Wednesday, December 28, 2016

First Year Seminar (FYS) - All of THAT in a 1-hour course!?

That moment of incredulous disbelief when you look at learning outcomes and then look at the parameters of a course can be overwhelming, particularly for some of the newer First Year Seminar (FYS) and First Year Experience (FYE) courses that are trending around the country.

Over the past four years, I have taught the mandatory, one-hour "transition to college" course for both cross-discipline and communication studies-only majors. The primary takeaway is that you CAN fit all of those learning objectives into a one-hour course if you take some time to creatively consider assignments and the environment you choose to create in the course.

Several years ago, my colleague, Dr. Sarah Maben (author of Communication Crossroads Blog), and I received the charge and proceeded to draft a First Year Seminar course designed to meet the many, layered (and somewhat murky) goals for the course. We're happy to share our journey and the syllabus.

We discovered a few helpful steps to managing any class which relies on a litany of pre-determined learning objectives in limited time. Here are some tips to consider if you're facing your own mountain (there is hope, it IS possible!):
  1. Let the learning objectives drive you. Before you do anything, consider WHY the course exists and what is expected of you and the students. By brainstorming from learning objectives (pre-set, in this case), we were able to fit a lot of content into a course that has limited time (1 hour) without overwhelming the expectations of a 1-hour class's workload.
  2. Don't forget assessment. Before you get married to exciting ideas or new directions, remember that you will need to assess (and report) on how you are meeting the goals of the course -- especially for those FYS/FYE courses that are part of the core curriculum. Draft your rubrics, consider how you'll measure the learning well before you commit to too many details in the course.
  3. Consider energy. It is often discussed here on Communication in Higher Education, but we cannot undervalue our ebb and flow of the semester -- it impacts us. If you're on your game, you'll anticipate typical student-based and professor-based workflow and the "traffic" of the semester. This is especially important in an FYS/FYE course. Read up on when students traditionally get homesick, overwhelmed, euphoric, or re-vitalized and try to work WITH that information. You cannot control when midterms are, but you can certainly avoid three major assignments in one week, therefore saving your sanity and the students' stamina.
  4. Think about consistency. One of the best things we can offer our newest students is a clear understanding of what to expect. This lessens their anxiety and helps them to feel comfortable. I try to have a schedule where students aren't surprised when an assignment is due, that they know "Thursdays are journal days" or that we have guest speakers on a certain day. We also build up to big assignments and maintain a daily schedule that allows them to "get in the groove" of class. They know we'll open with check-ins and reminders, so they learn to be on time and have notetaking materials ready at the start of class, for example.
  5. Set them up for success. In a FYS/FYE course, consider what students need to know in ALL of their classes. Teach transferrable skills. This makes some of those drier learning objectives easier to digest and embrace. For example, a big gap in my students' knowledge in Junior-based courses included effective writing and knowledge of Blackboard. For that reason, we teach the newest students how to navigate Blackboard and require regular writing assignments with meaningful feedback to help lay a foundational skill set that transfers to their other classes. The same is true for our final group project, it works to emphasize critical thinking, data analysis, effective oral and written communication, and teamwork (that is very different in college).
  6. Environment. Know how you want to approach any course that may feel "full" of learning outcomes or objectives. For my FYS/FYE class, I want to provide a safe space to question, share concerns, learn, explore and grow into an understanding of university life and skills for success. For that reason, I prefer to meet the 1-credit course twice a week (to catch any of those breakdowns and to be there for the students as a resource. We finish by mid-semester, but I trust they are very prepared at that point to launch into the final 8 weeks of the term with the resources they need. I maintain their office hours and schedule optional times to check-in (Lattes with Dr. Lora) so they remember that I am still a resource if they need to talk about how to prepare for finals or get a refresher on our time management strategies. 

Overall, those learning objective lists can serve as a great nudge to be creative, be conscientious, and use a layered approach to maximize the limited time you may have with the students.

See the latest version of the FYS syllabus here: FYS Fall 2016 Communication Studies.

Share your strategies. How do you handle meeting the layered outcomes in your courses?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finding the way

It is July?!?!

As always, I deluded myself into thinking the ever-present list of items to tackle could be handled in the magical (but oh-so-misleading) freedom of summer. Not surprisingly based on my previous posts, I have again somehow forgotten that I teach two summer sessions, take a class on a study abroad trip, maintain a consistent meeting schedule, have grants and assessment projects due, have two research projects due, and must prep my newly assigned (and with new texts, ugh!) courses for fall. 

As a way to avoid squandering the meager weeks of summer that remain, I am clearly mapping priorities. My final summer class ends tomorrow. This produces an eerie sort of dread because I have used my 8am class to fuel my energy this summer (I have a fabulous group of students), but also fills me with a confusing glee (I will be done with the class and therefore gain two hours a day of my schedule back). As always, #facultylife continues with its strange dirge where emotions push and pull simultaneously. 

I'm revisiting my "make the most of your summer" blog from 2013 while reassessing some goals -- I've also reminded myself that this over-planning of "off" time is part of my (apparently never-ending) cycle of self-delusion (see also "Over the break...") that I must accept, especially when working as a split position. 

With all of this in mind, I'm spending a lot of time reflecting, writing, and exploring my work world, as indicated in my recent post, "shedding light," I am really honed in on honest internal conversations about myself, my work, and the ebb and flow of my energy. 

So bring it on, July. I can take it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Shedding light

I had a recent conversation with a friend from out of state that has compelled me to dip back into the blog. It was one of those conversations that begins very surface-level, but before you know it, the insight of the other person zaps you like a laser and highlights an area of yourself that you have been struggling to accept or understand.

Because of this conversation, some changes have to be made or tough topics explored.

These conversations should be treated like the gift they are. It is rare that we are shown ourselves in a new or different light.

For me, I started to really reflect on what motivates me. During the conversation, I had mentioned being exhausted. Not the typical "oh it is finals and I am drowning" feeling of exhaustion, but a deeply rooted feeling that is steadily nearing apathy. That scared me. A lot. I can't do what I do if I'm apathetic.

I can't count on many things in my life, but I have always been able to count on the love and passion for my work. No matter how weary, that energy has propelled me. Until recently. During this enlightening and unexpected conversation, I realized that I sounded jaded and detached from those tasks or efforts in my life that historically drew me through rough times. My friend, who inadvertently focused this beam of insight my way, said, "Girl, if you don't protect what you LOVE about your work, no one else will. Find your zone and forget the shenanigans of others." Simple right? I nodded my head in that stunned way we have when we are blinded by new information. I have reflected deeply since the conversation.

Here are some things I realized.

  • I still LOVE what I do. Teaching and students are my passion. 
  • I'm living in an odd state of fear, worried about losing this love because of a bunch of things outside of my control: meetings, administrative responsibilities, the endless fight for funding, etc. Strangest thing? I didn't know I held this fear. But it has driven a lot of my behavior and mental processing that leads to this chronic exhaustion. 
  • No one can take away this love, but I can harm it by not valuing it or by over-relying on it. Something has to give or burnout is imminent. 
  • I am not powerless in this process. It is my responsibility to protect and grow this love, regardless of the rest of my work life. 
So, what do I do about this revelatory conversation and new observations about myself? What any good faculty member does. I write through it. I process and explore it. I value it as data that can assist future actions. 

Additionally, I strive to keep that light turned on, focused on this previously shaded area of my world as I continue to navigate new demands, processes, and procedures on my #facultylife. After all, it is a passion worth protecting.