Course Postmortem

Following the practice I began last summer, I am continuing to reflect on past courses, making public both my course evaluations and my own sense of how a course went.

Summary Course Evaluation Numbers (23 out of 25 responded)

Overall Course Content: 12 rated Excellent; 7 rated Good; 3 rated Satisfactory; 1 rated Unsatisfactory; 0 rated Poor

Overall Instructor: 15 rated Excellent; 5 rated Good; 2 rated Satisfactory; 0 rated Unsatisfactory or Poor

Student Course Evaluation Comments (Uncensored)

What did you like about the course and/or instructor? Please give examples. What aspects of the course and/or the instructor’s instructional methods should be improved? Please give examples. Please list additional comments and/or suggestions.
I do like how he is willing to work with students throughout the course since this is a new endeavor he is undertaking. I like that this is mutual and he genuinely took our ideas and concerns into consideration. Perhaps, since he has already had his “guinea pig” semester to figure out the overarching ideas and themes for the course, he can have more concrete ideas for the future of the project. Sometimes this course was frightening because I did not have clearly defined, rubric-styled goals.
Bedsole respected the students all of their thoughts and put forth as much effort to stimulate intellectual and educational conversation. He also encouraged (nigh forced) us to learn from one another. While this was cause for some distress, it was definitely for the better. Some of the assignments were incredibly vague, and the expectations from us and for the assignments could be a lot clearer as to not stress us out so much. Keeping in the same massive groups the entire semester may not be the best method of educating.
Mr. Bedsole is a very caring instructor. He is very personal and truly wants all of his students to succeed.
He knew the material and showed interest in subject, which makes class more enjoyable. He was always available for feedback. Fun class. Videos were cool. I would watch the Youtube videos again.
Very enthusiastic and wanted us all to do well in the course.
We learned a lot about the art of writing. We were shown several sources to teach us about writing across modes. Mr. Bedsole was very knowledgeable and understanding. He gave great feedback and help. The course is very open and abstract. More concrete projects might help.
DB is such an understanding and genuine teacher. He wants what is best for his students and makes the class worthwhile. It’s the only class I didn’t skip at all! Most people hate WEPO. Everyone in here loved it. Thanks DB!
David is the best!
Mr. Bedsole was a great teacher. Explained the content very well and made the class very fun & enjoyable. I wouldn’t change anything.
One word: groupwork. Everything was very vague? Feel like I haven’t really learned anything…
Very informative, was always willing to meet outside of class. More decisive deadlines. Had a lot of fun, enjoyed the course.
More engaging than my other classes. Clearer and more concrete due dates. Things very vague
Personal and clearly invested in his students. More solidified dates.
I liked the variability of the course subjects and how it covered a large amount of information. I didn’t like how the course centered around a website that we didn’t even need or get graded on. It was a cool concept but seemed pointless
The course was extremely vague. It didn’t help that I could not actively see my grades on Blackboard

Response to Comments

The student commentary matches my perception of how the course went: it was a mixed bag. The rapport was good, and some students really got invested in the work. Others resisted the “vague” nature of the course–some of which I attribute to my own indecision, but some of which probably stems from the “writing as problem-solving” approach I was trying to encourage, and some, I’ve found, is inevitable with portfolio-based courses. Grade-driven students tend to panic when the do not receive regular (grade-focused) feedback. I’m not surprised that some of the students seemed to resent the group work, either. I knew at the beginning that the groups were probably too large (8-9 students apiece), and that there would be difficulties, but I could not break the projects into smaller pieces without redundancy. I did not (see below) expect so much resistance to group meetings.

As a teacher, I care about my students, and I’m always stung more by the criticism than encouraged by the praise. One student clearly had a rotten experience with the class (the only one who rated “I learned a great deal in this course” as “Strongly Disagree”; the one who “did not really learn anything”). That’s the frustrating thing about anonymous course evals: I think I know who the student is, but I cannot be sure. I wish I could meet with her, not to berate her, but to try to understand where things broke down, and see if anything could be salvaged. Read on to learn more about my perception of the course.

What I Thought Would Happen

This was the first time I had ever taught WEPO, and I wanted to do something a little different. I liked the idea of the entire class working on something together, but I wanted it to be something I could control–I’ve found that most client-based projects are too nebulous in terms of expectations, and I often have to hustle to find connections between the tasks and the course content. So I hatched the idea of starting a conversation about writing between EWM and FYC, through WEPO courses. I reasoned that this would be close enough to “real world” (whatever that is) writing, and the students would see value in it because it had a larger purpose.

So I designed the course with a fair amount of group work, alongside individual work. The three teams took turns taking the lead on a particular project, and the whole class worked to produce documents: a vision document, a video, a social media strategy. I met with students individually twice this semester in order to discuss their individual and group work, and I canceled class at intervals so that groups could have time to meet.

I also knew that I did not have time, in class, to teach a lot of tools (and the degree of familiarity with tools varied wildly from student to student), so I tried to design the course in such a way as to incentivize visiting the Digital Studio, where I work half of my TA assignment. In class, I tried to concentrate on theory, and the students worked to apply it to practice through blogs.

What Happened

I was not terribly surprised that many students were initially overwhelmed–there are a lot of (smaller) projects, and it took them a couple of weeks to get their heads around what I was asking them to do. I probably did not scaffold the first group project (Vision document) very well, so there were a lot of hiccups there. Some of them were from student uncertainty about how to proceed, but some of them, frustratingly, were from groups not meeting due to irreconcilable schedules. However, I pointed out to these groups that they could meet during regular class time when class was canceled.

After this initial difficulty, though, I think teams started to gel more. I knew when I designed this class that the teams were probably too large–8 to 9 people each–so some social loafing was inevitable. Some teams were higher functioning than others. But I think by the time we reached the second project, most teams had found a rhythm.

A big frustration for me was the student resistance to reading. This is nothing new, of course, in college courses, but I suppose I expected more from English majors. I got the impression that most students did not read the more theoretical readings. Though I hoped to incentivize reading through the blogs, many students were able to generalize about theory, and focus instead on their own experiences.

There was also a fair amount of student resistance to visiting the Digital Studio. Even though I required them to meet with me individually in that space, and strongly suggested that teams meet there, they resisted doing so, even though I knew some of them were struggling with composing tools. This was frustrating to me, and I’m not sure what to do differently.

All that being said, though, I think that on balance, students responded pretty well to the course. There was an initial period of resistance or denial about the group projects, but by the third or fourth week, most students were on board. There was a palpable shift in the class dynamic by around midterm. Class discussions were dynamic, and many students seemed excited about their group projects.

For my Spring, 2015 WEPO course, I’ve minimized group work, and have adopted a textbook to try to emphasize practice more. I’m also using multimodality instead of materiality as a frame of reference, as I detected too much overlap with History of Text Technologies (HOTT) last semester.