Guilt and 240 students

As I examine the various ways I could configure my classes for next semester, my knowledge of the many choices means I really am thinking about everything. But the central feeling ends up being guilt instead of anticipation.

I know all the wonderful options to make classes more exciting, more student-led, more exploratory. I’ve even done some of them (I recall the semester the students did the textbook exams but everything else was their own guided projects). And I did design Pedagogy First!¬†for the POT Certificate Class, which is open and guided in what I think is a great balance. Surely I could do something like that?

Well, for the first time ever, I’ll be teaching six classes in spring instead of five, with 40 students in each (minimum). I have scheduled two new hybrids, one for Western Civ II and one for U.S. History II. I have four online classes, one for Western Civ II, two for U.S. History II, and one for History of England. So that’s three preps, as they say (a prep is a class different enough that it requires its own resources, structure, retooling). Except it feels like five preps, since hybrids aren’t the same as online classes.

My guilt is from the realization that I can’t manage 240 students in a free-form, MOOC-y way. Yes, we do it with Pedagogy First! and 90 “students”, but the assessments there can be much looser, the objectives much broader, and the content much more diverse. The faculty learning there are highly motivated. And although I’m not stuck in K-12 land with its concrete standards, I do have content outlines (so very 1990) that I am supposed to follow to make the classes transfer to university, and student learning outcomes. The outcomes don’t worry me, because I wrote them for the most part, and they are all about skills that historians need to demonstrate anyway. The content I’ll hit one way or the other. So really, I have the enviable freedom to structure these classes however I want.

I could use blogs and wikis instead of Moodle, and a central blog and Engrade again for the on-site (now hybrid) classes. I could have them blog and collaborate in documents and work in teams and use WordPress and make videos and … oh my god, 240 students?

That number keeps popping into my head, in creepy neon light like the Bates Motel sign (cue Bernard Hermann music here).

Only a couple of things keep me from feeling like a failure as I “tentatively” set up the four online classes in Moodle, willing myself to believe they are just drafts, backups for the upcoming blogs, and the PB wiki, and the Canvas Instructure (actually, that’s just an LMS you can’t edit well), and the Flickr group I want to make but probably won’t.

A week or two ago, Dave Cormier gave a presentation for Alec Couros’ EC&I831 (I sit in when I can, which isn’t often enough). He spoke about rhizomatic learning and nomadic learning and other cool and inspiring stuff, and I wanted to move on with my work but felt stuck. Then one of Alec’s students, Chelsi, wrote a post that reminded me what Dave had said in response to a question about dealing with standards, that he said you do this stuff when you can.

Well, I do a lot of cool stuff. I’m really proud of the design of my discussion forums, where students select and post their own sources based on their interests, and craft historical theses. I want to see that happen again. I want to add a weekly synchronous session based on a skill set, with each week a different skill, where all my students can come and benefit, not just one class. Some direct instruction and, I hope, discussion in real-time. I’ve never done that. I want more peer evaluating, and fewer graded essays so there’s more chance to practice. I want to switch to weekly, instantly-graded reading quizzes so they have instant feedback. I want to run two of these with no textbook. I love the broadcasting I can do from the classroom to students at home, and the online students could view it too.

I also want everything open, but if I use Moodle to manage the gruntwork (exam -> gradebook, track forum posts, etc) it’s closed (though I could allow guests, of course). I can piece together my own grunts (Engrade, for example) but that’s a lot of clicks for six classes. The lack of connection between their tasks and the gradebook seems like the Grand Canyon with this many students.

I know, excuses, excuses! I talk the talk but won’t walk the walk. But do I really need to prove anything to anyone?

So I’m just going to say this: for this one overloaded semester, I might have to sacrifice some of the external openness in favor of internal openness, some real-time contact with my students, and some time spent giving feedback in the forums. Because that’s when (and where) I can do it. And I’m quite sure that by the end of the semester, I will have written an article justifying the approach as being that LMS/opened balance I read about all the time. Or not.

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