[This is the contents of an email I sent on Wednesday to the students in my section of UNIV200 this semester. The class will get started in earnest next week, but I wanted to try to inspire them a little upfront.]
A new academic year arrives full of possibility and hope. I, myself, have many hopes and dreams. Most relevant to you, I dearly hope that your learning experience in UNIV200 this semester is wonderful. Or wonder-full. Or, filled with wonder. Or, all of those.
You see, I like to think that this could be a year of wonder at VCU. I suppose every year in an institution of higher learning should be about wonder. But, VCU’s Common Book is The Secret History of Wonder Woman. And, now you’re taking a course that’s about wondering. Formally, it’s called Inquiry and the Craft of Argument (and, actually, the special version of the course that you’re enrolled in has many names). But, inquiry and research, which this course is about, are really about wondering. So, what is it that you wonder? I wonder…
You are, indeed, enrolled in a special section of UNIV200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument. Furthermore, you are enrolled in a fully online section of the course. What does that mean? Well, it means we won’t necessarily be meeting anywhere at any particular time. We’ll engage with each other LOTS; but just not necessarily face-to-face. You’ll be doing lots of reading and writing; LOTS of writing. You’ll be doing that writing on the Internet; not Blackboard, but the Internet. On a blogging platform, whether that’s RamPages or Blogger or Tumblr.
I won’t get into specifics of the course just yet, but here’s what I think you need to know at this point. Ultimately, your grade will be determined arithmetically based on assignments. Generally, though, my approach to assessment and grading comes from a friend and colleague named Dr. Gary Stager who wrote on his syllabi:
This class requires active participation through collaboration, discussion, design, research and development. Any work you produce should provide evidence of participation in the intellectual life of the course…All students are required to share ideas and skills with their classmates and to expand their own personal knowledge in ways beneficial to their classmates. Simply put, you need to learn whatever is necessary to support the learning and growth of your peers. Students are expected to not only complete all individual and collaborative tasks, but be active discussants. Highly successful students are distinguished by vigorous participation…
So, from you, I expect “vigorous participation;” you will receive lots of feedback from me throughout the learning experience and all of your work will factor in to the formal grade I have to submit for you in this course. Here, too, though, I am in full agreement with Dr. Stager with respect to grading:
I have strong reservations about both grades and rubrics. I believe that both practices have a prophylactic effect on learning. Doing the best job you can do and sharing your knowledge with others are the paramount goals for this course. I expect excellence…You should evaluate each course artifact you create according to the following “rubric.” The progression denotes a range from the least personal growth to the most.
(NOTE: I’ve modified this rubric slightly for our purposes)
- I did not participate
- I phoned-it in
- I impressed my colleagues
- I impressed my friends and neighbors
- I impressed my family
- I impressed Dr. Becker
- I impressed myself
From time-to-time, I will ask you to assess your own learning according to that scale.
One more piece from Dr. Stager: “Let your personality shine and most importantly, HAVE A GO! Be present, take some risks, stretch yourself.”
Or, as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic Schoolbus says,
I think that’s enough for now. In the coming days, I’ll send you more about what you need to know to get started for this class. But, for now, I only need you to reply to this email to confirm that you received it and to let me know that you’re ready to give it a go. If you’d like to try a different section of UNIV200, I’d understand. I’d be sad, for you and for me, but I’d understand.
Let me know; either way.
I look forward to hearing from you and to learning from you.