Last week was the first week of classes at Virginia Tech, so at this point, the term is well underway. I have spent a lot of time this summer getting ready for this moment, by doing research and making plans to improve what I do in my classes.
While I have lots of ideas, I hadn’t thought about them in an organized way until I read David Gooblar’s 4 Resolutions for the New Semester over on Chronicle Vitae. I certainly relate to the goals that Gooblar shares, but more importantly, I realized that I too wanted to write down my goals for the term. Since I do everything in lists of ten, I want to share my ten resolutions:
Increase class participation, especially online. I’m not happy with the discussions that take place in my online class. Honestly, though, I have never been the best at leading discussions in the classroom, either. I want to make it better this year.
Give students more choice. Uniform assignments rarely work for students, especially in technical writing where students are working on diverse career goals. The kind of writing a computer science major learns is quite different from what a food science major needs. I want to design a series of assignments that lets students choose the tasks that matter to their goals.
Switch to Pass/Fail grading. After Asao Inoue’s presentation at the Conference of the CWPA in July and reading his research, I am convinced more than ever that the behavioral grading system I devised years ago for professional writing classes is the way to go. Naturally, the course grade has to be A to F, but most of the coursework students do can easily be graded as "acceptable" or "not," with the option to revise.
Give feedback more quickly. I am notoriously slow at grading. It frustrates me, and it frustrates students. My goal is always to at least have work turned back before the next project is due, and often I barely make it. Sometimes I fail. I want to make sure students get their work back soon enough to let them revise and benefit from the feedback this year.
More formative feedback. Building on the Pass/Fail grading and faster feedback, I want to spend less time justifying or editing in my feedback and put more effort into urging students to revise and improve their work—as well as giving them the support they need to make that happen.
Ask students to track their own work. I started asking students to gather details on their participation in the course a couple of years ago. This year, I want to step up that practice. With students tracking their own participation, they are aware throughout the term where they stand as far as that portion of their grade is concerned, not just at the end of the term when they write their self-assessment.
Encourage more (or better) reflection. I always ask students to reflect on their work, telling me about their goals they set and challenges they have encountered with their projects. I want to work on deeper reflection, however. Student reflections too often feel as if they are only going through the motions. Students write the reflections only because they have to, not because the process will help them improve their writing. I need to create more transparency in the practice so that students can find more value in these reflections.
Add videos to online courses. I have been relying on websites and discussion boards for my online courses. I do point students to relevant video tutorials from Lynda.com (which students can access for free at my university), but I haven’t created any of my own video content for the course. It’s a bit of a challenge, as I don’t have the best software for the task. Still, I need to make it happen. I think it will allow me to give the students demonstrations and explanations that the resources I have been using are not.
Add an AMA session. That’s an Ask Me Anything session, like those frequently done on Reddit. Particularly in the online courses I teach, students never get to see me or learn much about me. Granted they don’t need to know everything about me, but I think answering their questions will help me connect more with the class. I heard an “On Point” rebroadcast recently on how parents and step-parents function in blended families, and the speaker kept stressing “connection before correction.” That same idea might apply well to teaching.
Encourage community. I want to build more community and support in my classes. I want students to be as willing to turn to one another for feedback, praise, and support as they are to ask me. My great hope is that the changes I am making to build more participation and to improve assessment and feedback will lead students to support one another and collaborate as a community.
So, those are my goals for this school year. It is a lot to accomplish, but I hope I can make it happen. It certainly gives me plenty of ideas to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned—and if you have new school resolutions of your own, please share them in a comment below. Here’s to a fantastic new school year!
Source: Goal? by Alexander Boden, on Flickr, used under CC-SA-BY 2.0 license