I promised myself I’d devote some time in the Christmas vacation to reflecting on the new assignments that I including in my teaching during the term, and how they are working. (I wrote about them in these two posts.) Now that they have been in place for half the teaching year, I can have a look at them and work out whether they are doing what I wanted them to be doing – and if there is anything I can do to salvage them, should there be problems, or whether these assignments will be one-offs in my teaching history. The whole process of teaching is about recognising when things don’t quite work, and I feel as if last term clearly demonstrated that some things worked better than others.
- Learning journals/reflective journals: these, I fear, are the least successful of the experiments. You may recall I implemented two versions, one for my first year tutees and one for students in my religion, myth and ritual lecture. The version I used for tutees has been of some limited use. It asked them to keep a proper time log of their work in an effort to get them to think about time planning and management; some of them have been doing it very well, and hopefully it has created some good habits they can build on. I’ve also given the handout to other students who have expressed issues on the time management front, so it’s provided a useful resource. I think I need to rethink the goal of this, communicate it slightly differently, and for the time being continue following up with my first years to make sure the good habits I wanted to imbue are being duly imbued. As for the religion, myth and ritual reflective journals… well. If I say that a good proportion of the blue feedback forms nominated them as the thing to cut from the course, that gives you a good indication of student reaction to them. I’m going to continue with them next term, but unless I can think of a way to increase student participation and submission of this voluntary assignment, I think this may be the last time I try reflective journals for a while.
- Blog posts: this, by contrast, is my biggest success. The epic students have really got into using the blogs and the assigned class time to discuss secondary literature, and the kind of methodological dissection and analysis that I’m finding this allows us to do is finally doing what I want this kind of assignment to do – encouraging and developing critical thinking skills, particularly in relation to secondary literature. Students have told me the kind of thinking I’m getting them to do is helping them to use the same approaches in their other classes, and we have (admittedly more by accident than design) ended up going through a bit of a theory boot camp (because when I picked exciting-looking articles, I also apparently picked methodologically interesting ones, which makes for good discussion). I don’t know whether this kind of approach would work in a bigger lecture group – you might have to split students into smaller working groups to get the same dynamic going. But I feel as if I’ve finally discovered the way to do what I’ve been wanting to do for the last three years.
- The Critical Incident Questionnaire: this, too, has been a success, although I suspect that what I need to do with it to get the most out of it is more down to me than the students. It’s a much more detailed way of engaging with my students than the one minute papers, and it takes a bit of courage to follow through, but I feel as if I’m getting a far better picture of what my students value and what they’re taking out of the seminars. I’d like to think that they also feel as if they are getting more out of the dialogue with me as facilitator/educator, but I think I’m going to need to do some follow-up discussion with the students in question about this at the end of next term.
- Twitter: this would be the new assignment that I really didn’t pay enough attention to. While it hasn’t gone particularly well, I would like to come back to it and have another go, as I suspect the problem lies in my presentation of the assignment rather than the nature of the assignment itself. For religion and epic, I did no more than stick a hash tag on the syllabus and hope students would magically start using it (thus succumbing to the myth of the digital native, although I do know better than that). I was a bit more supportive for the first year students, giving them a handout and devoting a section of each seminar to discussing the important classics-related stories in the news (to be gathered by Twitter) that week. They have, slowly but surely, got onto Twitter and started following relevant people, and by the end of term were bringing back stories they had discovered (and sometimes ones that I had missed). I think I would like that to happen earlier rather than later, and I do wonder whether distributing paper handouts rather than telling them ‘the handout is on the WebCT’ would make a difference. So I shall try that with this term’s Roman Novel students and see what happens – but I suspect myth and epic tweeting is dead as the proverbial doornail at this stage.
Plenty to learn, plenty to improve, and plenty of room for growth – but that’s what this reflective teaching business is all about.