This semester was one of the most rewarding so far. Below I share a few things that standout about this semester.
- Quiz Previews: For a few years now, I have given students written quizzes at the beginning of every class. Yes, these create a lot of grading, but they work wonders at getting students to class on time and keeping them on top of the material. This semester I added a new element that I called “Quiz Previews.” These were posted on the class Facebook page and Twitter feed, and like the name sounds, gave a preview of what to expect on the quiz. Usually, I would post one of the three or four questions that would be on the fifteen-minute quiz (class met once a week for three hours). Quiz previews help students focus on the most important information and help them enter class in a good frame of mind for that day’s lesson.
- Social Media: This semester for the first time ever I set a goal of incorporating social media as a required component. The goal was to use social media for class discussions, announcements, and as a way for students to post questions or to share other comments or links. Originally, I used Twitter, but after about three or four weeks of it being under-used, I made a Facebook page, and the results were much more successful. I’m still working on coming up with ways to have more required online discussions without creating too much grading and paperwork. Social media worked best when it came to building a strong channel of communication with students. Students would email on Facebook all the time but not through regular email – to me, any communication is great.
- Extra Credit: This semester I offered students the opportunity to increase their grade by 10%. In order to earn these points, students had a variety of options, but all of them required a substantial amount of additional, outside work as to be fair and a meaningful learning experience. Of 50 students, just a handful took advantage of this opportunity, and the projects were, by and large, somewhat disappointing. Partly, some students found the “easy” way to complete one of the options, and partly, I need to make the extra credit options even more rigorous with explicit directions. Also, one new rule I added a few weeks into the course–because some students were planning on using extra credit to purposely skip actual course requirements–was that students can only complete extra credit if they complete all major assignments (so papers and exams) and at least 60% of other assignments (quizzes, group work, etc).
- Quick Feedback: My days as a student are recent enough that I know that the minutes and days just crawl by when waiting for a paper or exam to be graded. I always make it a point to have my calendar complete clear the day of and the next day or two when assignments are due so students can get feedback almost immediately. Quick feedback is so important to students. This semester—without exception—weekly quizzes were graded and posted in Blackboard within 12 hours of students completing them. And exams and papers were graded and posted within 36 hours. I know not everyone can grade this fast, but I think we should make it a point to grade as quickly as possible and to make it a top priority especially when major assignments are due.
- Regular Feedback: At the end of the quiz every week the last question was:
Optional question: The following question is designed to allow students to provide regular input. No need to address every aspect of the suggested question: What was most interesting, least interesting, or confusing, and why about the readings or class last week? Please feel free to share any other questions or concerns.
This was specifically designed to get regular feedback from students and to make it clear that questions or concerns could be expressed at any time. When students did write a question, I would follow-up by email that very same day because I care and want to do whatever I can for students. This is part of making students feel safe and comfortable in the classroom—which is one of the number one factors that is necessary for student success to even be possible. I also had students complete a midterm evaluation and strongly encouraged them to complete the official UH evaluation.
- Re-dos: This semester, like other semesters, when a student made lower than a “C” on an assignment, even an exam (except the Final), and came to talk with me about it, I would encourage her/him to redo the assignment for up to about half of the points back—because teaching and college is about learning. If a student is interested in redoing an assignment and further learning the material, more power to her/him. Only one student took this opportunity this semester.
- Reaching out: I regularly try to reach out to students, especially in the beginning of the semester. For the first three or four weeks, I send a message to students who have missed class. If I notice someone has been earning low grades on the quizzes, I message them to see what is going on and if I can help any. If a student doesn’t turn in a major assignment, I message them (even though I have a no late work rule – rules are only meant as starting points) to see what is going on. I always end such messages with, “I look forward to your reply” because I want them to contact me, and I want them to be successful.
- Rigorous but rewarding: I don’t want my classes to be “easy” or “fun” – I want them to provide a meaningful learning experiences in new, creative ways. Students learn by readings and writing and thinking like crazy. I don’t overwork students, but I want them to really earn their grades and to get to know and enjoy History. Additionally, as I have said before, students work harder and better when the class is a challenge. Students will rise to the challenge! Details about my assignments for history classes can be found here.
- Love teaching: Teaching is always one of the most challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable things I do. Having the opportunity to share what I have learned, help others see the world through all kinds of different lenses, and learning from students is one of the best feelings in the world.
Please be sure and check out my other articles published here and Inside Higher Ed. I have articles about teaching aimed at students and professors generally and more specifically for those in History or Student Success courses.