Monday, December 28, 2009

Spring syllabi

At last!

The syllabi for my Spring 2010 courses have been posted on the now-up-and-openly-accessible course websites for Calc II and Topology. Supplementing these are the omnipresent links to my now-standard writing stylesheet, and for the budding topologists I've included a more-robust-than-ever introduction to LaTeX, now including a guide on inserting graphics files into LaTeX documents.

What about those syllabi? I've tried to take all of the feedback my students offered to me by e-mail (about 20 students eventually got back to me with their suggestions!) as I put them together, and I've tried to stay somewhat true to my goal of de-emphasizing grades (and thereby at least implicitly emphasizing collaboration), all while minimizing the "bureaucratic overhead" that was probably the number one complaint my 280 students had about their course this past semester, as measured by the course evaluation forms I got back a couple of weeks ago.

A few additional comments:

1. Rinse and repeat. I've backed off from explicit portfolio grading, but I've included the portfolio-esque unlimited revision-and-resubmission option in both courses: exams and projects in Calc II and everything in Topology can be revised and resubmitted as many times as the student would like to in order to craft an increasingly correct, complete, clear, and well-composed piece of mathematical writing. These systems of unlimited R 'n' R should help to cut down on the complexity of grading: if you're not happy with a grade, revise and resubmit. Again, if you'd like. And again. And again and again and again. I like this idea in theory and I'm excited to see how well it's going to work in practice.

2. Homework presentations. For the first time in two years I'll be teaching an upper-division course without homework committees, replacing the committees in Topology with "homework presentations" instead. This move too is designed to reduce "bureaucracy" by eliminating the deadlines associated with committee problem submissions and committee presentations, and it introduces a good deal of flexibility: as you can see on the syllabus, any number of students (including a single student!) may opt to join in on a particular homework problem's presentation, and there's only minimal bureaucracy involved in assessing participation in presentations. Speaking of flexibility, I believe the new syllabi offer tremendous...

3. Flexibility in assessment. Though there's no explicit mention of portfolios, in both courses I've left the exact manner of grading up to the students: in the first full week of class one of our tasks will be to decide, as a class, how each sort of assignment will be assessed, and with what weight it will affect students' grades.

4. Homework in Calc II. In Calc II, I will still be requiring homework, but at least half (probably more) of the homework will be handcrafted by yours truly, and I'll include frequent "short essay" questions demanding interpretation and explanation in addition to more traditional problems requiring no more than computation. Although I've still not made up my mind on the matter, I believe I'll grade the homework by giving each problem a number from 0 to 3:

0: no attempt, or a clearly half-assed attempt, made at solving the problem.

1: an honest attempt has been made, but the method of solution is not correct, and/or the student's work is very unclear and logically jumbled.

2: the method of solution is correct, but perhaps there are one or two minor computational errors; the writing is clear and well-composed, but insufficient explanation is given when explanation is called for.

3: solid; there are no errors (save perhaps a transcription error or a minor, minor error in computation), the student's logic is clear and straightforward, and all necessary explanations are sufficiently complete and are given in complete sentences.

It'll probably be a relatively easy matter for most students to get a 2 on a problem, but I'll warn them that getting a 3 is typically going to require careful attention to mathematical exposition as well as mathematical computation.

The syllabus for Calc II doesn't allow for unlimited revision and resubmission of homework problems, but if there's enough call for it, maybe I'll consider it.

5. The "textbook" assignment. The Topology crew is going to follow in the footsteps of this past term's 280 folks in writing a textbook for the course. As I did this past fall, I'll randomly assign topics from each "chapter" to students in the class. As in the fall, we'll meet up at "editing parties," but I'll be making these parties a bit more formal (going so far as to bring homemade goodies to them!) in order to encourage attendance. Finally, I'm taking La Donna's suggestion and writing a template the students will be asked to use in order to craft their textbook submissions; this will encourage at least basic typographical consistencies between the sections of the book.

Incidentally, La Donna and I will be meeting next week to hammer out some more edits on this past semester's textbook. I'm excited to see what we can make of it.

Before I go, I wanted to provide a link to the pedagogical Live Journal authored by my collaborator in crime, Cogswell. He and I will be sharing ideas with one another (often openly on our respective blogs) as we move forward with our courses this semester. I believe he's thinking about using the textbook assignment in his abstract algebra course, but is understandably skittish about the amount of work it might entail (he's the proud father of a brand-spankin'-new baby and has therefore clearly got other major commitments!).

More power to ya, Cogswell!


Cogswell said...

Would it be possible for you to make a previous course textbook available? I'd be interested in seeing one.

DocTurtle said...

There are still some finishing touches to put on the project, and I'll be working with La Donna this coming week to tend to those. I'll likely make it available once it's ready.