Welcome to week nine! This point of the fall semester always feels a little unsettling to me. I can’t quite figure out if I’m just getting started, hitting my stride, or if it’s almost over. Maybe it has something to do with my previous teaching experiences. As a graduate student, I taught on the quarter system—ten weeks of an all-out sprint to the end. My first position was at a regional university with a traditional semester system—sixteen weeks felt like an eternity. When I first arrived at Alma College, fourteen weeks felt like a good middle ground—enough time to get things up and running but with a little sense of urgency just to keep things fresh.
The Rhythms of Academia
The Byrds were on to something (with some biblical inspiration they might have left uncited). We plan out our work in days, weeks, and semesters—each with its own rhythm. And although each semester follows its own arc, they never really exist in isolation. Just barely past the middle of the fall semester, and we’re helping students plan their winter schedules. The deadline for ordering winter textbooks has already passed (October 8th if you missed it), and within a month or so, Chairs will be asked for course schedules for the 2022-2023 academic year. And so it goes; turn, turn, turn.
Tides and Tsunamis
We grow accustomed to the ebb and flow of the semester, particularly as it affects our classes. We can predict that week-four slump when all the students are facing their first big assignment or test, the frenzy of advising appointment just after mid-term, and the crush of final papers and exams at the end. They’re as regular as the tide. It’s a little harder to predict when the Tsunamis will hit—but they always do. Those perfect storms that occur when our teaching, research, and service commitments are each demanding our immediate attention, all at the same time. As it turns out, there’s always a tsunami somewhere, it’s just not always ours. If we had some sort of campus calendar weather map that showed everything going on just under the surface, it would look like something from Al Roker’s nightmares. So, here’s a shout-out to the captains and crews who are guiding some big institutional projects to port and undoubtedly weathering some stormy seas. And kudos to everyone working on a committee, team, or task force; or trying to draft that
abstract or make a submission deadline, in addition to keeping their classes on even keel before the next big wave hits.
Lighthouses and buoys
Pretty soon, we’ll all be looking for the lighthouse that marks the end of the semester—always a welcome sight, no matter how pleasant the cruise. Smooth sailing or rough seas, buoys help us navigate the journey. It’s not like we don’t know where we’re going or what to expect. It’s just that in the day-to-day process of getting there, things we meant to do along the way slip beneath the surface; out of sight, out of mind. Many of us participated in Kevin Gannon’s Course (re)Design Institute this summer. It was awesome and a little daunting. One of the big take-aways for me was Kevin’s encouragement to start with “plus one.” Thankfully, that helped steer me away from trying to rework the syllabi, assignments, assessments and grading system for each of my courses, while trying to make all of my self-authored materials ADA compliant. In the heat of the moment, all those things sounded like good ideas. But here we are in week nine and many of those plans have dropped off the radar. Just in case you’re in the same boat, here are a few buoys for Teaching Excellence to guide us through the rest of this semester and into the winter:
Keep an eye out for two upcoming workshops drawing on the foundations set in Kevin Gannon’s Course (Re)Design Initiatives:
· JEDI Syllabi (week of November 1)
· Instructional Transparency (week of November 15)
For our students:
· Remind your high-flying advisees (seniors w/3.5+, juniors w/3.75+ GPA) of the math and second language requirements for Phi Beta Kappa
· As you begin shepherding students through course projects and papers, be on the lookout for work that could be polished and shared at Honors Day next spring.
Looking ahead to Friday
Once again, the Andison Center for Teaching Excellence will host the Friday Forum in SAC 110, 3:30-5:00. Members of the General Education Implementation Team will lead us through some workshopping and
brainstorming activities to begin fleshing out Themes courses we will begin piloting next fall. This is a great opportunity for all of us to get some experience with backward design as we consider how we might develop a new course (including all the JEDI, NetVue, Community-Engaged insights so many folks are exploring from the ground up) or redesign an existing course taking into consideration some common goals and learning outcomes. Keep an eye open for the calendar invitation from the Andison Center email. We’ll attach the Themes Workshop Information to the invitation as well as to this email. As always, come when you can and leave when you must. We’re looking forward to a productive session.