onsdag 29 juni 2011

Program-integrating course 2010/2011 summary

This will be a relatively long and rambling post and I might go back and edit it later. It is equally much a blog post that might be of interest for students who take the course (and who would like to hear the teacher's perspective) or for the nine teachers in the course as it is a summary of the course that I might go back to later and review.

Formal information & basic structure of the course
The program-integrating course [DM1578, programintegrerande kurs i medieteknik] is a 7-credit course. There are 250 or so students who take the course - all students who study for a degree in Media Technology are required to take it. The course runs for three years and we meet four times per year and discuss a pre-specified theme as well as student courses and experiences during the previous quarter. The students are divided into 36 groups with half a dozen of students in each group and we try to mix first-, second- and third-year students. Each teacher in the course lead four groups of students each and the teachers report back to me. Students get 3 credits after the first year and 2 credits after each of the following two years.

Development of the course over time
This course sounded wonderful on paper when the whole program started, but quickly ran into problems and the program filled up with students. How do you fill a course such as this with content? How do you run it practically? I gave the course for a few years before my colleague Björn took it over three years ago. He changed the structure of the course (most probably for the better) according to what I wrote above. As he was away, I took over the course during the 2010/2011 semester.

Basic challenges of the course
The huge challenge here is to practically administer the course. It is difficult, to say the least, to keep track of 250 students that meet four times in a year. On top of that we have students that are on leave, that study abroad for a semester or two, that miss one out of four seminars (or two) for reasons that are sometimes better and sometimes worse (forgot, overslept, trip abroad etc.). One of the problems when I took over the course was that many students had, for some reason, not gotten last year's credit for the course. It is difficult for both me and for the students to know exactly why the didn't get their credits. There is probably a reason (besides administrative SNAFUs), but no-one remembers and these things are probably not documented in a way that easy to find and understand. It is detective work to find out why someone didn't get their credits. It is another task to gauge the seriousness of the lapse and to think of what kind of extra task needs to be done in order to get the credits. It takes time and it is boring.

The main contributions on my behalf during this year
- Better administrative routines for the teachers to document and report on students' performance throughout the academic year and the seminars.
- We had a lunch for the teachers in the course during the autumn and another one during the spring. This gave us the chance to discuss the course, routines and how to improve it and was great. Course development on the cheap (the only cost was the lunch itself).
- Better routines and rules for what happens when students miss smaller or larger parts of the course. Students collect "bad karma" when they fail to do what they are supposed to. Bad karma accrue and results in larger or smaller tasks to be completed at the end of the year. Better documentation of status of students who don't complete this year's course so as to better track them later.

The main things that I have a bad conscience for not having done (yet)
- There are students who completed this year's course, but now get in touch and tell me they didn't complete last year's course. It is a hassle to deal with the these students (takes time and requires boring detective work) and I have a backlog of cases that I have not fixed yet.

The main thing that will change in next year's course are:
- A theme will be chosen and the four tasks for the whole academic year should be formulated already at the beginning of the term (August/September) so that they can be portioned out later rather than hang above me as a dark cloud. It happened that the students got instructions for a seminar relatively late this year and that is unnecessary and could be fixed relatively easy.
- Even better administrative routines and instructions for the teachers. Students will not be allowed to jump to another teacher's group because the allotted time for a seminar did not fit the student. It so often happens that this information is lost and this results in an added administrative burden for me and the teachers (and the students) in an already hard-to-administer-course.

This is the course where students evaluate (discuss) all other course they take, but we don't spread around a course evaluation of this course itself.

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