Friday, July 17, 2009

A radical (emergent) approach to teaching a course

Below is an email I sent out to the 5 students enrolled in a third year undergraduate class. I was wondering if anyone has any experience with this approach to teaching a course. Subconsciously, I was inspired by the two pages on "Synergy in the classroom" in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. I just re-read it. He says:
As a teacher, I have come to believe that many truly great classes teeter on the very edge of chaos. Synergy tests whether teachers and students are really open to the principle of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Dear students,

Currently only 5 students are enrolled in PHYS3170 Intermediate Biophysics.Normally, this would mean that the course would be cancelled.

However, Dr. Seth Olsen and I are willing to offer to run the course in an alternative mode of delivery, where you all take greater ownership for learning and administrative activities.

There would be no formal lectures. Most learning would take place via readings and a class blog. Emphasis will be on co-operation rather than competition.

We would meet face to face on thursdays at 12 noon and possibly 2pm. This would be an informal discussion and question section. Students would each give at least one presentation during this time.

I would propose we try and negotiate an assessment arrangement which will be based on your extent of involvement and contribution to the learning activities of the class. You would collectively write the course profile.

The main role of Seth and I would be to select the readings/topics and help you understand them.

I believe you would actually learn more and have more fun.

But, I can understand why you might prefer the safety and predictability of a conventional course.

Please let me know if you are still interested.


Ross McKenzie

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