5 things I learned this term

  1. Carleton students will put the work in, even for low-stakes stuff.
    As part of my flipped classroom experiment this term, my Intro class had daily assignments based on the readings. Sometimes these were short programs, other times they were pen-and-paper algorithm development exercises. These were worth 5 points each and account for 10% of the course grade, and as long as they handed in something related to the assignment, they got full credit. This was my way of getting them in the habit of daily practice with the skills in a low-stakes manner. I was not sure if the students would “mail it in” just to get the points. What I actually found was that the students spent as much time and energy working on these assignments as they did the larger projects. In fact, I had to go into class at one point and remind them to put an upper limit on the time spent on the exercises, after hearing about one particular assignment that the students spent hours on! (Oops.) Carleton students continue to impress me—they are fully dedicated to their learning, and that makes my job much easier for sure.
  2. I am incapable of “quick-grading” anything, even low-stakes stuff.
    My intent with the daily exercises was that I’d spot-check them, giving a little bit of feedback where necessary, so as to minimize my grading load. In reality, I found myself giving extensive feedback at times, and spending more time grading these than I expected. As I fully expect to do the flipped classroom (or some variation) for my fall courses, I need to think more carefully about managing the grading load.
  3. Never underestimate the power of 25 minutes in getting things done.
    This was supposed to me my “light term”, but it certainly didn’t feel like that! Between research demands, teaching demands, and the demands of some new and significant service projects, I was swamped and often overwhelmed. (Add in 2 kiddos that kept getting sick, and the subsequent Sick Kid Shuffles required to deal with that.) I found little tricks like the pomodoro method (set a 25 minute timer) and #madwriting helped keep me on track and on task during my busiest/most overwhelming days. In fact, 2 short bouts of #madwriting in a single day led me to finish drafts of 2 sections of a particularly problematic conference paper. I’m a convert!
  4. Managing my email reduces both my workload and my stress level.
    Checking my email less frequently this term (twice a day during the day, once total on weekends) and limiting the times I respond to email had 2 interesting effects. One, it was amazing how many problems solved themselves if I didn’t respond immediately. And two, my stress level went way down, because I didn’t feel obligated to respond to things immediately.
  5. Carleton students, for the most part, do well with autonomy.
    Ultimately, with my flipped classroom, I made the students responsible for learning more of the details of concepts and programming (the different variations of for loops, the many ways one can structure an if-else clause, etc) on their own through the readings and exercises. Class time was for larger projects and problem-solving exercises, where we applied the material. I left it up to them to try out the examples on their own. I did not cover everything in class that would be on the quiz. And—lo and behold, they took responsibility for their learning, and ran with it. I joke that the less I talk, the more my students learn. More seriously, my job really is to provide the framework and the roadmap for my students’ learning, and to design the experiences that will help them master the material. (Ditto for my independent study—I gave my student a lot of control over projects and readings, and in our last meeting of the term she mentioned how much she appreciated this and how this strengthened her learning of the material.)