Least wired class… ever!

Had great plans to make the Communication Theory seminar more tech-enabled this year, but no time to make it happen. When I found out that we would have 28 graduate students in the seminar, I kind of went back to the drawing board. 28 students in a very seminary class (i.e., much of it is driven by discussing readings and drawing out central ideas and tensions), can be difficult; there is a lot of opportunity for social loafing.

So I’m trying something I am calling the Extreme Socratic Method. It is customary in graduate courses to have students lead discussion in turns, assigned at the beginning of the course. There are a lot of good reasons for this: it allows each student to take a more in-depth look at one facet of the material, for example. In this class, there will be one discussion leader for each reading, but they will not know who that discussion leader is until 2 minutes before we discuss the material. This way, everyone should be familiar enough with the material to be able to provide a decent summary and raise questions of interest.

That may seem onerous, in that a student never knows when she might be called upon to lead the discussion. On the other hand, this is similar to requiring students to write short response papers for each reading. Anyway, I don’t know how it will turn out, but I promise to provide some feedback (and I’ll invite the participants in the seminar to do the same).

Here’s the syllabus for the class:pdficon.gif, 53K. Hope they have as much fun reading these as I did (and will!).

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5 Comments

  1. Jenn
    Posted 8/26/2003 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Look to your left and to your right; both of those people are going to fail! Way to go Alex- scare them as usual :-)

  2. jeremy
    Posted 8/26/2003 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    nifty syllabus…

    though i know its already written in stone:) i thought i would say that in regards to science communication you might want to consider the chapter from Latour and Woolgar’s Laboratory Life on fact construction, which is primarily about the changes in communicational mode as things become facts in science. Another great article is “The Matthew Effect in Science: the Reward and Communication Systems of Science are Considered [with Harriet A. Zuckerman]. Science 199, 3810 (January 5), 55-63, 1968. ” which has been reprinted many times.

  3. Posted 8/27/2003 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Having each student prepare for each class is a step a side from designated date scheduling. I’m interested to see how this will effect the quality of the presentations. Statistically, this may be better for the class as a whole, but each individual-as-expert may dwindle slightly.
    What do you have planned for the Undergrads? Also, what is the criteria for the new Informatics class?

  4. Posted 8/27/2003 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    This is a interesting idea. I require my fourth year university students (Theories of Mass Culture) to prepare a reading critique for each class/reading. Students generally hate this at the beginning of the year, but in my course evaluations they state that these weekly critiques were actually useful for a deeper understanding of the course material. While some students prepare less then ‘A’ quality critiques, if they knew they might be called upon to talk about it, they might spend more time and effort on the critique. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Posted 8/28/2003 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy: Great recommendations! I’m not familiar with the Science article, I’ll track it down. I had considered “How to read…” but since Tom Jacobson will be teaching the second half of the class, and looking at issues of international com and development, it seemed to fit (cultural imperialism) in there better. The other side of this is that anything that deviates much from mainstream Wisconsin/Michigan communication science is looked upon as unworthy. I’ve sold some of these topics on the basis that our grads need to know other ways of thinking about communication exist, if only to be prepared for some of the criticisms they are likely to encounter at conferences.

    Jason: I know, it is good for students to reach some depth of knowledge on a particular string of theories. Hopefully they will do this in the required paper. But I figured that there are later theory classes–in mass comm, interpersonal, etc.–in which they can reach more depth. This may be their only chance (see above) to get the breadth.

    I’ll post on my undergrad class shortly. It’s still a bit ambiguous :).

    As for the capstone–I am out this year. I’m thinking I want to go and do something researchy during the summer. Unfortunately, that puts me outside of the MI program for the most part. There are a lot of interesting students in there this year (too!).

    Tracy: I’ve done something similar in the past. But I’ve also liked, in general, for writing assignments to be made public. I had the problem of many of the students being–in many cases unintentionally, I suspect–influenced by earlier posters. I considered holding all papers from public view until they were all in, but that seems kind of silly. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be calling on my first students next week.

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