Thursday, September 29, 2011

How it went...

Wow, time is passing quickly this semester. We just had our last small-group meeting in Intro to College life. They have one more session in the Big Auditorium, and then final grades are due, and we're done.

It was OK. I'm not sure whether I'm going to do it again. The students were fine, all five of them friendly and participatory. They did most of the extra reading I assigned even though it wasn't tied to any quizzes or papers (although I think I will ask them to respond to it in their journals if I teach this course again -- I don't think they really got that a reflective journal for a class is supposed to be different from a personal diary). They had a bit of a tendency to talk about their personal lives a lot and go off on random tangents, but I think there's supposed to be room for that sort of thing in a course like this, so no worries.

The large-group sessions were ... bleah. I guess the kindest way to put it is "varied," since there were some speakers who were genuinely informative about useful topics, and one or two who managed to be informative and entertaining. But there were also some speakers who were patently disorganized, inept at communicating, or just plain off the rails (as in, presenting as fact a pop-psychology "personality test" with about as much as scientific validation as astrology, and pretending that this was somehow educating students about diversity).

More generally, I'm concerned that the whole slate of presentations seemed to emphasize student life at the expense of saying anything about the university's intellectual mission. I mean, it is important for students to know where to find the counseling center, and how to get their financial aid checks, and what to do if they think one of their friends has alcohol poisoning. No question. But shouldn't someone, at the very least, also be telling them that they should plan to spend a couple of hours outside of class for each hour in class, and that those required gen ed courses can illuminate one another in surprising ways, and that they shouldn't be afraid of going to a professor's office hours? I want someone to tell them, too, that words and ideas matter, that slow reading and deep thinking have value, that skepticism and critical inquiry are necessary tools for living in the world, and that if universities were really ivory towers closed off from the real world, people wouldn't get so damn angry at them.

(I think I may have told my little cohort some of these things. I think I do want to teach this class again.)

Oh yeah, and we talked about the university's common reading book, which was both enjoyable and a little weird. I have a whole different set of reservations about campus-wide common reading programs, but those probably belong in an entirely different post.


heu mihi said...

It sounds like you just taught or previous iteration of the Freshman Seminar (although we didn't have big auditorium days, but just covered the same material in class). It was one credit hour and mostly taught by staff, not faculty; it also involved a service-"learning" component, which made for a really chaotic mess of a class (I taught it last year). The main complaint about it--from faculty and the Dean--was that it had almost nothing to do with academics and was all about Homecoming and such nonsense.

Starting this year, we're teaching it as a 3-hour class taught entirely by experienced faculty. I'm teaching it again, and I *love* it--because we *do* talk about the connections between classes, the ways in which a liberal arts education can change the way that you view ordinary things, and how to talk to your professors outside of class. It's too soon to tell, but I'm convinced that this is going to have a very positive impact on our student body. At least, I hope so.

But maybe you can subvert the paradigm from the inside? Sounds like you've already done so, a bit!

Fretful Porpentine said...

Yeah! (Ours has a service learning component, too, which I'm not keen on. I think service learning is one of those things that can work well in individual classes where students know what they're signing on for and the service project is relevant to the course material, but it absolutely does not scale up, and it's a mistake to impose a watered-down version on your entire student body. But that is yet another rant for another time.)

At least our course was blessedly free of Homecoming!

weird writer said...

interesting to see what this is like from the POV of an English teacher.