Friday, November 2, 2007

Course Refreshers

We've hit the shorter days of November and we've all seen it in our classes: attendance drop-offs, falling behind in the reading that turns to not doing the reading, and even our better students becoming a little complacent. It's time for a little pick-me-up that provides a bit of a reminder that we haven't been just doing the same thing for weeks on end. A little bright memory that carries the course into Thanksgiving break in a couple of weeks and after that the rush to finals. So does anyone have anything special they do at this point to reinvigorate a course?

One of the things I've done in the past is a quick midterm evaluation (though usually earlier in the semester and I completely spaced on doing them this semester). I have a midterm evaluation form which is probably too comprehensive, but part of the form asks students to distribute 10 points into what kinds of different activities we should do in class (so half lecture, half discussion would put 5 points in the "lecture" box and 5 points in "discussion" box) and that part is easily done even without a form. I usually average it out across all the forms and change course if necessary. Another thing I've tried in past logic courses is "fallacy jeopardy", made possible with a couple of Powerpoint presentations that really do work like the Jeopardy board. Finally, in my more applied courses, I try to go a little more into theory and some of the deeper questions to remind students that there's a lot under the surface. In my less applied courses, I try to take a break from the official narrative of the course and spend a course applying old, dead philosophers to recent events. (I try to do this anyway, but these are more sustained lessons that can take all or half of the class period.)

Anybody else have anything they do to perk up a November classroom?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I try to use group activities a little more, since students ought to be getting the hang of discussing a philosophical questions at this point. And it's a bit easier for them to discuss things with their peers as well, since undergrads and non-majors often defer to the superior status and perceived wisdom of a grad student or a professor. For example, we are currently discussing abortion in our Current Issues class, and I put them into groups so they could try to come up with a definition of the concept "person." The activity was a success - I got more discussion out of them than usual, and I even got to introduce them to such thorny issues as the mind-body problem and Aristotle's conception of the soul.

    (I apologize for the deleted comment; I noticed a rather egregious typo right after I posted it.)

  3. November might be a bit late for this, but I've found that I can get the energy level up a bit by doing a mid-quarter assessment of the course. I generally develop a survey that I post on Blackboard, have students take it at their convenience, and then report the aggregate results back to the class. (I make the survey anonymous so that I can't trace responses back to individual students.) We then have a conversation about what's working in the course, etc. I think this helps by turning the tables so to speak: The students are a bit tired of my evaluating them, so evaluating me (the course) is a change of pace.

  4. I do a midterm evaluation (again, perhaps earlier in the course), but I've found that asking the following question gets some really good responses:

    1. What things (discussions, activities, lectures, readings, etc.) in this course up to this point have done the most to help, support, or further your learning so far?

    2. What are some of the most striking ideas that you have encountered so far?

    3. What are the most pressing things that you still do not understand or still want to work on?

    4. What would you like to see done differently in this course in the future to better support your learning?

    Then getting back to them ASAP with a summary of their responses and your response to them is quite helpful.

    At this point in the quarter, perhaps you could have them think about possible questions for the final exam. Individually, and then in groups, they could try to come up with what they take to be good exam questions. It's a nice way to review, get them talking, and perhaps relieve the burden of having to learn something new.

  5. Hello,

    I just found your blog and love it!

    Would you happen to have a file with the answers to the Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy slides?


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