I just got a buzz. Maybe it’s the strong coffee I’m drinking (Whole Foods Market Pleasant Morning Buzz). But maybe it’s that I just finished reading the wiki postings for my seminar. Granted, I only have ten students in this course (the advantage or disadvantage of teaching a 400-level economics offering!). But I’ve found this an excellent means of directing a seminar: The students have been reading on a topic–in this case, globalization. Before each class meeting, I ask them to respond to a prompt. Some days, I simply ask them to reflect on what they’ve been reading. Other days I give them a more specific question: Today’s was “What is the Case Against Globalization?” The postings aren’t necessarily long. Today’s were around a page in length. The point is not to write a definitive dissertation, but rather to get them thinking about it before class time.
So, first thing this morning I read the postings. I now know what my students are thinking about the topic. Meanwhile, I checked my rss aggregator and happened upon a relevant article from today’s Wall Street Journal. I now have two hours (including drive time) to think about how to structure today’s discussion. What do we need to explore in more detail? How can I best integrate the WSJ story? Who has interesting points of view that should be heard? (Note: this works very well for students who tend not to talk much in class. Since I know what they’re thinking about a subject, it’s easy to call on them in a non-threatening way: “Jane posted something really thoughtful about this question. Jane could you tell us about it?”)
Before class today, one of the students mentioned that she had read the postings as well (despite the fact that it wasn’t assigned this time). She mentioned it sotto voce as if she was getting away with something! She was–it’s called education.
Another observation–only one student has missed a posting this semester. It could be the small class where it’s obvious if you don’t do an assignment. But the visibility of the wiki helps too.
I don’t know if this is student-centered teaching/learning. It’s definitely a version of Just-in-Time teaching. All I know for sure is that it works.