Hybrid Fluxed #02: That's Why We Call It a Pilot

I'm one month into teaching an American Literature I course using hybrid flexible pedagogy.  It's going good overall but I'm already coming up with a list of things to tweak and improve in the next rendering of this course. Before going into what needs fixing and what is working great, I thought I would provide more detail about how the course is running to better understand what's been done (and in the next post, a clear explanation of how to fix it).  

The Readings for American Literature

The readings are the centerpiece of a literature course.  This course is no different.  However, in this course, I changed up the approach to readings.  Several semesters ago, I redesigned the text order into a more thematic structure.  My old approach was to move through the course chronologically but I found the students had challenges around keeping track of it all and making sense how the different texts related.  I switched to breaking the course into four writing styles to explore: 

  1. First Person Narratives and Autobiographies
  2. Essays, Tracks, Arguments, and Speeches
  3. Fiction
  4. Poetry

I moved through them in the order above, believe that worked in terms of their literary challenges from easiest to hardest.  Within each unit, we then move chronologically with each week covering 1 or 2 centuries (e.g. 16th & 17th First Person Narratives & Autobiographies).  This structure was useful because we could layer not only the different types of writing but the different times for contrast.  

The Course Choices

Because I moved into the units identified above, it because less important on the specific works that they read and more important that they sampled and engaged directly with the different types of work.  The shift provided opportunities to create flexibility with the readings.  Now, instead of everyone having to read the same texts, we could have people read different texts but still be able to talk about their texts in relation to the subject matter.  Meanwhile, I could provide a close reading of a text in a given week to help students extrapolate and find approaches to the things they are reading.  So I created a master list of readings for each week and had students select a particular page amount that they were responsible for.  At the beginning of the semester, they would fill out a Selection Sheet for all the readings they were responsible for during the semester.  

Part of the reason I moved into this approach is that American Literature 1 is full of readings that may be important but are boring as all can be to many students.  I figured one way to stimulate interest was to have students have some say in what they were going to read in a give week.  

However, the real choice of the course was what format of learning the student chose.  As I mentioned before, I designed the course so the student could take it entirely online, entirely face-to-face, or go back and forth depending on his/her demands/priorities in a given week.  

Additionally, I expanded their choice in terms of the content of their assignments and even, which assignments they do (see below).

F2F Time vs Online Time

What makes the difference between online and face-to-face time?  In the online environment, students are expected to view the week's minilectures as well as make their way through a learning guide, do their readings, and participate substantially in a weekly discussion (one initial post of 200+ words and 3 peer replies of 100+ words).  

By contrast, in the face-to-face class, students must perform inclass writing assignments, engage in group discussions and projects, and of course, listen to/engage with the mini lectures I give in person.  (A side benefit to students in the F2F, if they miss something or need a refresher, they can always go online and review the videos). 

The Assignments

I've been trying to also play around with the assignments and believe I will expand upon this in the ensuing semesters as there could be some really great things done in terms of providing more choice and opportunity for students.  

All students must be active in the course.  In the face-to-face class, this includes participating in discussions, group projects and successfully completing the informal inclass writing assignments.  In the online course, it means substantially participating in the discussion.  There is also a course blog, where all the students come together and post their initial thoughts and ideas about a particular reading they enjoyed from a given week.  These are all formative assessments that help me understand where the students are at as well as help the students learn from one another.

Finally, we have three major assignments for them to complete.

Article Analysis:  The students must find an academic article that critically uses something they are reading this semester and write a 1000+ word review of it.  Students choose whatever article they can find so long as it meets certain criteria (over 12 pages of text, published in academic journal, published after 1970 and ties to a specific text we read).  Their article selection must be pre-approved before moving forward with the essay.

Close or Quote Analysis:  For their second paper, students can choose from two options.  They can provide a close-analysis of a fictional work that they've ready (at least 1000+ words) or they can analyze a self-selected quote from anything that they've read and then connect that quote to other readings in the course.  Which assignment and which text they chose is up to them; however, like the article analysis, they need to identify what they are doing for approval. 

Final Project:  Students have several options for a final project.  

  1. Standard Essay.  Students have three different essay options to chose from to write a 1500 word essay on American Literature.
  2. Librivox recording and reflective essay.  Students must find a text they wish to record and narrate the text for Librivox.org as well as write 300+ word reflective essay.
  3. Wikipedia entry.  Students must write an entry for Wikipedia on one of the readings or authors that isn't already on the site.
  4. Digital presentation.  Students must create some kind of digital presentation that substantially covers an idea throughout certain texts or substantially covers a particular reading from the course.
  5. Pitch an idea.  Students can pitch their own ideas for a final project.

That's what I've got going on in the course and I think thus far it's going well for the first round.  I expect to have some more thoughts about how to improve it in the future.  Also keep an eye out for future postings as I intend on making my materials accessible to those that are interested in using/borrowing them.

Check here for a full listing of posts on Hybrid Flexible Pedagogy.

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