I have meant to post here about a variety of different things– some articles on assessment I read a while ago as part of my “reading academic journal articles” series, some iPad things, some garden things, etc.– but I’ve been more busy at EMUTalk.org and I have been swamped by the blessing and the curse that is “spring term” here at EMU. What everyone else in the world calls “spring,” we call winter (e.g., the term that runs from January until April/May). “Spring” is the first 7.5 week term that runs from the first week of May until late June– specifically, June 2o this year, and then there’s “summer,” which starts up a few days after spring ends and finishes another 7.5 weeks later in August.
The good thing about teaching in the spring is money: basically, I get paid “extra” or “overtime” money for teaching in the spring and/or summer terms. It’s a significant amount, too– 10% of a faculty member’s base salary for each class taught in load– and its money that I have come to count on to pay for some very specific bills and for other “extras” like paying off debt, trips, etc.
The bad? I suppose the main thing is it’s work, which is the opposite of “not working.”
It’s intense for everyone because, as I say frequently and mantra-like to my students, it is not half as long as a regular semester so much as it is twice as fast. Students in both of my classes (I’m teaching a f2f section of “freshman comp”— which is only sort of about “freshman” in the spring since a lot of the students are juniors and seniors– and an online section Writing for the WWW) were voicing concern about the workload, and someone in my comp class asked aloud and a little indignantly just how much time did I expect students to spend on the class. So I did the math. The class meets for about six hours a week, and I always tell my online students that they should expect to spend at least as much time online and engaged in the class as they would if it were meeting f2f. While I have never believed the classic college advice of spending three hours studying/working on a class for every hour spent in class, I do think about two hours per hour of class is a reasonable guestimate for outside of class reading, writing, studying, etc.
Give or take then, I told my students to figure on about 20 hours a week per class in the shorter term. Add another class into that mix plus a job plus some version of “a life” and it is no wonder why so many students struggle in the spring, and no wonder why I feel pretty spent myself.
It’s not all bad, of course. Students in the spring/summer terms tend to have some interesting “life” stories, and I have several of those students in both classes. For the most part, the ones who have stuck with it have been doing well. And while it is not quite as good as “not working” at all, a) there aren’t quite as many other meetings and such during spring and summer (though there are plenty), b) I do have some time to do more spring/summer activities (I’ll be gardening yet this morning), and c) I do like money.
Incidentally, two teaching strategy-type things based on stuff that happened in the winter are beginning to pay off for this spring. In the online class, I have instituted an “online attendance” policy which more or less requires a student to post at least twice a week at different times of the week to demonstrate “presence.” Mind you, this minimal attendance earns the student a bad participation grade, but the idea is that if a student is not posting at all, they are absent. And, as is the case with face to face classes, if a student misses too much class, they fail, regardless of any other grade in the course. I think this has “worked” in the sense that it has given a few students reality checks on what it takes to do an online class successfully.
The other different approach thing is based on last term’s “Gradeinator” approach with google docs. Instead of doing all that, I’ve taken a much more simple approach in my English 121 class this term. For each of the major peer review sessions of the class, I’ve set up a single Google survey. Students complete the peer reviews for each of the writers in their groups, and they fill out the simple survey (here’s an example of what I’ve done so far) for each writer they review– typically three or four times. Besides being dramatically easier, the nice thing about this approach is it keeps all the data on one spreadsheet (though I still have to go through some rig-a-ma-roll to get the results to individual students) and it makes it very easy for me to keep track of who has (or hasn’t) done a good job being a reviewer. So this is a keeper.
Anyway, 18 more days.