Friday, January 13, 2012

Course Redesign: Fundamentals of Speech

Last semester I participated, and to some extent helped to lead, an effort on our campus to redesign courses.  This was related to the Red Balloon project of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which is about reimagining undergraduate education.

Needless to say, reimagining undergraduate education, or redesigning it, either in part or in full, is an important, difficulty, and probably very needed endeavor.  It can get a little hopeless for your average college instructor/professor/lecturer to really tackle it, but each of us can look long and hard at what we do in the classroom, at whether it is really working, and whether there is a better way to do at least some of it.

We had a speaker come in last week to sort of summarize a lot of what we have been doing.  She was very good (won't write the name here, but it was well worth attending).  For myself, I have somewhat redesigned my traditional section of COMM 1110 (but kept the hybrid section intact for now) and led a group who is redesigning developmental English for our QEP (I am the QEP Committee Chair, a job that is quite consuming).  I do not teach development English right now, so the latter is less of an issue with me.  It is about the former I wish to blog here.

Let me start by saying that I have taught Fundamentals of Speech for 33 years.  That's scary.  I can do it in my sleep, and I wonder if to some extent I have been.  If I can do it in my sleep, I am probably putting my students to sleep (I get pretty good evaluations, but that doesn't mean I am happy with my performance as a teacher.  If those evaluations make you complacent, something is wrong.)  Two main strains of thought went into my course redesign.

First, I attended a workshop on metacognition at the annual SACS conference in Orlando in early December.  It was run by a wonderful woman from LSU, and right now I am afraid her name escapes me, but she is personally charming.  It was as if a light went off in my head.  I am redesigning the course to focus more on how to learn; obviously not totally, but I am doing some activities to go in that direction.  For instance, on Monday (my first class), I talked for about five minutes about how to read the textbook, even pulling out the old SQ3R model.  That may seem minor and even silly, but I don't think so.  I told students not to worry if they read out  loud to themselves sometimes, and to not use a highlighter; notes are better.  I even told a story on myself about how when I was taking the GRE last week the monitor came in and told me I was reading the questions and people could hear me.  I was embarrassed, but I have to do that sometimes.  I am an adult and I can learn any way I want to!  And I told my students they were adults and could learn any way they wanted to, also.

 Then, on Wednesday I had the students do a reflection on how they learned something in their lives.  The value of this is that it was also a brainstorm for their first speech, a personal experience speech; I told them they could perhaps find something relevant for their speech in that reflection. 

The second strain is reflection.  The book we read last semester, Blumberg's Developing Learner-Centered Teaching, is basically a reflection guide.  I am a BIG believer in reflection and reflective practice.  Not because I think all the answers are naturally within us, but because reflection causes us to search through what we have learned but have forgotten.  The writing of it brings the unformed ideas and memories to a different level of the brain and causes synapses to grow; therefore we are learning and we reflect because learning is the creation of structural changes in the brain. 

What I am doing that's so different in the class is irrelevant.  Anyway, I did not really change the basic assignments or the outcomes (I don't have a lot of control over those, anyway, and for the most part that aspect of the course is working well).  What I am doing different is the everyday experience of the class. 

I would really like to get more traffic to this website, and more comments.  I don't even get spam!  Yet I think I've written some helpful things here.

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