• putting it all together

    Posted on April 25th, 2012 kr No comments

    At the end of the semester there is usually some sort of rush to the finish, some sort of final dash where students seem to become overwhelmed with the impending finals and deadlines for final projects and research papers.  Is this a problem? What is happening in the first 12 weeks of classes that leads to such an overload at the end of the semester?  I’d like to say it is not the students’ fault; that they cannot help it that large assignments are due all at the same time or that they have final exams in all of their classes. But really, what is the problem?  These assignments are most likely listed in the syllabus from the first week of classes. Hopefully information on them was also handed out early.  As for the exams, well, if you have a final exam odds are you have been having exams all semester, so why is the final such a stresser?

    Perhaps there are some things we as instructors could do to make the end of the semester a less stressful time; maybe we could require pieces of final papers be turned in at various stages through the semester. Maybe we could be sure to not weight the final too much more heavily than any other exam (unless it’s in an area where synthesis of the knowledge and skills learned through the course is crucial, in which case, I’d say it’s necessary.) But isn’t there a level of personal responsiblity on the part of the student? How can we motivate them to be responsible and engaged in their learning and see assignments as tools to help them instead of something meant to burden them in their already busy lives?

    Maybe this is where the learner centered approach to class development could come in handy.  If students felt that they had contributed to the schedule of the course and the due dates of assignments and materials and even helped develop or decide which assignments to keep in the course and which would be less useful perhaps they would be motivated to get the work done earlier, to enjoy it, or at least to own it.

  • exams

    Posted on April 20th, 2012 kr No comments

    So, it seems to be that time of the semester again; the time when everything is due and everyone seems so busy.  As a now well-seasoned graduate student I’ m accustomed to the lengthy papers being due at the end of each semester in the course I am taking and I have always been the type to schedule and finish these hefty projects earlier rather than later.  This semester is a tad bit different.  While I do have one research paper for a course, I also have an in-class final that will consist of both multiple choice and short answer questions.  This seems odd to me.  Do I mind? Not really. It’s a bit more stressful than a paper, but I plan to take my prelim exams next Spring so a tiny little multiple choice test doesn’t really seem like any big threat.  But, it does bother me for some reason.  And, after thinking about it, the reason it does is very relevent to our GEDI course. 

    A multiple choice tests seems, in essense, to be trying to figure out what we don’t know. What details we may have missed while reading our course materials.  Because the questions are short you can’t very well get at complex ideas or comprehensive understanding very well.  Short answer, that’s a little better, at least there you can tell what you do know and synthesize what you do understand. 

    In developing a course I have been going back and forth on the idea of using multiple choice exams.  I’ve decided they seem like a good tool for checking if students have read the material at all, using very topical questions.  But, after having been reminded through my own agitation why multiple choice tests are suboptimal, I will not be using them as a primary source of student evaluation.  Maybe it’s good that I was given this reminder. I think my class teaching experience and students’ experiences will benefit because of it.

  • teaching tough topics

    Posted on April 2nd, 2012 kr No comments

    I’ve been reading some interesting marriage and family literature lately, and I figured I could post some out on the “blogosphere” (I’m getting cooler by the minute!) and if someone happened across it then maybe they would find it interesting as well.  I’ll probably try to tie in something about teaching methodologies or something else that might tie it in with the GEDI course.

    Let’s start with something that is very controversial among students even on this very (privledged, white, heterosexual, right on the bible-belt) campus. Same-sex marriage.  Apparently, there are a few main themes of dissent that come up when discussing legalization of same-sex marriage and it’s possible effects on heterosexual marriage. 1) If same-sex marriage is legalized marriage and parenthood will become separate, and marital parenthood will become a minority. 2) this will be disastrous for children because cohabitors break-up at such high rates.  3) allowing gay marriage is both a cause and the effect of the separation of parenthood and marriage and 4) if same-sex couples can marry, then heterosexual people will stop marrying. These are all laid out by Badgett (2011) in “Briefing Paper: Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine Heterosexual Marriage? Evidence from Scandinavia.” 

    To summarize the findings, basically, none of these accusations are true.  They all have links to partial truths or real occurrences, such as a growing separation of parenthood and marriage, but these trends had been in place long before same-sex marriage was legalized in certain European countries.  Likewise, while it is true that cohabitors are more likely to end relationships, in Scandinavia children born to cohabitors spend about 87 percent of their childhood living with both parents (70% of whom marry within five years of the child’s birth) compared to American children who spend on average, 67% of their childhood living with both parents…and the explanations of twisted rationalization continue.  Now, tying this back to teaching and education.

    As a student in an area that deals with many different “touchy” or very personal subjects, it is not unusual to have to expose students to information that questions or undermines their own personal beliefs about morality or  what they consider”reality.”  How can student’s experience this jolt of being faced “facts” that do not coincide with what they consider to be the “truth,” whether it be based on religion, personal experience, or whatever.  Do we expose them to this knowledge then invite them to open discussion and share responses and understandings? How can we invite to students to engage but still hold them accountable to the prejudices they may hold? 

    I myself am still grappling with how to invite students to learn when I am aware that some of them will not want to engage in a productive discussion but instead, a moral battle.  No matter how a topic is prefaced with “this isn’t about personal beliefs or one person or one religion, this is about larger social processes of inequality and misunderstanding and power and discrimination, etc…” it seems someone always wants it to be a moral judgement.  For me, personally, being acutely familiar with the moral arguments that are likely to arise in this specific area makes it easier to deal with questions and comments; they loose the element of surprise.  I’ve also found that understanding the literature of the area inside and out is essential to explaining what is and what is not being argued. From there it’s easy to guide discussion to productive areas. Of course, this is not to say discussions of morals cannot be important, in fact they are incredibly important, but maintaining the balance in the discussion that may be personal, but also detached from the individual is more difficult that one might think…