Reflecting on another session

Our Fall II session is over at my school, the grades are in, the relaxing begins soon.  It was a good session, even if it was often crazy and my students drove me nuts at various points.

My goal for this session was to rethink homework.  I always wind up giving homework sporadically and spontaneously because I don’t plan ahead well.  Then, I inevitably regret this decision when I have stacks and stacks of paper and enormous amounts of grading to do. So, I changed it up this time.  I planned homework assignments before the session even began.  I didn’t give in to those pre-class “strokes of genius” (I know! I’ll have my students paraphrase this 12-paragraph article for homework. What a great homework assignment! — Cut to me, 8 days later, still trying to pretend like I don’t see that stack of paraphrases over there).  For my 2 advanced classes, my students submitted everything online via Google Docs.

The result? Sanity! (and a little cheating).

I had far less paper on my desk. The grading was manageable, and therefore I got it done in a timely manner, which the students always like.  Of course, when assignments are submitted online, it increases that natural urge so many students have to cheat.  Now, my attitude toward cheating is basically: Go for it. You can cheat now, but you won’t pass the TOEFL or get a degree from this university through cheating.  If you cheat to pass my class, you have cheated yourself.

At the same time, I would not be a very good teacher if I completely ignored cheating.  And I know that the cheating this time was in part my fault.  I know that it’s possible to create assignments that make it difficult for students to cheat (and one of my assignments didn’t exactly fit the bill).  Unless you’ve got the student who asked his uncle to write his research paper for him.  I don’t know what to do about that.  I’m not going to make the students do all of their writing in class.

Lessons learned: I create much better assessments when I work on them before classes begin.  I like not having so much paper on my desk, and I really don’t mind reading essays on the computer.  Students like turning their work in online so much better.

For the future: We’re currently rethinking assessment in our program, and I’m grateful to work with people who are letting me do my own thing, assessment-wise.  I’m already planning how to improve my portfolio assignment so that it serves as an actual assessment of the student’s ability and doesn’t just act as a self-assessment tool.  I’m even rethinking tests and quizzes (How many of those do I really need? Are they useful?).  And I’m putting the students in charge a little more.  At various points last session, my students were teachers, lecturers, and discussion leaders in class.  It was great.  There needs to be far more of that this time around.

For now: I’m going to try to enjoy the Christmas holidays and not think about work for a few days. Merry Christmas, everyone!


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