On the way to the NITLE Summit it occurred to me what a good time it was to take a break from school, if only for a few days. This is the time in the semester when my students and I are so buried in our work that we have forgotten what we are trying to accomplish in our courses. For the last few days I have thought about how to make the best use of the remaining weeks in the semester.
In my advanced macro seminar, I’ve worried that the freedom the seminar-format allows has enabled students to coast, not doing all the readings, not blogging and reading and commenting on each others’ work. This has been a collective failure, as I have fallen behind in reviewing their work, and I haven’t been as prepared for class (e.g. rereading the texts) as I would like to be. It is that time of the term (see last item), when faculty pretend to teach and students pretend to learn, driven by the tyranny of the syllabus and the calendar. But what are we gaining from this? We may be learning the last few facts, but we’re missing the big picture. Surely this doesn’t promote deep learning.
Instead of working harder to win the battle (while losing the war), I’m going to change the focus of our remaining efforts, encouraging the seminar participants to slow down and reflect on what we’ve learned. This doesn’t mean we won’t get caught up, but rather that that won’t be the central focus of our efforts for the rest of the course. Think of this as an ‘end around’ instead of a ‘frontal assault.’ (Private joke)
One of our goals for the seminar was to turn the work created into a reusable text, where each student has the final responsibility for a “chapter”. The students have recently written first drafts of their chapters. I’ve decided this weekend to refocus the seminar on an explicit production and peer review of this product. If every student reads and comments on every chapter, this should reinforce the seminar content more effectively than asking them to review it more traditionally. (I will also remind students that they are supposed to have read and blogged on at least one reference from each of the course topics, and encourage them to get caught up on this by the end of the semester as that’s part of what their grade will be on. But they will be doing that on their own schedule, rather than marching mindlessly lockstep together.)
An important part of the peer review process will be to think about how the various chapters relate to the whole work, and how to make the writing understandable to the audience: economics majors who have taken the prerequisite but not this course. We will also think about how to build links between the various chapters. With luck, this effort will have a deeper impact on their learning of the material than just banging our collective heads against the stone wall which is the course schedule. At a minimum, I hope to end the course with a feeling of accomplishment, rather than a sense of exhaustion and relief that it’s over.