Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Random beginning-of-the-semester bullets

-- The university cafeteria's latest innovation is ... water with berries in it. It's nice, I guess, but I keep wondering if we have all been implicitly cast as Caliban.

-- You know how every department has that one wacky faculty member? Ours is harmless and friendly, and when he does things like blowing up the microwave, it is always completely by accident. Now that I have a front-row seat for a different department's internal drama, I am beginning to feel like I have never appreciated him enough.

-- The problem with those one-credit "student success" courses that are meant to increase retention is that you obviously have to have requirements and policies and instructions if you're going to give students credit for the class. And yet, the sort of students who are inclined to drop out of college tend to be precisely the ones who have immense difficulty following requirements and policies and instructions, so the next thing you know the class has turned into a sequence of hurdles that keep tripping them up, and they end up with a C or D or F in it, which probably doesn't increase retention. I wonder if there is any good way to teach students to do college who don't already know how to do college.

-- Teaching Romeo and Juliet for the first time in forever. I quite like this play, but I'm reminded of why I don't teach it very often; it's because students THINK they know it too well (and sometimes actually do know it pretty well), so a lot of the class discussion feels too glib, a recitation of canned answers rather than a process of discovery. I tried plugging in R&J's first two big speeches in the balcony scene into Wordle, and I think that helped a little -- you can see the clusters of related words more clearly, and how much they get used in proportion to each other, and it defamiliarizes the speeches a bit.

-- We have a huge influx of international students from one particular country this year, so many that campus rec has ordered a crate of cricket supplies. (No, it isn't either of the two countries that probably come to mind immediately when you think about cricket.) I rather think pickup cricket games will add a welcome degree of quirkiness to the campus, so I hope it takes off.


Bardiac said...

Those 1 credit success classes strike me as a good-hearted attempt that doesn't very often work, and is frustrating overall. I'd have nightmares about a student doing the putting it off thing, and then not being able to graduate...

I think you're exactly right about R&J. Students THINK they know it, and give the answers they got in HS, when really you want them to go beyond there. I have the same difficulties with Hamlet, often, and Macbeth. But Macbeth is still incredibly fun :)

Fretful Porpentine said...

Yeah, I don't know WHY I keep volunteering to teach ours (it is a little extra money, but not very much, and kind of a hassle overall). Except I sort of do know. It's because somebody has to teach it, and most of the people I'd trust to teach it well don't want to, so I keep feeling like I need to do it so it doesn't get dumped on someone who would do it very badly.

Susan said...

Cricket is really fun, but those of us who started on baseball have to unlearn all our reflexes. It's *hard*!