Monday, July 17, 2006

Writing syllai and feeling guilty

I went to campus today to work - I had a meeting in the afternoon and I like to work in my office while I'm there... besides seeing Wise Woman safely back from her long trip out west, and getting an 'atta girl' from Dog Dad for not using my computer up north, I spent the day writing my syllabi for next year.

I have a kind of long process for writing them...

I start at the end of the previous semester. I make a table in Word with all the class days and holidays for the pattern of the class (i.e. MW or T/Th), leaving blank boxes for topics, assignments etc. I then print several copies and write in pencil what I think should be in those boxes. I adjust the length of time spent on particular units -- write down assessment techniques and generally pencil in the schedule, then I put it away to percolate.

While it is percolating I sometimes think of good ideas -- or, at least ideas that seem good at the time -- and write them on post-it notes and stick them to the charts. If I'm lucky and my blind kitty doesn't eat them, when I go to write the syllabus for real I'll srot them out and usually discard most of them.

Near the end of the percolation process I spend a day typing it up and making it look official I usually change a bunch of stuff from my first draft. Generally, I add assessments and activities. Today I deleted them.

I made a conscious decision to make my classes as hassle-free as possible due to my dissertation. I really need to maintain sufficient time to write this semester if Im going to be at all competitive in the flat-state job market come fall.

The problem is that my teachiing load at BNCC is such that I need to plan for 66 ethics students, 80 logic students and 6-8 debaters next year. When you realize that once you factor in travel time and other outside of class contact coaching one debater is the equivalent of teaching about 7 or 8 average students... that is a lot. It is even more when you realize that 16 of those ethics students are honors... better prepared but also reasonably expecting more feedback and professorial attention. Even in raw numbers 152 or so is fairly high (my highest was 250, I was new... and gullible). My total contact time is 20 hours per week (15 teaching, 5 office hours) in a 17 week semester. Of course, if my contact hours were all there was too it finishing the dissertation would be a breeze... but we ALL know that isn't the case, huh :).

As a result in Ethics I eliminated all quizzes from my regular section, cut out a paper and kept the low-grading option of group presentations, requiring everyone to do one. I have my honors students writing abstracts pass/fail instead of short papers and only the first drafts of their two longer papers are due during the semester.

In Logic I cut the number of quizzes by 6 and plan to revise the logical fallacy project so that the format is easier for me to grade. Generally, logic isn't hard to grade because it is objective -- did they do the problem correctly or not?? There is only one paper-like project and those are quick to read.

In my debate course I'm cutting the number of cases they have to turn-in during the semester and changing the way their textbook homework is accounted for (debaters reading, you'll have to wait to find out ;). I also changed the way I calculate the grade to use an idea I stole from a pal-- there are 5 distinct aspects of their performance I'll take into account. I set a minimum percentage for each, leaving 55% of their grade to assign themselves. I've never done it this way before.. I hope it will help them to be more self-motivated and that it will better reflect each individual's talents and strengths.

But, the thing is that while I'm doing this I'm feeling guilty. I'm revising so that my personal and professional life will be better, not because of any student-centered (I really HATE that term.. but can't avoid it) concerns. I'd guess that my students will like not having quizzes etc -- but that doesn't mean that they will actually learn more, they'll just be happy idiots when they are done. I could probably rationalize my way around it, but it doesn't change the truth of my selfish motives, thus the guilt.

I'm not at all worried about what my department thinks -- as both Wise Woman and Dog Dad have already voiced support for my plan. I'm not worried about my department chair, as she doesn't know my discipline at all and (to be honest) should be the last one to make such criticisms. I'm also not worried about my academic Dean, as she more or less encouraged me to do just this. My Academic VP loves the fact that I started the debate team, so we're on good terms and the president of the college used to TEACH ethics, so he's been there and done that.

No, it is me I'm worried about -- I worry that I'm cheating my students for my own game. I worry that I'm just beginning to justify cutting my workload more and more... and that I'll become the grumpy-ass professor lecturing from yellowed and dog-eared notes -- or their modern equivalent - recycled PowerPoints.

On the other hand, as some anonymous ASShat said to "Professor Bastard" maybe I should just get over myself already and get a life...


KILROY_60 said...

You have so much here on which I want to comment; time unfortunately will not permit that at the moment.

I do hope you will visit Fear And Loathing In The Blogosphere and consider a link exchange.

Perhaps you can send some of your students by...I would think finding debate material would not be a challenge. Gonzo Guilt!

With Liberty And Justice For All!

DRD said...

Don't feel guilty. I am sure you will still have good courses that will go well... maybe just not as intense as you normally like to make them. Your dissertation needs to be #1 this fall and it is good you are being realistic about how to make that happen

timna said...

sounds like a plan. you are definitely balancing their needs and yours in a responsible fashion.

sometimes I find things I plan to save me time actually work out much better in their learning outcomes. just a thought.

T-Mac said...

When I eventually have to write my own syllabus, I'll be reading this entry again--you rock! :-)