It seems like I am always starting blog posts off with an apology for not having written in a while. Since the birth of our daughter 15 months ago, spare time has been harder and harder to come by. However, she is settling down into a good routine, so I hope to do better this semester. I had hoped, after the post in November to be back on track, but shortly after that, we had a major family health issue come up that pushed out non-essential items. Now I think things have settled down, and I hope to be going again with my blog.
So, here we are, with a new semester (three weeks in but, hey, what can you do about that). I have, yet again, been given a double overload in classes, meaning that I am teaching 7 classes this semester for the second semester in a row. I have 4 online sections and 3 hybrid sections. My online sections are running as they always do. I am in roughly the 5th year of my current configuration of my online class, as so they can largely run without much effort on my part. That is one of the truths about online classes, that they are very involved and difficult to get going, but they can run pretty easily once you get them done. However, if you have followed my blog so far, you will see that I am rarely satisfied with how my classes are going. My online class is far overdue for a reworking, and I hope to start thinking about it this summer. I have made some changes over the last 5 years on the margins, moving assignments around and changing a few things here and there. However, I think it’s about time for an overhaul soon. And, the model that I will use for my overhaul are my hybrid classes.
I have started getting my hybrid class really going in the direction that I like. I am in the second year of working with this new hybrid format, and I am adjusting and working with the class as it moves forward. Following what I worked with last, this semester, I have moved into a model of weekly work and a long paper at the end. There are no exams, although I do have some chapter quizzing going on. The big part of the grade (about 45% overall) is discussion based, both online and in-class. Then, to keep the students on track, I have weekly, one-page response papers. I have returned to this model from what I did the first year, because I tried not having response papers last semester, and I found that students did not do the work if I did not hold them directly responsible. So, I am hoping that this semester they will do more of the work I expect them to do outside of class. I don’t have any great desire to grade weekly papers, but I want my students doing the work, and their grades will improve (hopefully).
As I have this hybrid model settled in well, I think I can use a lot of the ideas from this format in my online course. I would like to move beyond the exam model and include a lot more activities and discussions. Right now, the online class is primarily made up of reading lectures and the textbook and taking quizzes and exams. That is exactly the format that I have moved away from in my hybrid class, and I would like to move the online class beyond it as well. I hope that I get it together relatively soon.
Anyway, that’s a good start for the semester. Wish me luck.
Ok, so I’m a bit behind. Our life has been a bit upside down, as we are coming up on the last month before our baby is due, and the urgency on getting things done is ramping up on a daily basis. So, it makes sitting down and getting extra things, like this blog, done hard. I actually have to go back and see what I did in the second “week” of the hybrid class, as that was a while back at this point. I put the “week” in there because it is technically the third week of the class, but the first week really didn’t count for the activities. This will be the last time that I put in the quotation marks, but I wanted to keep it consistent for the moment.
In the second week, I had the students go online to watch some pre-developed lectures. I decided to use the site to see if having the students access the same material in several different locations and forms made a difference. In this case, they have my own lectures, which are both written and in audio podcast form, the textbook reading, and these lectures. While these outside lectures are somewhat cartoony and simplified, the basic ideas are delivered well and they are at least moderately entertaining.
After reviewing five of the lectures in addition to the normal lectures and textbook reading, the students had to come ready to do a group activity. The activity was to be done completely in class, and each of four groups of 4-5 students was to create its own successful colony. They were to apply the lessons from American colonial development and create an ideal colony. I left it pretty much open from there except that I did stipulate that their colony must be a real one, as in it must be reasonable in presentation and must relate to the other existing colonies at that time. They were to discuss the people who would have come, where they would have settled, what their economic basis would have been, what religious ideas they would have had, and what type of government they would want.
So, how did it go?
Well, it was the first time for me for an assignment like this, and it was the first for my students in this class as well. The major issue was that all of the work was to be done in class. That was tough for a 75-minute class. I took out about 15 minutes at first to talk about the reading and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That gave about 45 minutes of work time and then 15 minutes to present. In all ways, it would be nice to have had more time. I did not keep as good of track as I should have the first class, and we had to do one of the presentations the next class. I graded them on the basis that they only had limited time to work on it. The other issue is that it is hard to hold the discussion to just 15 minutes for the first part, and if that goes long, then we really don’t have enough time to complete everything.
Overall, I think it was reasonably successful. I graded it on two things — the presentation and the group work. The presentation grades were all reasonable, as I had to be lenient considering the limited time to prepare. On the group work, I went around and observed each group and came up with my own grades for each person. I also had them grade each other and send me the information. I averaged their grades as one with my grade to come up with a group work grade for each student. It was a bit complex overall, but I think the grades were somewhat reflective, if a bit high for most people.
The problem for giving more time to prep for the students is that this is still early in the semester. I didn’t want to get them going too deep into pre-class prep yet, as that will come later in the semester, which does put a limit on it. What do you think? Am I being too cautious there? Should I have higher expectations of the work ahead of time or keep it as something that is done in class? I just don’t know.