Online Identity Class: Final Reflections

Graphic syllabusNote: As part of a College Teaching and Learning class in which I am enrolled, I will be reflecting weekly on the course I am teaching. I will likely withhold some details and information from these public blog posts to respect the confidentiality and sanctity of my classroom but I hope to be frank about my own actions and emotions as I teach this course for the second time.

I’ve graded the final assignments and submitted final grades (and made one correction to a final grade).  The class is over and I now have some time to try to see the big picture and reflect on the class as a whole.  I learned some very interesting things from reading the final assignments but I’ll save that for a separate post as that goes well beyond just this one course.

Taking the course as it was conceived and constructed, I am relatively pleased with how it turned it this second time around.  The material flowed much more smoothly this semester and that helped me keep the the ideas and concepts integrated as we changed topics.  Although I risked being repetitive, I constantly and intentfully reached back to material we had previously covered to tie it in with the new material and discussions.  That was a challenge for me at times but it’s a good challenge to undertake both for me and my students.  If it had been too difficult – if I had not been able to tie the ideas together on a regular basis – that would have indicated potentially severe problems with the design of the course.

Eliciting discussion was a constant challenge.  I attempted to meet that challenge by varying our activities.  I have a lot to learn about how to effectively use active learning activities, particularly those that employ different learning styles and engage more creative skills such as visual and physical skills.  In a course designed as this was (with a rather formal structure and flow), I would have liked to have employed more creative activities such as concept maps.  We made concept maps on the last day of the class as a way to reflect on everything we had discussed and learned and I was very pleased with the discussion generated by that activity.  It’s easy to blame the difficulty of engaging in discussion on the diverse makeup of the class and the general nature of U212 courses as nearly all of the students are in the course solely to pick up a few credits after having dropped another course.  It’s also easy to blame it on the fact they’re “just undergraduates” and discussion-based classes are relatively rare for many of them, particularly those still in their first couple of years.  There is truth in all of those reasons but I can’t help but view them as excuses.

Ultimately, however, I question whether the class was constructed in the most effective manner to help the students learn about identity and how it is being presented online.  Although I incorporated active learning and assessment throughout the course, it was still at its heart an instructor-led course built on the readings that I had collected and thought were interesting and insightful.  I am very inspired by the innovations of teachers like Michael Wesch and how he has structured at least one of his classes as student-led, trusting them to be not just students but partners in research and exploration.  I imagine that it’s difficult for most experts to put that level of trust in amateurs; even my language – “experts” vs. “amateurs” – betrays some of my emotions and difficulties.  But it seems like an incredibly powerful way for people to learn and I hope I can figure out how to integrate those kinds of ideas into my teaching.  I think it all comes down to trust: trusting that undergraduates can be mature partners in exploration and trusting that a class without a rigid syllabus stuffed full of pre-selected readings and content can be a meaningful learning experience.  Intellectually, I know that it’s not about content but about learning.  But that’s a difficult chasm to leap when almost all of my 20+ years of education have been content-centered.

I don’t know if I’ll want to teach this class again, at least in the near future.  Logistically, it’s been taught for two semesters and it appears that the powers-that-be want to keep the roster of U212 classes fresh.  Teaching is definitely good experience for someone aspiring to the faculty ranks but teaching undergraduates doesn’t carry near as much weight for me as teaching or working with graduate students since higher education programs only exist at the graduate level.  And as you can tell by my comments above, if I were to teach this again I would try my best to significantly change the structure of the course to make it less content-centered and instructor-led and more exploration-centered and student-led.

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