Why should students take my course?

Yesterday a small group of folks here on campus gathered in the Faculty Alcove of the library to watch the first webinar for Connected Courses. The Webinar featured  Mike Wesch, Cathy Davidson, and Randy Bass, and was FANTASTIC.

What was so great about it? The speakers were fantastic: succinct, inspiring, on topic, smart smart smart. But what really made the event special was that I got to watch it with a group of folks all engaged in helping learning happen in different ways: one professor of psychology, one of Spanish, one specialist in digital scholarship, and two undergraduate students not enrolled in any of my courses.

It was AMAZING to discuss teaching and learning with such a diverse group of folks who all really care. The students, especially, challenged me to think differently, to question some of my own assumptions, and to try things that sound pretty scary to me (like an anonymous chat backchannel during class discussion. Scary!)

After the webinar, we were asked to respond to a specific writing prompt (ahem, another demonstration of good pedagogy!) Here’s the writing prompt this post intends to address:

So what is the real “why” of your course? Why should students take it? How will they be changed by it? What is your discipline’s real “why”? Why does it matter that students take __________ courses or become _________ists? How can digital and networked technologies effectively support the real why of your course?

Mike Wesch made a comment that spoke to my course’s “why”:

WSP101, the course I am focusing on for this project, is an introduction to a program in self-directed learning in which students can choose to design their own learning programs (within the limits of the course offerings of the college, and their study abroad and internship experiences). It’s a really exciting program, and offers students who are both ambitious and motivated an opportunity to tailor their experience at our small college to suit their own goals. So, in a way, the “why” is easy for this course.

Why take this course? To learn how to decide for yourself what you need to learn and to practice some ways to achieve that learning.

I think the Whittier Scholars program fits easily into the connected learning concept. I am just updating the methods the program has long used by encouraging students to build their own personal learning networks on Twitter and Medium, and other places.

But another comment yesterday really got me thinking:

Whittier Scholars, for all its wonderful flexibility and clear basis in students’ own interests, can also seem a bit vague or difficult to evaluate. Sometimes, that can lead students to feel unclear about what constitutes accountability. This is something I need to really work on.

The class this semester will be doing self- and peer-evaluation quite a bit. In fact, they will be writing ocassional narrative evaluations of their own participation and submitting their self-assigned grades to me. I, then, will respond to their narratives and suggested grades. Grading, in other words, will be a dialogue. I hope this will help. We shall see.

Addendum:

I wrote all that, and then I saw this comic on my Twitter feed. This is so true and right and good that I can’t help posting it here:

3 thoughts on “Why should students take my course?”

  1. YES! THIS -> “It was AMAZING to discuss teaching and learning with such a diverse group of folks who all really care”. Sometimes the day-to-day is so full-on that we don’t find time to have these kinds of conversations (or at least, that’s my experience in a teaching-intensive institution). I completely relate to the feelings you describe here 🙂

  2. What a great idea to watch the webinar with a group of colleagues and students! I don’t think many people would have thought of getting together for this kind of event but I can see how well it worked. I am increasingly convinced about the importance of taking time out and creating spaces for having conversations about teaching and learning, something that probably doesn’t happen often enough.

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