The four week course: A “convenient” style of teaching?

Friday, May 24th, 2013

We have wrapped up the second week of the four week class, which means we are half way through, and since I have to leave early for the Computers and Writing conference, this means I am a little over half way, at least if you ignore the grading portion of my work, which I really can’t ignore.

Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking about if this style of teaching works or not, or at least how well this type of teaching works. My job is to teach a typical 17-week long semester within a four week time period. When you do this, I learned that there are some important things to consider and some important things you have to do.

  • What I teach in a week is what I teach in one class period. This stuff, you all, is rough. While I really don’t have too much trouble cutting things down and keeping what must be done to the point, I really feel as if we are losing some of the “fun” classroom work. What I normally use to teach genre (music) I really didn’t get to do. The way I use art in the classroom sometimes got shoved to the wayside so I could open time for activities that can more effectively teach the ins and outs of assignments. Even so, I think there have been some fun, more creative activities going on. And sometimes when you do these activities that are more directly related to assignments, you still get some creative, innovative responses.
  • This also goes back to first bullet point: can I really teach a 17-week semester in a 4-week time span and still get the same results? No, I am learning. Not necessarily. For example, I’ve seen struggling writers improve in a semester long writing class. Not all, but some. I’ve also seen students start to enjoy writing more in a regular semester length class, and honestly this happens more often than the aforementioned example. The problem I am noticing in this four week class is that everyone is tired. Almost every student is enrolled in another class. People are not only tired, they are exhausted. It shows in their in class work, the expressions on their faces, and it shows in their desire for extensions, which admittedly I give without requiring a reason.

Despite the negatives above, however, there are some positives I have noticed. One is that collaborative work has seemed to almost spike. Maybe it is because no one is sick of each other yet. But I think it is also because everyone is treading water here with more than one class, turning in more than one assignment a week, and these students need the peer support. In class they seem to enjoy group work. I have also noticed they help each other a lot more in this class than I have noticed in regular semester classes. These students also tend to use class time far more wisely than students in regular semester classes. They tend to stay more focused on what needs to be done and I’ve even seen some students look ahead if they complete a task early. So there is a good community going on in the classroom, which is nice to see.

Another positive is students also seem to be more upfront and “chatty” with me than in regular semesters. Today, for example, I got into a discussion with a couple students about music. I was wearing my Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt, which I honestly wear more often than not, and he made a comment about how I must like the band. This got us off to talking about music from the 90s, and the Goo Goo Dolls were mentioned, which is a band I haven’t thought about in ages, but I so do remember Johnny Rzeznik’s hair, especially from the video for “Iris.” 

When it comes down to it, all these students are here for the same reason, though other different reasons apply: convenience. On the first day of class, students commented on how taking this class now would “ease up next semester” or “give them more time for more demanding classes” or “get the writing requirement out of the way.” It is just convenient. And while as I reflected on this, I begin to see a lot more positives than negatives, I still have some doubts about what students actually take from these more accelerated courses. With all the pressure millennials face to get a college degree, be successful, and really do it all, it concerns me that we as a society just feed into these desires. Oh, you want a degree in 21 months? Fantastic. I got a deal for you. While all of this in some ways is well and good for some people, quality is something we, as a society, should be thinking more about.

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