Spring Teaching Changes

February 13th, 2017

The spring semester of 2017 brought a large sweeping change and many more minor changes than I had planned. To get the big change out of the way: I was hired to teach physical anthropology at another community college in San Diego County! MiraCosta College is a charming and innovative campus located in Oceanside. As someone who has been ‘inlandsy,’ spending more time nearer to the coast has been an experience by itself.

Getting used to working at two campuses has been a challenge. One school started a week earlier than the other, so the course schedules are always staggered. I am currently at the end of week two at one school and week three at the other and I have already gotten confused about what I am supposed to do when and where a few times. Besides the timing, differences between schools also force my two classes to be different. I had not realized how my teaching plays off of the classroom I have been using until its features are no longer around. The physical anthropology classroom I am used to has a broad set of fossil replicas (hopefully joined soon by a Homo naledi skull!) and a real human skeleton.  The rolling-desks allow students to face each other during group work.

{ Classroom fit for both lecture and group work. }

{ Classroom fit for both lecture and group work. }

My new classroom is a bit different because it is a general purpose lecture hall. It is also nicknamed the “little theater” for obvious reasons:

{ Room suitable for introducing the newest iPhone. }

{ Room suitable for introducing the newest iPhone. }

While a gorgeous space, it lacks the comforts I was used to. The immovable rows of seats mean that group work is harder to do. The whiteboards are dimly lit if the lights around the projector screen are turned off. Backstage (literally!), the computer controlling the projector cannot extend the display to show me my presenter notes during the slideshow. I also had to BYO-laser pointer. As I stand at the lectern, the computer monitor is just off stage to my left, so speaking while working the computer has me looking awkwardly away from the students. Despite these challenges, I do appreciate such a large and attractive venue for my class. I am finding that I may not need as many presenter’s notes as I did in previous semesters, though I have occasionally consulted them on my iPad at the lectern when I knew I was forgetting something. My laser pointer/remote gives me a lot more freedom of movement than I am used to. Instead of returning to the lectern to change slides out of habit, I am training myself to use the remote instead.

While teaching at Grossmont is business as usual in comparison, I did make changes affecting my course there as well. One concerns the coffee drawing that I use as a way to learn more about my students and consult them about the class. I had a process of having students voluntarily enter the drawing by providing an alias before, but it caused problems while addressing a non-existent privacy issue (names by themselves are not protected information). Some students did not understand the drawing or the reason for an alias, and so missed out on this activity by not participating out of confusion. Less than half of the class participated in other semesters. Reconnecting with Marian Diamond’s masterful lectures to see how she ran her drawing, I ended up adding all of my student’s names to the wheel. Since everyone in class is now an entrant, I have already noticed a lot more excitement during the drawing each week.

Speaking of changes brought about by a deeper understanding of relevant law, I learned that my California community colleges cannot grade based on attendance. The current interpretation of this section is that a student can still be dropped for excessive absences, grades can no longer be affected. I have had a contentious relationship with my own attendance policy, so abolishing it was a natural step. I could have also trucked on through until someone stopped me, but what kind of example of authority would that be? Since I still track attendance to see if a student has dropped off the radar, I will see if attendance levels change with the different policies.

One continuing change that affects my courses at both colleges is my tuning of my lecture slides. Last semester, I had students in several sections who had a hard time keeping up with the pace of my presentation. On my end, I realized that some of the slides are less polished than others: instead of just the most important words, some bullet points were full sentences. ‘Weasel’ words also took up a lot of space. I have been going through the slides to make sure that text are in clear digestible pieces. I have always prided myself in my slide layouts, so I hope this review makes them even better.

As I work with two campuses, I have made several policy changes and a general tuning of my lectures. While each change could be altered or even reversed in the future, my goal is that each semester is a little better than the last. There is one other change this semester sparked by my work across campuses: the move from Blackboard to Canvas as my learning management system of choice. There is a lot to say on this subject, so look for more on this soon.

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