Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Classes: 4 Weeks to Teach 3 Months Worth of Lessons?

photocredit: 1000 Unlucky Days
This summer, I'm teaching my first online course. It also happens to be a summer course. It doesn't start until July 9, but I've been trying to figure it out since the middle of the Spring semester. I have created about 4 different syllabi at this point and am not really happy with any of them. I love the idea of teaching writing online, and I think, though different, it's a very feasible thing to do. However, teaching writing online in a time period of just 31 days is beginning to seem borderline impossible. I'm having a hard time figuring out how to include all 8 program learning objectives into such a brief amount of time, especially when I can't explain and interject as I would face-to-face.

Most universities offer summer courses these days, and typically, they run more than one "session." At one of the universities I attended, there is a 2 week pre-session, two month-long summer sessions, and a 2 week post-session. In theory, you have four mini semesters running over the course of just three and a half months. I'm not sure about other disciplines. I suppose one could learn some formulas in a few days or memorize a short length of history (maybe), but writing is not a science. It takes time. A short summer session isn't enough time for most students.

Furthermore, I've noticed that many of the students who take summer courses are taking courses that they want to separate from their typical workload, and often, this is because these are "weak" subjects for those students. They want to be able to dedicate their full attention to the subject so that they can succeed. It seems counter-intuitive, then, to push them quickly through subjects that they really need at which they need extra practice. 

For now, I am dealing with the challenge the best I can. I realize that my students are going to miss out on some of the biggest lessons that come from my three-month-semester course. They will only get to do multiple drafts of one major piece, so the importance of revision will likely be lost. They won't get to do many of the fun multimedia tasks or write in alternative genres like my three-month-semester classes do. Not to say that they won't learn anything, but I do think the integrity of the class will be greatly influenced by the shortened time span. I'm trying to negotiate my priorities, though, and make it the best course possible.

I'm wondering if any of you have taught or taken short summer courses, especially online ones. How did you cope with the tight time frame? Am I missing the benefit of having only 4 weeks?

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