Teaching: Practicing my Kingsfield Retort

It is clear that flipping my American government course will work only if I alter my assumptions and expectations about student preparation for class sessions. The “unflipped” me is pretty cynical when it comes to student preparation -- and perhaps this has been a self-fulfilling prophesy since I’ve always organized my syllabus on the assumption that unless there is some incentive in place (e.g., the threat of a quiz) most students do not bother reading the text until the night before an exam -- and even then you wonder if they actually went beyond skimming through the chapters or assigned readings. Obviously, for in-class discussions and other activities to work, I will have to assume otherwise.
It is also clear that I cannot merely change my assumption and hope for the best. I will need to establish the need for preparation from the outset, and here is where some key decisions about the structure of in-class sessions have to be made -- and where the “demographics” of the class come into play.

The course is held in a classroom with a 70 student capacity, and at the moment 51 are enrolled (I do expect it to get to 60s range when all is said and done). Currently there are 3 seniors, 11 juniors, 14 sophomores and 23 freshman (one assumes all are 2
nd semester freshman). All but 7 are in the College of Liberal Arts (2 from the business school, 3 from engineering and the physical sciences, and one each from the life sciences and health/human services school), and 21 are declared political science majors, with 12 undeclared. (Surprisingly, 7 of the poli sci majors are juniors, which means they have made it pretty far into the curriculum without having taken a basic American government course -- amazing!)

My reaction to these figures is that I am facing a class where more than half are likely to be in the “is that going to be on the exam?” stage. It looks like I am going to have to rely on some combination of in-class incentives to get them to take preparation, attendance and engagement seriously. The first options that come to mind: attendance and quizzes.

With that in mind, I am once again going with technology in the form of the
iClicker system offered for UNH classrooms. I’ve used these clickers in the past, but not in the highly structured and disciplined way that this flipped course would require. It makes recording keeping for attendance much easier, and is terrific for simple and quick quizzes. In addition, it adds the capacity to assess and engage student reactions to issues and questions via polling.

While relying on attendance and quizzes might keep them coming to class (and the anticipation of quizzes could foster some student preparation), I need to establish from the outset of the course that not being prepared (not having listened to the lectures and completed the assigned reading for that class session), can result in being embarrassed when called upon (randomly) to answer a simple question related to the preparatory material. I realize the potential for public humiliation is not the most kind incentive to rely on, but it can work if used effectively and often -- especially at the outset of the semester. My fear is pushing it too far, although I will practice my
Kingsfield retort just in case.
blog comments powered by Disqus