Tuesday, July 15, 2008

¬ (Ain't no cure for the sumertime blues)

It's midsummer, which for many people means we're out of the classroom until fall. But I thought it might be worthwhile to solicit suggestions about how to approach summer teaching, particularly the kind with the accelerated calendar where a quarter or a semester's worth of material is taught in about a month's time. I for one have had mixed experiences teaching accelerated summer courses. Some issues to think about:

  • How does the student population change in summer and how should one's teaching change accordingly?
  • Do you need to change your syllabus significantly to teach a summer version of a course?
  • What other changes in course design (assignments, etc.) are prudent in summer courses?
  • Are there any courses that work especially well in the summer? Any that work especially badly?
  • Any tips about time management or (given the intense pace of summer courses) stress management?

Anybody with experience or ideas about this, please chime in.


  1. The greatest difficulty I've found with summer classes is that the time constraint makes it very difficult to use student's written work constructively. In a normal semester course, it's possible to allow students to rewrite papers, or to write several small papers building up different writing skills over the term.

    Although this can be done in the summer, it puts a much greater strain on the instructor (feedback must be given very quickly if the class is not to get too far ahead, even while having to do much more accelerated and demanding lecture prep). Even setting this aside, it's likely that students feel too rushed and under pressure during the compacted summer term, and thus are much less likely to take advantage of any opportunities to carefully develop their writing abilities.

    At any rate, that has been my experience. I've begun thinking that papers may not work all that well for summer courses. Normally I believe that papers are greatly preferable to exams in philosophy classes, but perhaps this is not so under the rushed summer schedule.

  2. My chair warned me how difficult it would be to keep students' attention during the summer - primarily due to the once a week, four and a half hour session schedule. He suggested films, and I've been having students write more creatively about the films' relationship to the content. By far, the biggest hit for us was the dialog on ethics they wrote about Kant's reaction to The House of Sand and Fog. Even so, the lecture time is very limited, and no matter how interesting the material (or animated the instructor), the performance quality just doesn't compare to the full-term students' work.

  3. This summer I'm teaching an introductory ethics course that meets for 1 hr. 50 minutes four times a week. I don't do a lot that is different, though I am allowing the students to bring in one 8.5 x 11 piece of paper with notes on it to use during the exam. This enables me to cover more material but not expect a large amount of memorization of concepts in this shortened time frame. Another benefit is that they are then free to focus on developing and expressing their opinions in more detail on the exams.

  4. I've taught Critical Thinking for the last three summers in a six-week, four-day-a-week, 90-minutes-a-day format (as opposed to my usual 14-week, twice-a-week, 75-minute-a-day format during the semester).

    Four things that I've learned from my experiece:

    1. I agree with Gina: less writing! There's not enough time for them to write or for you to grade. If you are going to assign writing, break larger assignments into smaller pieces throughout the course.

    2. In-class learning activities break up long class sessions and allow you to substitute (well-structured!) in-class group feedback for grading.

    3. Try to schedule due dates and tests for Mondays, so that students can take weekends to work or study. This is especially important if many of your students will be working during the weekday.

    4. In terms of managing your time and stress, plan out before the summer begins when you will return assignments. Don't have Assignment 2 due before you can return Assignment 1, unless they're completed unrelated (content- and skill-wise).

  5. I recently finished teaching a 5 week summer session of Intro to Philosophy. We met 2 hours a day, 4 days a week. I enjoyed the class. I find that summer students are, in general, more motivated. My students covered the same material I use in a 16 week semester. By far the most difficult part was that they don't have time to process the information. They wrote four papers out of class and two in class. I had them focus their papers on reading selections - i.e. a selection from Locke. Students summarized and evaluated the reading.

    I always allow students to determine the pace of my classes - generally in the summer we linger over one element then hit highlights. This summer the class loved reading selections from Paley and Dawkins, so we had lively discussion about ID. We used only one movie - The Seventh Seal - as a follow-up to our discussions.

    I love teaching Philosophy. It may be a difficult subject, but it can be fun - just show the students how much you love it and they'll have fun too.

  6. I finished a 4 week, 4 day a week, 3 hour per session Moral Problems course two weeks ago. I knew that several students in the course would be working and/or taking other summer courses. Idid not emphasize writing. There were daily quizzes taken on-line, due before class, so that reading was monitored. There were daily student presentations on selected sections of the readings. Presentations were done by pairs of students, who were required to submit a written outline and written argument to class members. There was some kind of group discussion every class. These activities required reading, thinking, verbal skills. They traded on students' familairity with electronic media.
    Finally, I changed some reading assignments. We read Judie Picoult's My Sister's Keeper to address issues of autonomy, genetic manipulation, and responsibility for well-being of others, and Michael Chorost's Rebuilt (a memoir) to address issues of disability, engineering human organs (Chorost gets a cochlear implant), poverty and access to medical care, and the relation of cultural identity to moral choice. Chorost's view contrasts with views expressed in the film Sound and Fury, which we viewed and discussed. We also viewed and discussed Gattaca.
    Students were interested and engaged in discussion, including creating arguments for views they did not hold, and were able to integrate the literary and cinematic materials into final exam essays. I called the Picoult novel summer class beach reading.

    I was plesed enough that I plan to use Picoult's and Chorost's books for medical ethics this Fall


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