This Week in Teaching: Technology and Tight Schedules

This article is part of a series I’m writing in july/august that I’m calling ‘this week in teaching’, or ‘TWIT’, where I talk about teaching comp 102 in a 5 week summer session.

 

Last week I promised a follow-up article once my summer class was over, but as I start teaching again I’m finding I have a lot more to say on the subject than I previously anticipated.

I know, me, having opinions? All of you are shocked, I can tell.

So today’s post is the beginning of a series, where I share my thoughts on the week of teaching I just did, let everyone know how it all went, and what my plans are for the week ahead. My secret hope is that I’ll be able to produce enough content that I can start updating New Media Mayhem TWICE A WEEK (OMG) but we’ll see how that goes.

For now, welcome to This Week in Teaching (or TWIT, which is an unintentionally hilarious acronym), where I talk about how much I love using technology in the writing classroom and how different (and difficult) it is to teach on a five week schedule.

So my summer section met for the first time last Tuesday. It’s a small class – fifteen enrolled, and only twelve so far have collectively showed up – and we meet at 8 AM in one of the campus library computer labs.

I have a love-hate relationship with that sentence, because on the one hand, 8 AM. I am not a morning person. I have never been and never will be a morning person, it is a fact that I am primarily nocturnal and will stay up until two or three AM if left to my own devices. Waking up to teach a class at 8 in the morning is a special hell for me, so teaching so early in the morning is challenging to say the least.

It’s worth it though, and it’s worth it for being able to teach in one of the library computer labs.

I love technology. Not surprising – I’m typing this on my chromebook while listening to music on youtube and knowing as soon as I get done I can go log onto my actual laptop to play hours and hours of Borderlands 2. I have a smartphone, a tablet, an Xbox, and a 3DS. Tech is my friend, and I love using it.

Now, normally I teach composition in the campus English building. In the two years I’ve been on campus they’ve begun slowly upgrading many of the rooms to include more integrated projection and computer technology, but most of my teaching experience has been in a crowded room with creaky broken desks and a black box on the wall that, when unlocked, contains a tangle of cords that will hook a laptop up to the projector, with some trial and error of course. For the most part, however, it’s me and a podium and a whiteboard and little access to even project anything up on the screen.

Granted, it’s 2015, and most of my students tend to have some kind of device they bring with them to class, even if it’s just their phones. That said, there’s a huge difference between sitting in a classroom with a couple of students on laptops and sitting in a computer lab where every student has access to a computer right there.

Access to the school computer labs is like jumping decades into the future compared to teaching in the English building. I have a computer I work on that projects whatever I want with the push of a button. No cable hook-ups required. My students all have computers to work on drafts, to share ideas, and to view documents.

This makes teaching a completely different ballgame.

In past classes, supplementary reading was a pain to distribute. I could give students access to a google drive folder with the file in it, but didn’t have much in the way of a guarantee that they were using it. Teaching in the lab means everybody opens that drive up right there, and boom, you have the reading assignment — no excuses or confusion.

Further, it means getting students to work on their drafts in class is actually viable, and this is one of my favourite things to do. Giving students the opportunity to work on their writing in class while they have access to me for questions is really important, because in my experience a student is more likely to ask a question when you’re in the same room than in office hours or over email. I can even open google docs and look at the student’s document myself, leave some comments, and highlight pertinent information.

It’s seriously like living in the future, and I love it. I mean, I consider even having the access to regularly using Powerpoint presentations a luxury, but this? It’s delightful.

Does it have some hazards? Sure, students will be tempted to dick around online instead of write, but that’s hardly something difficult to detect.

True story, students. Your typing patterns are different when you’re goofing around online versus drafting or taking notes. So is your expression. I don’t have to roam the classroom and act like I have eyes in the back of my head to know you’re on Facebook instead of working on your rhetorical analysis. I’m not gonna call you out on it either. You’re only hurting yourself.

Plus, I’m not your parent. If I wanted to be a parent, I’d adopt a kid and teach said kid better manners on my own time, not classroom time. This is college, be a heckin’ adult about things.

Classroom time is precious, especially during the summer. The summer schedule I’m on has three official sessions: two are in five week chunks, the other is a ten week chunk. Considering the normal academic semester we teach on where I work is sixteen weeks, both of these are extremely condensed.

I’m teaching five week chunk number two. My students have class from June 30th to August 3rd, and that’s not including national US holidays.

So when my class met last week, we met for two days: on the Tuesday and the Wednesday. Thursday, the university was closed because of the Fourth of July.

Which was Saturday, but apparently having the Fourth on a Saturday means students get to take the second AND the third off.

I don’t get it, but I don’t make the schedule, and disliking it doesn’t make me any less American.

eagle pie copy

I’m so American I eat apple pie for breakfast and crap bald eagles, baby.

 

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I dislike it because it means I have, in total, eighteen days to teach a semester’s worth of content to my students. I teach for two hours a day, monday through thursday, and it’s intense. My class has met twice and my students have an assignment due today, and they have two mini-assignments due next week. I have Monday and Tuesday to grade assignments and give them back to students so they have enough feedback as they proceed. It’s a research-based class, so my students need to have already decided what their research topics are going to be by tomorrow. If you miss two classes, you automatically fail.

It’s rough, on me and on my students. I spend a lot of time worrying I won’t cover all the content I need to cover, let alone the content I want to cover. I worry that I won’t be able to grade papers to the standards my students need. I worry I’m going too fast and they aren’t going to actually learn anything except to be in a hurry.

So, how do I combat that?

First and foremost, I keep a very tight schedule. I make sure everything is timed out in class, down to the minute. Five minutes for going over the agenda and taking roll. Twenty minutes of discussion. Ten minutes on a freewrite. And so on.

The second step is having an agenda. at the beginning of every class I have a powerpoint slide that goes over exactly what we’ll be covering in class that day. It keeps me on track, it lets my students know what they’ll be doing in class that day, and it reminds them that we have a time limit.

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The third is constantly reviewing course content and making myself extremely available to my students. As I build lesson plans, I find myself reviewing them the night before to figure out what absolutely needs to be covered. I streamline discussion with use of keywords and questions to respond to the text. I keep the classroom dynamic and encourage discussion. I still give students a break, because a two hour class is really intense for everyone. I make myself available outside of the classroom and outside of office hours. I offer to read student drafts and give feedback.

It’s tough. I’m only two days in and I can see why people avoid teaching summer classes. It’s so hard to feel like you’re not covering enough, that you’re being a bad teacher because you don’t have the time to really thoroughly go over everything that needs to be examined to adequately teach writing in so short a time.

Fortunately, I’m always up for a challenge.

So far my students seem to be as well. This coming week their assignments include a discussion on Bartleby the Scrivener by Melville, working on annotated bibliographies and research proposals, and even playing a little Portal in class. They turn in their analysis assignments, I grade them as fast as I can, and every morning we all drag our sleep-deprived bodies into the classroom to cram our brains full of knowledge, one way or another.

And of course, regardless of anything, I’d rather be waking up early to teach than wake up late to do something else. Guess that’s how I know I’m in the right profession.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, by the time this posts I’ll be neck deep in student papers to grade.

 

Got suggestions for a topic I can ramble about here on New Media Mayhem? email me athex[dot]meridian[at]gmail[dot]com.  

Want to help keep this blog running? Want to help me study videogames? Leave a donation on my GoFundMe as I try to raise money for a new computer to use in my academic research!

Also today is my Mum’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Mum! ❤ 

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