The fulcrum of a course is often its readings. Readings are carefully selected to present key concepts in an accessible manner, to raise questions, and to spark controversy. I encourage students to critically evaluate all readings by participating in a “virtual” discussion with the author. I discourage students to blindly accept any reading as the last word on a topic. Facts can be easily manipulated and interpretation of the facts are shaped by personal opinions and values. To highlight the fact that disagreement can be found on almost any topic, we will sometimes read contradictory articles on the same topic. Students should use readings to jump-start their own thinking on the topic and to learn the tools needed to defend their own positions against the “experts.”
Lectures are a complement to, not a supplement for, the reading. They provide an opportunity for students to engage the speaker in a discussion. They help to summarize the key points of the reading and to facilitate the students’ discussion with the authors. Towards this end, I have developed an interactive lecture style. Instead of proving information directly to students, I use question-and-answers techniques to guide students through the analysis developed by the authors. Through this process, they should learn how to formalize and critique their own ideas and opinions.
Discussion is an essential component of the learning process. Through discussion students learn how to express their ideas verbally, actively listen to the ideas expressed by their peers, and to provide effective feedback to one another. Students’ comments will not be ignored, belittled, ridiculed, or treated as irrelevant, by me or other students. Students are strongly encouraged to ask questions throughout lecture, and provide feedback to one another. Students should always engage in discussion with the intent of improving understanding and should never use abusive or hurtful language.
Assignments provide students with an opportunity to reflect on and practice
what they have learned in readings, lectures, and discussions. I
divide assignments into two categories: individual and group. The
primary intent of individual assignments is to develop the students’ skills
in analysis, writing, and self-motivation. The primary intent of
group assignments is to develop the students’ skills in teamwork, cooperation,
and oral communication. Both at an individual and group level, learning
time management skills is essential. All assignment are designed
with the understanding that students are enrolled in four other courses
and may be completed within the time frame allotted on the course syllabus.
Learning is an active, not passive, process. It involves reflecting
on external ideas and self-discovery. To promote active learning,
I use interactive lecturing, structured discussions, case studies, and
group projects. In addition, I include some type of community participation
in all courses. This may be done informally or formally by: (1) incorporating
current events into lectures and discussions, (2) inviting community members
to participate in lectures or discussions with the class, or (3) developing
assignments which require students to watch, listen to and/or work with
members of our community.
Grades are not meant to reward or punish students. They are meant
to provide feedback to the student regarding their understanding of the
material. I use a combination of criteria referenced and relative
grading. This means that you will not receive an “A” in the
course unless you show that you have clearly mastered the material (i.e.
you are able to explain the material, critique it, and use it as a basis
for developing your own ideas). At the same time, you will are not
likely to fail a course if you have made an effort to learn the material
by reading, attending class regularly, participating in discussions, and
completing homework assignments. Although there is a minimum level
of knowledge that must be acquired to pass the course, every student should
be capable of achieving an “A” and I would be delighted to give an “A”
to every student. Relative grading is used at the margins to reflect
how you are performing relative to your peers and to allow for unanticipated
problems with the difficulty or ease of an assignment. In general, an "A"
indicates that you have exceeded expectations and show an outstanding mastery
of course material. A "B" indicates that you have met expectations
and achieved superior mastery of course material. A "C" indicates
that you have adequately mastered the course material but could clearly
improve. A "D" indicates that your mastery of course material is
unsatisfactory or poor. If you receive a grade of C- or below on
any assignment, please see me to discuss methods of improving your study
habits and opportunities for additional tutoring or assistance with the
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