Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Gearing Up

Gearing up for the new semester, which starts in a couple weeks.

I have two courses to teach this term:
SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition
SC6214: Gender, Culture and Society

I am working through how to approach these courses this time around. I’ve taught both (more than once). It helps a lot to have the basics in place so that I can build on what I’ve done before, rather than scrambling to put together an entire course.

The plans and schemes at the moment, especially for students considering taking the courses are:

SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition
The most significant innovation is that the course will use a Wetpaint Wiki as the primary platform for course participation. The Wiki is still underconstruction. It will go public in the first week of the term. It is modeled very much on Mike Wesch’s innovative teaching techniques. I recommend his recent video on YouTube – “A Portal to Media Literacy” (one hour long, but if you are interested in pedegogy, well worth watching).

The Wiki will be a platform for students to collectively produce notes and commentary on the lectures, readings and films related to the course as well as a platform for group projects (more on that sometime later).

I’ve also decided… there will be no required readings for the class.

Before any students out there jump for joy and rush to add the class, this does not mean that no reading will be required! But here’s the thing… it struck me as I was watching Wesch’s lecture (in clips from a prior video “A Vision of Students Today“) one point made is that his students in an intro course reported that they do 49% of their assigned readings. I expect that is probably true of NUS students as well.

So why bother calling them ‘required’ readings? All the readings are recommended. But there is no real way in practice for me to KNOW if the students are actually reading all the readings – certainly not for a class this size. Moreover, is it really important for the students to have read every page I assign for them to learn and understand Anthropology? The point being this – for the course (and of course exam), I certainly recommend that they read the assigned readings; but I require that they learn and understand anthropology and the principles covered in the course.

The “recommended” readings will be more or less the same I assigned last year (also the films). In past years, students have been assigned to write “reaction papers” (short summaries and commentary) on the readings. So each student would write a few pages on one or two of the readings, submit these to me (or one of the teaching assistants). We would read these and return with a grade. This time around, no reaction papers. Rather, the assignment will be to contribute to a collective contribution on one or more of the readings and/or films on the Wiki. I’m still working out the practical details. But the basic idea is that the students will collectively produce notes and commentary on all the materials for the course. I hope as well that they will take this beyond the assigned readings and films. Where this goes exactly will be up to the students. The objective will be to learn and understand (and produce??) anthropology, which may or may not entail ‘doing the readings’. [Btw, I am certainly not endorsing blowing off the readings; but just reading is not the point.]

SC6214: Gender, Culture and Society
This is an advanced graduate course. While I’m making the reading list a bit more open-ended in the SC2218 Anthropology class, the readings will be more focused in this course than last time around. Last term when I taught this course, I had very long lists of journal articles related to topics on a week-by-week basis. The idea was to select from among these every week for the graduate students in the class. [To be honest, from the start of the semester last time, I wanted to trim the list more and earlier than I did, but I just couldn’t find time to do it – or at least not do it well – in my overloaded schedule.] The readings and content of the course will be more focused and directed this time around (at least that is the plan).

One main assignment the students completed last time will definitely be maintained… The students worked in small groups. They had to find an entry on Wikipedia related to gender that they felt was in need of editing and collectively edit it (including doing background research). At the end of the project, several of the students said that they came away with a much more critical view of the content on Wikipedia. I don’t think I’ve ever given students a more useful or successful class assignment. There were (and still are) some ‘bugs’ to be worked out in the practicalities of this, but it will certainly be making a repeat appearance in the coming term.

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July 31, 2008 - Posted by | Teaching | , , , ,

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