Syllabus Redesign (Eighth Version)

I swear, it will be the death of me.

Just when I say, that’s it.  I’m done.  Fall 2011 syllabus can be uploaded to the blog.  I have a new brainstorm or I read an article online, or I participate in #engchat or #FYCchat and my entire thought-process is demolished (in a good way).  With three weeks to go to the start of the semester, I know I need to just fine-tune and polish them and call them good.  I always deviate from them anyways.

Here are a few of my most recent struggles with syllabus course revision:

1.  The Balance between Reading and Writing

My First Year Composition course has a lot of writing.  I know that.  My students know that.  At first, they are overwhelmed, then it just becomes second nature.  Every semester, my evaluations state that the level and amount of writing is what helped them to become better writers (the overall purpose of this course).  Last term, I realized that we only discussed reading 10-15% of the time.  The rest was dedicated to writing.  I firmly believe that to write well, you must read well.  With this in mind, I have assigned a reader for this semester as a tester.  Ideally, I’d like to try a thematic approach and have readings all within that theme.  Perhaps in the Spring (as I just thought of this over the last week and three weeks is not enough time to pull it all together).

2.  Role of Technology

Students today must be able to not only navigate the online world, they must be comfortable claiming their own and leaving their digital footprint behind (and no, not those weekend party pictures on Facebook do not count).  With this in mind, my students this year will be using a blog (platform their choice) for reflective writings about their learning as well as a platform to share their writing with the world and each other.  This semester, my courses are also paperless.  I will restrict the papers I handout out (none planned at the moment, except for a QR business card) and students will not be handing in hard copies.  I will be using JotForm uploaded from our class blog.  The files is saved into my Dropbox and then I will annotate and provide narrative feedback on the iPad2 and email the PDF back to the student.  Toting around 70 student essays of 7-10 pages was a bit crazy.

From the #FYCchat Twitter chat on August 3rd, I was happily encouraged to see another professor using Twitter in her course.  I like this idea and plan on using it as well.  I will create a hash-tag for each course and students will be able to reach out to me and others.  In addition, students will have to tweet in questions for our reading discussions using the hash-tag that I can then pull up in class so we can guide our discussions.  I’m excited for this.

3.  Writing Assignments

While I have the big assignments that stay the same in theory from semester to semester, I am constantly adding new frames around them or redirecting their focus.  My research paper is a prime example of this.  When I first started teaching it, I used the standard I-Search format (hybrid of the 3-Search paper).  My second semester, I moved it to a Multi-Genre Research Project (MGRP).  I was okay with the student products, but still, not quite what I had imagined.  My third semester, I combined my argument paper with the MGRP.  The results were better, but it was still missing something.  This year, my fourth semester, students will be creating the MGRP digitally.  This will be a great first step to the online collection of work that is due at the end of the semester that they will be using to help validate their grades for the term.  I think this evolution make logical sense for me.  I just wonder what the students will think.  Will this next step in the MGRP-Digital be too much?

4.  Assessment/Grading

I have struggled with this aspect of teaching the most (and I’ve only been teaching for two years!)  I started with points–2,260 points a student could accrue during the course of the semester.  This was ghastly and placing a grade on a paper and then converting it to points… I’m a writing instructor.  Math is not my forte.  I spent most of my grading time on calculations.  Even then, grades were “adjusted.”  After that, I moved to a percentage-based system.  Still, most of my time was spent on an Excel spreadsheet calculating percentages instead of points.  This semester… I am tossing grades out the proverbial window.  Students will grade themselves on criteria that we establish in class: together.  And I am relieved.  Off all my revisions, additions and subtractions to my syllabus I feel the most confident with this change.  Yes, I know students will be ambivalent and unsure of what to expect.  I know, that after the are knee-deep in it, once they experience the freedom of writing and learning without the competitive grades; they will excel.

Now… to tackle my”Outsiders in Literature” course syllabus.  I still have three weeks.. plenty of time… (I hope…)

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One response to “Syllabus Redesign (Eighth Version)

  1. Hi Vanessa – Happy to see you on here! I have to say I decided to make my syllabus more generalized with topics rather than exact information for each week. That helped when I wanted to add new information and articles like you mention. I then used the course wiki to include the new information I had found, without disrupting my syllabus. It was still included under each broad topic for that week, but was much less specific to the exact topic covered. I know this is difficult for some students who want to work ahead, but I open two weeks ahead now at a time. I always warn them that I may be adding or changing things in the course to stay relevant. I love the idea of not so much grading. If you still needed a way to grade, learnboost is a wonderful, free tool for grading that does all the math for you! Take care! Kim

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