Excitement and the First Class
Take time to remember why you are excited about the subjects you will be covering, and try to show your enthusiasm to the students. In particular, the first class is the place where everyone's imagined interests and hopes for the course start to converge on the actual subject matter. Use that opportunity to explain what the class is about, and why you find it interesting.
One way to do this is to open the first class with an illustration or story: "Here's an example of wearable technology I really love, and it illustrates some of the themes we'll be working on this semester...", "Here's a recent museum exhibition that shows what's possible with mobile tools and interactive displays..."
These examples don't need to be too complex or conceptually rich, nor do they need to be things that require a lot of time to explain, but it can be helpful to show them something that gives everyone something to talk about.
You are the expert on the content of the class; what follows are observations about opportunities and pitfalls, given the nature of the student body and the structure of ITP.
Each class will be a mix of one or more of the following elements: you talking to the students, the students talking to you, the students talking to each other, the students working on a problem while you observe. It is up to you to decide how and when to use each of these modes of interaction, as best fits your subject area and style.
- ITP has a very diverse population. The interdisciplinary advantages of this are obvious, but the disadvantage is that there are almost no universally shared cultural or technological experiences among the students. Our students are in general quick studies, but be prepared to give brief background information on issues or themes you may consider obvious, but aren't to people coming from a different tradition.
- Don't try to jam so much into the class presentation that you don't have time show how it fits into the structure of the class. You really can't go wrong taking 5 minutes at the start and end of class with the syllabus on the screen and going over what is happening and what is coming up.
- Leave time for questions. It is far better to cover a bit less material well enough to have it integrated, than doing a too-rapid overview of concepts or techniques the students don't really internalize.
- A semester seems like a long time, but you will be in front of the students for only 35 hours -- in many ways the hardest work of making a class work is figuring out what to leave out of the syllabus.
The Syllabus: Communicating Course Content, Goals, and Structure
The syllabus is the key document in helping the students understand the structure of the course as a whole. Especially at the beginning, when the students do not yet understand the basic insights of the course, they need a guide to help them orient themselves. The syllabus is this guide.
A syllabus should have a brief overview of the subject and goals of the course, a description of the work they will be expected to do during the semester, and a brief week-by-week breakdown of the classes, including readings and assignments. This document is a contract of an informal sort -- what you expect of them, and what they can expect of you. You should hand out a paper copy on the first class, and keep an up-to-date version online.
You should have some indication about how their work will be judged, for example On-time Attendance and Participation 20% Blogging 20% Assignments 30% Final Project 30% (your percentages will vary). Given ITP's Pass/Fail grading, this is in practice setting the parameters for the conditions under which you would fail them.
Our students are experimentally minded, and take fairly readily to new tools, physical, virtual and intellectual, but new tools introduced early in the course will feel more fundamental to the students, and they will treat them that way.
IF YOU CHANGE THE CLASS STRUCTURE during the semester (and you may have reason to do this, especially if it is a new class), then you should explain the change to the students AND change the online syllabus. Students can tolerate not understanding the material, but a course can really go down in flames if they don't understand the overall shape of the course.
You may also want to maintain a class weblog or wiki work well for this and mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org can help you put one together. Often professors work so hard preparing material but don't get around to reflecting it on the syllabus.
Establish a policy for public use of posts and class conversation. Should students or guest critics be able to blog publicly about what is said in class. Should members of the press be invited to look at work before the end of the semester?
You may be very brilliant but if you can't do the math to divide up 140 minutes (2.5 hours - 10 minute break) into useful chunks, you may introduce a lot of stress into the class. It may be difficult giving 16 projects the depth of critique it deserves in 8 minutes but that is the reality of the class. Of course encouraging groups and scheduling presentations over two weeks can help. It is usually better to announce the schedule of presentations at the beginning of class so you don't save time for someone who turns out not to be prepared (but does not say so until called on).
On time attendance is required to pass a class. It is also useful for us to be able to see a students attendance and promptness globally when we do recommendations. We highly encourage you to use our online attendance system. It helps to do it on the classroom computer so you can enlist the help of class in getting right and make it clear that we are keeping track. More than 3 missed classes should probably be a fail.
You can't change the order of the waiting list; it is handled in strict student order. You should leave the management of the waiting list to Gordie.
People who do not come to the first class are dropped from the waiting list, so we will need you relay to Gordie who came to the first class or better use our online attendance system. Most of the time we would prefer that you do not make your class bigger because then it may throw other classes out of balance. If someone is absolutely determined to get into your class and risks hanging on until the third week, anotehr student may drop out, and the determined student will get in.
The general policy is that students should have their laptop lids down unless they are taking notes or performing an exercises with the class. Professors are welcome to adopt a more permissive policy in their class. One popular policy is lids down when a fellow student is presenting, do what you want when the professor is presenting. It feels a little bit like grade school but walking around and looking at their IM screens keeps it to a minimum.
We use a pass/fail system where a student either does good work (A - B-) or they fail. Once you give a grade it is final unless there was a clerical error. Since we changed to a pass/fail system, the most common appeals (A- vs A) are gone but the remaining ones are more serious. We now have a few failures every semester where students would have previously gotten a C or D. This means that the student gets no credits for the class and has to take (and pay) for another class (the same class if it is a foundation course). It is important that you plainly state your expectations as describe above in the section on syllabus. It is also important that you give warning. A failing midterm grade does not go on any record but sends a message that can really change behavior. If the final project is failing, this warning may not possible but you should contact the student to make sure that you just did not receive the final project (this contact should not become an opportunity for the student change your opinion of the work you did see or beg for an incomplete).
We don't give incompletes unless there death or serious illness.
Because we encourage students to risk failure by stretching to make bridges outside their known interests and aptitudes we cannot, in general, hold them to any absolute level of achievement in any area. Instead you are graded on effort and progress in the quality of your work. There are some objective measures of your effort for instance missing more than two classes or being chronically late, missing two interim assignments or presentations or one large assignment like the final project or a complete lack of in class participation might be clear indicators of a failure in effort. Classes are structured differently so professors will provide a syllabus indicating the requirements and their relative importance. Ultimately the progress in the quality of your efforts is usually a subjective judgment by the professor but students will be given notice when the quality of their work is marginal or failing.
The binary pass/fail system leaves lots of room for other forms of feedback. You are not required to write a narrative to each student but it is a good idea to offer it to any students that want more feedback. For special students, short messages in email at the end of the term saying "I wish I could have given you an A+" or "you only passed by the skin of your teeth, I would have liked to have seen better," are both appreciated by the students.
From time to time, you will encounter a student who will drive you crazy because they are underperforming, unengaged, or, in the worst case, disruptive. Before it goes too far you should contact mailto: email@example.com who can check if the student is having problems in their other classes. They may be having troubles that we can help them with or they may just be bad students. In any case, it may be helpful for you to know you are just witnessing part of a bigger problem.