This Teaching Carnival entry is about some of my current experiences teaching a senior-level seminar for the first time. Both G Zombie and Another Damned Medievalist, in their discussions of grading, and Anbruch, in his discussion of teaching a seminar, have addressed some questions I’d like to discuss. Also, as I’ll suggest below, because this is my first 3-hour seminar, I’m still learning how to pace class discussion, a process that I’m describing under the concept of “teaching times” in honor of my interest in media and time.
The senior seminar is the culmination of the media studies degree and requires that students write a major research paper on a course theme selected by the instructor. In my case, I’ve chosen “Media Times” as the theme, which has allowed me to draw from research for my current book project, something I’ve really enjoyed doing. Rereading some of the important work on media and time (Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes; Television by Raymond Williams, and The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918 by Stephen Kern, among other readings) has allowed me to see my own research anew and to recognize a little more clearly what I’d like to contribute with my book.
But teaching the seminar also has been a learning experience in terms of teaching an advanced course. I think Anbruch’s advice makes a lot of sense, and I intuitively incorporated some of his pointers into my senior seminar. Like Anbruch, I’ve generally tried to frontload the reading, with the knowledge that my students will be working hard on their projects at the end of the semester. I’ve also created a situation in which students do some of the work of leading class discussion. This also allows me to gauge how students are responding to some fairly difficult reading assignments. So far, so good. Discussion has been enthusiastic, and students have been eagerly re-reading theoretical concepts, such as Raymond Williams’ notion of “planned flow” through the contemporary situation of a society saturated with countless cable television channels, advertisements embedded within other TV shows, and other contemporary phenomena. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how quickly a three-hour seminar can sail past, at least from the perspective of the instructor. The first couple of weeks, I had to remind myself to take breaks because I’d get so caught up in the discussion, and because I know from recent experience that three hours from a student’s perspective is a lot longer than it is from an instructor’s. In one of my undergraduate courses, I even learned how to read a clock backwards in its reflection in a window. This clock-watching was not necessarily due to boredom or lack of interest but was instead due to a combination of exhaustion and a lack of control over the “narrative” of the class, and I’m still learning to account for the different level of concentration required in a senior-level class.
Also, as I’ve suggested, I’m still learning here, and this learning process includes developing strategies for managing senior-level research projects rather than shorter assignments. Unlike Anbruch, I’m not planning to cancel any classes this semester (my conference schedule is busier in the spring), but I will meet with my students individually to ensure that they are making sufficient progress on their papers. Because I have a relatively small number of students (12 or so in my senior seminar), for the first time in several years, it’s actually feasible to conduct conferences and to make them more meaningful. I’m also planning to have students “present” their paper projects to the class next Friday, an activity I picked up from one of my professors at Purdue. Not only will this require students to be prepared to talk about their projects to a classroom full of peers, but also it will allow them to cultivate networks and share resources as they conduct their research. It will also establish the seminar paper as a process rather than a punctual, last-minute activity.
But, as my discussion of the seminar paper implies, this will have the effect of backloading the work of grading for me. I’ve been careful to require occasional written assignments–a proposal, a dilation, a write-up of their presentation–so that there are no surprises at semester’s end, but I’m a little concerned about the time crunch in November and December when I’ll be prepping for MLA. G Zombie’s questions are similar to my own. How do you learn to comment judiciously on seminar papers? I know that I won’t be grading seminar papers like I do freshman composition papers, but I’m still trying to gigure out how I’ll be positioning myself as a reader (beyond the already-established position as teacher). Here, I think ADM’s comments about establishing grading rubrics and clearly defined goals for the assignemnt are really useful. If there’s a context in advance, it makes it easier to use comments more efficiently and hopefully to grade more quickly.
Finally, there’s the more obvious refrence implied by “teaching times,” with teachers fighting to secure morning or afternoon schedules based on their preferences. I’m not a “morning person,” so picking up a morning schedule has itself been a learning process. I didn’t plan for this entry to focus on “teaching times.” It just happened to take that direction, but given my focus on time in some of my research, it seemed like an interesting way to frame some of these questions.
technorati tag: teaching-carnival