Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Of Pedagogical Epiphanies and the "On Call" List - Will the Deontological Prevail Over the Consequential in Class Participation?
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
As previously noted, I ditched the seating chart in favor of tent cards with students' names. I am also having classes recorded and posted as MP3s on TWEN. The quality of the discussion yesterday on a normally discussion-proof topic - the establishment of the agency relationship - was the best in the four consecutive semesters I've now taught the class. This is notwithstanding my extreme laissez-faire attitude about laptops in the classroom. Could it be students are backing off transcription-style note-taking because of the MP3 backup? I do not perceive any fall-off in attendance (given my laissez-faire attitude toward attendance-taking, I can't be sure of that either). This is not an apples to apples comparison as I have taught the class alternately at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and the 10 a.m. class seems to have more energy generally, merely on account of time of day. But hope springs eternal.
Normally, by the third class, I've circulated an "on-call" list. This has its own history. My first experience teaching upper-level students was a three-credit class on Sales at Wake Forest in the fall of 2005. I'm willing to go public and say that it was (euphemistically) a learning experience, or more honestly, a disaster. Among other things (like coming to grips with how much you have to learn to teach a subject you thought you already knew!), I was still struggling with my own resistance to calling on people, particularly in the upper-levels, as an artifact of Socratic-style power relationships within the classroom. The result, however, was that most students weren't prepared, and my attempt to elicit dialogue (still my preferred method) by way of guilt-inducing doleful puppy-dog stares out at the assembled multitude only spurred on a few, and always the same, volunteers, leading to some comments in the evaluations to the effect that I seemed to favor just a few students. So I went to the "on-call" list as a compromise, first with a threat of grade-dinging if the students were absent or unprepared, and evolving into a kind of early-warning system to the students that I might call on them, but without either carrot or stick because (a) I didn't keep track of attendance, (b) I don't really do Socratic - I just pose questions and move on quickly if nobody knows the answer, and (c) I never punished anybody.
Yesterday, before class, I was trying to decide if the "on-call" list was now inconsistent with the other laissez-faire methodologies, and, as I explained to the class, I decided that the form into which it had evolved was not inconsistent, but the name was. That is, I know a lot more than the students do, but the class is more interesting if we have other voices than mine doing the teaching. I'm the director in a way; the students, if well-directed, help me teach, making it kind of a shared experience, rather than either lecture or Socratic brain teaser. So I've decided to rename it the "Co-Teaching List," which I think more aptly reflects the voluntary, team-oriented spirit of what I'm trying to do. In short, will students contribute to the success of the class as a matter of duty or obligation versus fear of adverse consequence? Or is my idealism once again getting the best of me?