In my current job as an instructional designer, the opportunity to teach undergraduates is a luxury—not part of my actual job description. I get to step into the classroom only when the political science department needs an adjunct. My last chance to mold young minds was more than two years ago. That changes this fall when I again set foot in the classroom…sort of.
You see, my class this fall will be a bit of an experiment in more ways than one. First, it’s a new course prep for me. While I’ve regularly taught Introduction to American Government and have also taught constitutional law, my class this fall is a combination of the two, designed with group social studies majors in mind. The approach is unique and I think it’s a great idea, but constitutional law is a challenging subject and successfully reframing it in this way will be even more so.
Beyond the course content, this fall will be interesting because of the course’s format. This will be the first time I’ve taught a fully online course. I’ve taken my fair share of MOOCs and webinars. My PhD program included a fully online course. Most ironic of all, for several years now I’ve facilitated our university’s training sessions for online and hybrid instructors. But now I find myself on the other side of the table, like so many faculty members I’ve seen who must pore over their syllabus and figure out what to do when they’ll never see their students face-to-face.
When it comes to general pedagogical strategies, I’ve got a lot at my disposal. The training workshop that I lead for faculty is regularly praised for the sheer number of resources that we give to faculty (which isn’t something I can take credit for—most of the material was assembled by a colleague). I am, however, feeling a bit like that one instructor I seem to have in every workshop who sits there until it’s all over and then asks “but I still don’t know how I’m going to do X online.” Political Science, as a discipline, hasn’t embraced online instruction as quickly or whole-heartedly as some other fields. In particular I’m finding a dearth of information about teaching constitutional law online. While I’m sure I’ll find creative solutions for teaching a subject whose normal instructional methods are highly interactive and often Socratic in nature, I’d love to have more examples to draw upon. Not the least because not only is this my first online course—it’s also the first fully online course the department has offered. No pressure there.
While moving a course online is a big endeavor, equally big is the change I’m making to the assessments and grading structure for my course. This past winter I read the book Specifications Grading, by Linda Nilson. In her book, Nilson argues that the grading system that most of higher education uses is broken, fundamentally disconnected from the learning process, and frequently becomes an obstacle in the relationship between faculty and students. The argument is, of course, more nuanced than that. A fuller account of her solution and how I’ll be implementing it will be the subject of a future post; in the meantime, you can read a bit more about specs grading here and here.
My goal is to blog my way through the remainder of my course preparation, using these posts as a way to talk through the issues and challenges involved. I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions, whether you’ve been in a similar situation or not. Until next time!