Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vox populi

The students have spoken!

Some of them, anyway. I thought I'd post the feedback I've received so far on this last Friday's class. The core issue is class structure: soccer ball or no? A few students brought up residual issues, but this single one remained at the center.

Saith one:

I find the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. Think about that premise and I think you'll be able to maintain an iron fist over the class without compromising the spirited environment.
In response to this point of view said I in an e-mail: "Point taken, kindly. I'll put my iron fist in a velvet glove and see how things go."

This student's take was echoed by a colleague:
I definitely felt like my thoughts were being forced to remain in my head, during Friday's class. I do agree that maybe some of those thoughts might be better off there, but what's most disappointing about that feeling is that it felt like much of the passion and the fun that existed in the first two class periods was sucked out of the experience.

I think that the soccer ball should be eradicated from the world of Graph Theory 473. What should be put in it's place is some self awareness, and some consideration on the part of those who are speaking, a few rules giving the 'presenters' more authority while they are in front of the class, and possibly a comment from the prof. when things start to get a little out of hand.

Man, I just went back and read your suggestions and ideas for next class. [See the excerpted e-mail from my previous post.] I didn't realize that you had already written the same ones that I did. Oops. Oh well, that's how I feel.

One student waxed a bit more philosophical:
Even though it was painful, I am glad we had the class we did on Friday. For me, two big ideas came out of what occurred during class. The first is, that in setting up time to ensure that we build a solid foundation for what we are learning, I believe that we are avoiding some long term pitfalls that might only have come up in the last weeks of the class. I feel like what really came out of the horse that we beat to death from problem sheet #2 was that carefulness leads to the deeper meaning that we are trying to glean. I know that there are Algebra and Calculus ideas that I learned only well enough for testing purposes and now wish that I understood more principally. I like the idea the idea of the review problem and the carefulness in answering problems.

Second, I think some good things came out of the 'structure discussion.' While I do not like the soccer ball, I do like the metaphorical one. I don't think that things were out of hand before Friday, in fact I love this class. I do think that we might not have had this discussion until things were out of hand though, and that would have been more painful. I like the 'sitting in a circle' idea. I believe that half of what we were concerned about will be fixed by that one addition. Also, because our Friday talk was not based in failure but in improvement, I think it gave us an early opportunity to be a little more conscious about how we do want to shape the class. I would guess that most of us gave that a little more thought after the discussion. So I guess the second 'big idea' for me was that awareness that came out of Friday. How could that hurt us!

Ultimately, some kind of order is necessary, as acknowledged by the folks above, and by our last commenter:
My thought is that there definitely needs to be some type of system, because the first few days it did get kind of crazy and was hard to really understand people's thoughts. But I also think we are all college students and should be able to respect one another enough to listen when they talk and then put in our thoughts (without interrupting). And people should be able to ask questions!

The plan from here: let's abandon that awful soccer ball, let's grant the presenter the authority to open or close the discussion, let's allow for open conversation while discussion is "on," with the understanding that that requires respect for one others' points of view and rights to have a say as well, and let's let me have another go at better moderating the discussion should the need for moderation arise (see my "velvet-coated iron fist").

Friday was painful for me, too. As the second commentator above pointed out, it felt a lot less fun, and when it comes to research (let's face it, folks, we're doin' research here) fun shouldn't be undervalued. I want this class to be fun and engaging, and I think we can manage that without the help of the soccer ball.

I'm glad we've had this conversation, I think it's helped us all to understand better what it takes to make up a healthy learning environment, and I'm glad it's happened in Week 2 instead of Week 11, allowing us twelve more weeks of organized, respectful, blissful interaction!

I'll check in again tomorrow and let you know how things go down.

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