things I have learned from teaching six-week courses

1. Students don’t want to work twice as hard to get their class done twice as fast.
1a. In fact, students want to work half as hard, because it’s a summer class, and those are supposed to be easy, right?

2. If it’s a discussion-based class, force the students into discussion mode early. Nobody wants to sit there for three and a half hours of excruciating pauses and tortured discussion topics. I accomplished this by having a freewriting exercise on the first day of class, as well as small group discussions to get folks acquainted with each other. Then, when it came time to discuss as a class, I sat there and stared at them until someone raised their hand. It takes a lot of discipline for an instructor to just stare at the students, but I had to make it clear that their participation was crucial. It worked – we had a fine discussion environment for the entire term.
2a. One of the most effective things I did in this year’s class was ask the students to analyze their personal experiences. This works particularly well for a class like Cross-Cultural Communication (the one I taught this year), and it allows students the opportunity to self-examine. In such a short course, the students don’t necessarily have time or energy (or desire) to do a lot of reading or outside observation, and there definitely isn’t enough time for data collection or paper writing. I had many times when I would give the students two or three minutes to think about their own experiences, with prompts like “Can you think of a time when you had a strong feeling that you were an outsider? What cued you to your outsider status? How did it affect your behavior and language?” This self-analysis is a useful skill for everyone to have, and also allowed them a chance to apply course concepts to make sense of their own experience. This is a good tactic to use in longer courses too, but it worked particularly well this time around.

3. You will have too much to grade at all times. Having assignments online makes it a hundred times easier, because you’re not lugging around three reams of printed assignments in addition to having to grade them.
3a. However, having to lug around the actual physical papers may be an incentive to actually do your grading instead of putting it off.

4. Don’t assign your students to read a book or novel-type reading unless you absolutely have to.

5. Segment the class. My 3.5 hour class was divided into two sections this year; last year, I divided it into three. I felt that two sections worked much better for a discussion-type class, because we could really get a good discussion going before changing gears after a break. Plus, with two sections, the students don’t mentally checkout during the last hour.

6. Vary in-class learning activities. Among the things I had my students do: freewriting, group writing activities, print media analysis, small group discussions, small group expert-style discussions (each group gets a special topic), blog entry discussions, critical reading exercises, ethnography-style interviews of other classmates, and even a silly skit. Don’t just alternate between group discussion and lecture and class discussion. Throw a few curveballs in.

7. Nobody will ever come to your office hours. It’s probably best to just not have them at all.

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