Monday, November 16, 2009

Help wanted: apply within

So here's the deal:

As regular readers know, I've been kicking around various ways of putting together next semester's courses, with ideas ranging from a simple tweaking of homework assignments all the way through out-and-out adoption of portfolio-based (and therefore virtually gradeless) assessment.

No matter what, there are certain elements of both courses I'll be teaching that will be essential.

For instance, Calculus II will involve the same sort of miniprojects it always has (we'll start things off, as usual, with A Confectionary Conundrum, and we'll keep the Funky Function Festival and various other small-scale applied projects and in-class activities involving delicious comestibles), and I'll still require that some sort of computational work be submitted each week...but much of that work will likely be ungraded, in order to engender a low-stakes atmosphere of exploration. But beyond these basics, I'm open to negotiating just about every other aspect of the class.

Topology, too will have its sine qua nons: however it's done, peer review must appear as a regular, fundamental, and well-structured aspect of the course; as in Calc II numerical grades will be de-emphasized in favor of ungraded, proficiency-based projects, and in-class discussion and discovery will form the basis of most of our class meetings. I will also be offering unlimited revision/resubmission of all coursework to be completed during the entire semester. Beyond this, I'm open to negotiations regarding the finer structure of the course.

I'd like to conduct such negotiations, in order to be sure that the courses I put together really do suit the academic needs and the learning styles of the students with whom I'll be working. Therefore what I'd like to do is ask those of my current and former students who will be joining me in one of these two courses next semester to help me put the courses together. (I'm ideally positioned to do this right now, as 27 of my current Calc I students and 4 of my Calc I students from Spring 2009 will be joining me in Calc II, and all but 4 of the 24 students enrolled in Topology have had me for at least one course in the past few years. I'll likely never have a better chance to engage so many students' opinions ahead of time.)

If you are currently enrolled in one of my courses, or if you have been a student in one of my courses in the past couple of years, and if you will find yourself in either Calc II or Topology next semester, you will soon be getting an e-mail from me asking you for your input on what our course should look like next semester.

I'm open to suggestions regarding just about everything:

1. The nature of homework (graded? ungraded? from the book? invented by me? some combination thereof?)

2. The structure of in-class activities (handout-based? note-based? suited to small groups? suited to the individual? some combination thereof?)

3. The nature of written assignments (papers? original research articles? expository articles? reflection papers? textbooks?)

4. Grading schemes (numerical? low-stakes? portfolios? how heavily is each component of the class weighted?)

5. Topics to be addressed (this applies more to the folks in Topology than those in Calc II; sadly, there's a pretty clear-cut list of topics we'll need to get through in the latter course, since it's not an elective) and the order in which we address them

As you respond to me, I'll ask you to think about what works for you: what do you need to get out of our course, and how can we put together a course which best helps you to learn?

I can't promise that I'll incorporate every suggestion, as I'm sure the range of opinions will be incredibly broad. Moreover, whatever structure results will almost certainly be guided in part by my own recent shifts in pedagogical theory, and there are a few things that will simply not fly. (For instance, I'm firmly and fundamentally opposed to the very idea of grading curves, and have been so opposed for quite some time.) Nevertheless, I'll try to take into account every word of input I receive and cobble together course plans for both of my classes next semester.

So, if you've had me for a class before and if you'll be having me again in Spring 2010, expect to get an e-mail from me soon. If you'd like to get a head start and don't want to wait for an e-mail, please feel free to respond to this post in the comments section (anonymously is fine). Let's get a discussion going.

I sincerely hope that you'll help me out here. Your education is more important to you than it is to anyone else, and I hope that you'll help me help you by taking a hand in scripting the acts of your education in which I will play a role.

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