine are actually good enough or challenging enough. I don't want to assign writing just to assign writing, and I like the idea of showing students how a work can evolve through multiple drafts rather than assigning many drafts that get few comments, but I haven't quite figured it all out.

3. Quantity of In-Class Work vs. Out-of-Class Work

Students are overwhelmed with work already, and I like to interact with them, so I tend to assign more in-class work than out of classwork. I have to wonder if I'm being to lenient, though. This is college after all. Should I be enforcing the 6 hours of homework for 3 hours of class rule?

4. Assessment

I have my students help me put together a rubric, but I'm wondering if I should be using contract grading more or if I should be tougher with my grades on their actual written products.

5. How to frame a 2 day back-to-back course instead of a Monday-Thursday course

This one is self-explanatory. Jumping from a course where I could assign work in between to a course where my students only have a night between meetings will certainly be a challenge. It is going to force me to reimagine my whole course.

6. Final Portfolios

I was very impressed with the portfolios of my colleagues this semester, and though I think my students did some great writing, I'm not sure I saw the commitment or effort in my own students' portfolios that I did in those from other professors' courses. Part of the problem may have been the ePortfolio, which I experimented with this semester. I think, as I redesign the course, I really need to think about what I want my students to be producing as final portfolios.

If you are a professor, what are your big syllabus redesign concerns?

If you are a student, what do you believe are the most valuable things you can take away from a writing course?