Classically Inclined

August 8, 2011

Syllabi wrangling – new assignments

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:57 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Over the weekend I’ve been putting together some syllabi for the courses I’m going to be teaching at Birmingham. Specifically for the first semester, this involves working out what I want to do for an option course on religion, myth and ritual, which will be lectures for about 70 students; a seminar course on ancient epic; and a first year project course designed to help student improve their research skills, which I am going to base around the Roman novel, because I can’t think of a better way to start your university career than some quality time with the smutty bits of the Satyricon and Metamorphoses.

The syllabi are still quite rough and very much in outline, but I’ve got a better sense of what I intend to cover in each course. I’ve particularly been mulling over what I want to do in terms of course assessment. Now, formal assessment at Birmingham is very formalised, but there’s plenty of space for informal activities within the course itself – which suits me fine, as I can use that flexibility to try out some things I’ve wanted to experiment with for a while now without going through the paperwork necessary to use these ideas for formal assessment. The ideas I want to play with are as follows:

  • Learning journals/reflective journals. This is an entirely new activity for me, but I’ve wanted to try it since hearing someone talk about it at a CAAS conference a couple of years ago. Learning journals are meant to act as private spaces for reflection, for the student to work through their developing thoughts on the course content, note their points of confusion and points of development, and generally be a bit more aware about their own status and habits as learners. I need to revisit my primary literature on this (currently still in boxes in possession of HMRC, sadly), but I think it will work best in my myth, religion and ritual option course. That’s going to be quite a large group and I would like them to have some space to individually engage with the material, and I think learning journals may be the best way forward.
  • Blog posts. This is part of my continuing attempt to work out the best way to get students to engage with secondary literature in a way that’s meaningful, useful and helps them sharpen both their public writing and critical thinking skills. What I want to do is assign one or two articles per class meeting which everyone reads, and one or two students write a goodly-sized blog post about; all other students in the class are then required to write a substantial response to each post. I still need to work out whether it is possible to do this on the WebCT format that Birmingham uses, and if not, work out an alternative format; I want to keep this private rather than public, for various reasons, not least of all  so that students don’t feel too vulnerable about working through thoughts that may still be in process. I’m planning to use this with the epic seminar, as that is capped at fifteen students, so the workload should be reasonably distributed and the group should be small enough to get proper interaction going. I hope.
  • The Critical Incident Questionnaire. As I mentioned in my review of Brookfield’s book, I fancy giving the CIQ a go instead of the ‘one minute papers’ that I’ve previously used. Again, I think this is going to be something I try with the epic seminar, because it’s a smaller group and thus it’ll be less information to process – and hopefully an easier format to tweak depending on the student feedback that I get, given that it’s going to be far more text- and discussion-based than the religion option.
  • Twitter?? Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while may remember the third post in my creative teaching in the humanities series, in which I suggested some ways in which a lecturer might incorporate Twitter into their courses. I have to sit down and work out whether I want to try out any of those myself in my teaching this year – for instance, using it as a channel for students in the option class to discuss questions about the reading, or for my first year project students to do much the same. I’m a bit wary of this, as it’s feeling like one innovation too many for my first semester of teaching, but I will ponder on it.


  1. I use blog posts in that way in my classes. It worked very well in the upper-level Latin and I’ll be doing it again in at least two courses this fall and am hopeful to have similar results. I use it more to digest primary material and practice close reading, however, as I tend to have discussions of secondary articles led by the students in the class itself. It is a nice way to get low-stakes writing into the course and peer responses and also allows them to trace threads throughout the class.

    re: Twitter – I’ve learned that the modern language teachers at my school are using it in their intro language classes with great success.

    Comment by Lauren — August 8, 2011 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

    • I will admit that it was your syllabus that gave me the idea for trying it out, although I’m hoping discussion in class will deal with the primary source material and close readings. As I say, I’m still looking for the “right way” to get some critical thinking going on the secondary sources, and this seems a good opportunity to try out this particular approach.

      Comment by lizgloyn — August 8, 2011 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

      • One of my writing assignments, suggested by our colleague, is going to be an article review and I’m thinking of having them also post these to the blog so that they can see each other’s responses to the secondary lit and get the dialogue continuing out of class as well. I’m in the middle of a summer seminar on the teaching of writing and this met with good responses from my fellow-participants, so we’ll give it a shot! Now I just need to make the Moodle blog more friendly.

        Comment by Lauren — August 8, 2011 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  2. I’m planning on using a blog as part of the Ancient Epigram course at Birmingham next semester. However, my plan is to use it more as a ‘continuing discussion’ resource, so each week I write a post that kind of summarises what we discussed in class and then people comment on it (things they didn’t say in class, reading they’ve done, whatever).

    Apparently getting a Birmingham web space for this is more or less impossible so I’ve been working on a wordpress blog for it.

    Comment by Francesca Sapsford — August 9, 2011 @ 5:46 am | Reply

    • Hi, Francesca – thanks for your comment! I’ve seen blogs used like that before as well, although I’ve not tried it myself. The nearest I’ve done is an on-line bulletin board in the course VE for students to use to carry on discussions, which can work brilliantly or flop, depending on the class dynamic.

      Thanks for the tip-off about the fact that the Birmingham VE isn’t set up for this sort of thing; I’ll have to see if I can find a suitable alternative to guarantee the kind of safe space I’m after.

      Comment by lizgloyn — August 10, 2011 @ 6:13 am | Reply

  3. […] back in August I posted some random noodlings about what innovations I might incorporate into my teaching for the coming yea…. Now that the syllabi have gone live and I’m starting to implement those ideas, I thought […]

    Pingback by An update on those new assignments « Classically Inclined — September 27, 2011 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

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