The sky slowly changes colors during sunset over a tranquil beach with small waves and white sand.

Summer Whirlwind: Teaching and Assessment

As a fairly social-media-savvy academic1, I had intended to spend at least some part of this summer blogging about the research and teaching experiences I’ve had and plan to have as a part of my postdoc. A post a week, I thought, would be an attainable, satisfactory rate of blogging.

…And here we are at July first, and I haven’t written a post in two months, according to my blogging platform stats. What an excellent start! </sarcasm>

But the delay stems from a decent set of learning experiences, primarily involving teaching and assessment. So we’re going to try this again. I have several posts planned already, but first, I want to say a quick word about the beginning of summer.

Though the summer solstice in late June officially marks the beginning of summer, most students’ and academics’ summers begin the moment spring semester ends–once that final project is submitted or grades are submitted. Or so I thought.

Summer Teachin’, Happened so Fa-a-ast

Then I volunteered to teach an eight-week summer course that began one week after Spring graduation. I plan to spend some more time reflecting on different aspects of the course over the next few weeks, but let me just say here that this course, combined with a few program assessment projects, sucked up a pretty good chunk of my early summer.

And it was exhausting. This course met for a total of twelve times (though one class was conducted online due to weather–thanks, Tropical Storm Cindy), and class ran from 4:00pm to 7:20pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. That’s right. Almost three and a half hours twice a week during dinner time.

And yes, my students and I felt it. On the first day of class, I asked students to write a question about the syllabus or about the course in general. Probably a third of them asked, “Do we have to stay the whole time?” Unfortunately, I replied, for the most part yes. We needed all the class time we can get to cover course content and workshop our writing.

Realistically, we often did get out at least a little early–most days we stayed until at least seven, but I often dismissed class before 7:20, especially toward the end of the semester. Early on, because I was so concerned about not wasting our precious contact hours, I found myself getting slightly annoyed with students who were supposed to be workshopping their colleagues’ work, but were clearly discussing something else. But shortly thereafter, I realized: they’re exhausted. How can I expect them to do the rather difficult work of assessing each others’ writing and applying the tools we’re learning in class when we’re all–including myself–tired and a little bit hungry?

Then, about halfway through the semester, I asked students to write their biggest concern for the course at that point. About half of them commented on the pacing of the class. There was just so much to cover in so little time. This rapid pacing meant that we didn’t really get a chance to practice all of the writing strategies I introduced nearly as much as I’d have liked, but I think we did the best that we could in the time that we had.

I’ll write more about these experiences over the next few weeks, but I want to briefly mention the other thing that’s taken up some of my early summer.

So Much Assessment, So Little Time

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, I’m only involved in a few projects that needed assessing this summer. My Director of Composition is juggling something like eight (twelve?) assessment projects (and having a baby to boot!). But they are projects worthy of time and attention, so I made sure to spend a decent amount of time on them amid the whirlwind of summer teaching.

This year has seen my first involvement in assessment projects of these types, and I’ll also probably use this blog as a platform for processing and reflecting on my involvement in program assessment, but for now I’ll say this:

Being involved in program assessment meant that I actively reflected on how I designed and taught particular courses with other instructors of those courses. We talked about how our courses fit into larger curricular at programmatic, departmental, and institutional levels. Now that I think of it, I had similar conversations with instructors in the Advanced Writing program at Minnesota, but because that program was much bigger and had been around longer than the programs at UWF, those conversations looked different than the ones I had this summer.

Clearly, as the summer progresses, there’s lots more to reflect on, and plenty of research writing to do! More soon!

[1] Who is also about to be back on the academic job market…. Back to top.


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