A new year!

I always love the start of a new semester: There are opportunities to meet new students, revisit classes we regularly teach, and engage in new learning that comes to us from a variety of contexts.  While I generally feel like a “student of life,” this semester there are three specific areas where I am truly a student:  the on-line course offered by Sloan on developing “blended classes” (classes that are offered both face-to-face and on-line), the Academic Writing Club (where I continue to hone my writing skills), and the two classes I’m leading.

In this blog I want to write about one of the classes I’m leading, Applied Inquiry II, which is the second class in our research core.  What makes this class so intriguing this semester is a scheduling issue that results in teaching the class every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. – 9:50 pm.  And, yes, you’re right: This is a long time to engage students who come to class after working all day.

At the same time, this “shaking up” of my normal teaching schedule has caused me to look at the class differently, re-examine the learning assessments & class projects, and think differently about the learning outcomes.  I’m also thinking differently about the way I organize each class session.  In preparing for last night’s class, I spent a lot of time thinking about the session and ways to fully engage students in the learning experiences throughout our 5-plus hours together.  I intentionally created activities that would provide students with opportunities to work together in both small and large groups; this had the benefit of engaging all students, even those who might remain quiet in a large setting.  Also, based on students’ suggestions in our first class session, we’ve organized into “pods” of four students, which helps facilitate the small group work.  Each student created a “name tent” in the first session, which also based on students’ suggestions, was placed randomly around the pods so students wouldn’t automatically sit where they had in the previous week.  Based on the amount of energetic conversations, I can confidently declare both strategies a success.

About two-thirds of the way through the class session, I thought it would be great to have students move around the class … I mentioned “Chicken Fat” and suggested this would be a fun way to get moving.  Alas, if you attended elementary school later than the 1970s, you may not have heard of “Chicken Fat.”  And, well, none of the students had any idea what I was talking about.  Once again, YouTube came to the rescue.  I played a portion of this classic recording and although students laughed, they unanimously declined to participate.  They don’t know what they’re missing, do they?  And for those of us who thought Chicken Fat was a really long exercise program, it’s actually less than 7 minutes.