I have often reflected at the end of the semester, in true Profhacker fashion, by giving a 3×3 course evaluation, but this semester my experience was much different and so I plan to do two 3×3 evaluations – first, my traditional course evaluation featuring my first experience teaching First Year Seminar featuring the Walking Dead and Superheroes to be followed by my evaluation of my first semester holding an alternate academic (alt-ac) position. I will begin with the Walking Dead in part because I’m in serious withdrawal during the mid-season break so I need to do something to stave off the obsessive blog trolling and in part because I’m still sifting and sorting how I think and feel about my alt-ac job.
First I have to just say that I truly loved my First Year Seminar class: From the Walking Dead to Superheroes: Exploring human challenges through comics. I knew that I would love the topic and approach and I was not proven wrong. We had a lot of fun with it and my students took on some pretty interesting topics within that framework. I had the highest course evaluations I’ve ever had so I think the students weren’t just feeding my ego when they said they enjoyed the class too. So I would say the course theme was the first thing that worked. We used comic books and graphic novels as the springboard for class assignments (such as a multi-media discussion prompt and paper) that explored the archetypes and ethical dilemmas we find in these popular culture analyses. This sounds rather high brow but we had lots of fun discussions about Batman, Spiderman, the Watchmen, and, of course, the Walking Dead as we explored these broad ideas and the specific ways they play out in the students’ chosen comic books and graphic novels.
My general community/literacy assignments (see Using Badges and Creating Online Community to learn more about these assignments) of community building, class blog, and reflective journal worked well but then I’ve had a few semesters to work out the kinks. Two things I did differently this semester that I believe worked well included starting the blog in the second week rather than the first week and tying the grade for the class blog to the students’ ability to attract readers. Specifically, simply meeting the weekly blog post expectations could earn the writer no more than a B. In order to earn an A, the blogger needed to create a response – their classmates needed to engage with that blog post in the form of long comments. This emphasized for the students that I was not their primary audience for this assignment and created some great teaching opportunities to talk about audience awareness.
I also loved my adaption of my Group Learning Document assignment for this class. This was a First Year Seminar and so it couldn’t all be about zombies and superheroes. I had students create digital presentations (online class taught by geek teacher) sharing a tool or tip that could help other freshmen learn an important lesson. So we had lessons on note taking, time management, organization, and talking to instructors. It was a great jumpstart to conversations about issues that matter and it came from the students so I think it was more meaningful as a result.
What didn’t work for the class can be summed up with two words – timing and pacing. I didn’t allow enough time to respond to and discuss the two student presentation assignments (the Group Learning Document and the theme-based discussion prompt). That was just bad planning on my part. I also did not pace the development of their final papers for the class as well as I should. I have plans to do better with that in the spring – in part by beginning to work on our theme very early in the process (weeks sooner than I did this semester) and moving the GLD assignment to the end so we end with an easy, low pressure assignment. Of course, the scaffolding will be much easier in the spring as I am teaching the class face-to-face (rather than online) and we are embedding writing studio into the class so there be writing groups led by experienced writing tutors to support the process.
I’m super excited about teaching this class again in the spring because not only am I getting to teach my first writing studio class (yes, after creating this program 18 months ago!) but even better we are offering two sections of this class. I’m teaching one section while my serious comic book fan colleague and writing studio instructor Jared Salyers is teaching another so I will have some great collaboration support from my colleague and peer writers. I think this class is going to be even better in the spring and that is saying something!