Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ack, course readers

Oof, I feel swamped. This isn't supposed to happen in the summer.

And the thing is, what I feel swamped by is not research. That, at least, would feel productive. Instead, I am swamped by the task of creating the course readers for my two fall courses.

Damn me for not using textbooks, really. In fact, in one of the courses, I'm using three texts in addition to the course reader, but the bulk of the material will be in the reader. It is ever so. This is the fourth June in which I have been consumed by doing course readers. In 2004, I had a little assistantship with my PhD supervisor, and I did some course design and course reader organizing for her. Then, for the next three summers, I've been doing my own readers for my own (multiple) new courses. When will it ever end??? I suppose when I'm established enough to have a paid grad student assistant to do stuff like this...Or when I decide that I can teach an entire course with a textbook (which will be when hell freezes over).

It's all the nitpicking...filling out this copyright template that has to list the ISBN and the number of pages in the work...and when I don't have the book in front of me, trying to track down that information online through a university library. (Yesterday, I was using Duke, just for the hell of it.) Then it all has to be photocopied, or printed out from online if it's a journal article. I am sososososo sick of this.

In fact, I had a brief dinner the other night with my favourite student from this past year, who is moving to Home City, and even suggested that I hire her to do some of this work...Even though I'm jobless this month (my contract at Dream Uni ended May 31, and my new appointment doesn't start until July 1), I'd pay to have some help with this!! The worst part is, the course I've just finished doing (save for the bloody photocopying) is the easy one. The other one is going to be an infinitely more complicated task. And there's this crazy deadline. Sigh...That's the thing that's stressing me out the most, actually - deadline stress is giving me fits...


So that's where I'm at. The good news is that tomorrow morning I'm leaving for New York for four days. Well, I stay in Cold Spring, on the Hudson, while I'm there - with my lovely friends Susan and Charlie - but I will be in the city on Thursday and Friday. I planned this trip because there is an exhibition on right now about exactly what I am working on in the first bit of my book project!!! So exciting. And also to see Susan before I move far away. It shall be lovely - I shall see inspiring project-related things, walk around and eat yummy food a lot, have martinis with Susan...If only I could forget about the course readers, all would be well...


Pantagruelle said...

I have a very simple solution to your course reader problem: pdf files!

I would never ever put together a course reader anymore unless I absolutely had to. But that doesn't mean you can't use the same selection of articles, chapters, etc. Just take the articles you've photocopied, go to the computer lab on campus, run them through a scanner, and upload the pdf files to WebCT, or whatever comparable courseware software new Uni uses.

The advantages of this are multiple: 1) you don't have to give a damn about copyright and filling out all those annoying forms; 2) you can do it at the very last minute, a few days before courses start (so if you don't have access to a scanner in Home city now, you can wait and worry about it two months from now at Scary city); 3) it's better for the students AND it's better for the environment--the students can choose whether or not they actually want to print off all those articles (and whether or not they can afford to print them off, which still runs cheaper than overpriced course packs) or simply read the articles right there on their computer screen (and take notes on their computer as they are doing so) and even bring their laptops to class, as so many do already.

Believe me, pdf files are so much better than traditional course packs. I suggested this to my supervisor 3 years ago and he loved it. His students seem to find that it worked too. What's more, you'll have the files for next year's courses, and you can mix and match up readings a whole lot easier, instead of putting together yet another course pack next year.

If I ever get a job (and I'm still holding my fingers crossed on a late posting that is supposed to be interviewing two weeks for now, and which would give me almost no prep time between getting the job and classes starting, were I to get it), pdfs are the way I'm going to go.

The only real thing to worry about is to make sure that you scan them at a high enough resolution so that the photocopies are readable. That's easy enough to do. My Uni has a lab tech who helps with all that stuff. In fact, we have a lab for the whole Arts Faculty that is devoted to helping teachers do exactly this kind of stuff, using technology in their classes, and making it easier for teachers to do.

So there's my solution to make your life easier this summer--for what it's worth. At the very least, if you still go with a traditional paper coursepack, I would suggest that you eliminate the online articles from it. Just copy and paste the permanent link from JSTOR or ProQuest or whatever onto your syllabus with the list of readings for the week, and make the students download the online articles themselves. It still saves paper, makes the coursepack less heavy and costly, and saves you filling out quite so many copyright forms. Plus, it teaches the students some research skills and makes them aware that these databases exist. They need to learn how to navigate them anyway.

Hope this helps!

Hilaire said...

You are awesome, Pantagruelle!

First, best of luck with the job thing! I will cross my fingers for you.

Thanks for all the suggestions. This had sort of occurred to me in some way...except that I don't use WebCT. And I hesitate to add to my schedule the workshops to learn how to do it in August, when I will already be swamped and on a huge learning curve in the new position, and settling after my move. HOwever. I am planning to learn WebCT quite soon (probably in the fall), and so could potentially use this option for my winter courses (well, at least one - for the other, I have most of the materials already, thank god, plus I use a book for a lot of it.)

Yes, this is a good idea. The other, similar idea I've heard of from a student at my current uni, is making PDFs of everything and putting them on a CD, and giving the CD to students...That would be an option if I weren't using WebCT...(which, I have to say, is a technology I'm not terribly excited about using...) But there is always the problem of students losing things like CDs.

Anyway, lots to think about! I will try to use PDFs for one of my courses in the winter. One thing I can do in August is suss out the resources available (i.e. high-quality scanning) at the new uni.

I have to say that one of the things that freaks me out about having them all online is that I feel as if very few students will print them out...and I have mixed feelings about that. I am obviously dismayed at the paper wastage. But I do like students to have hard copies with them in class, because I often ask very pointed questions about passages...That's harder when they don't actually have the texts in hand. Actually, it would depend on the course - for my first year courses, I don't do much close reading - I lecture broadly. In a theory course, though, I might stick with hard copies. And the first year course is in fact the one where I want to experiment with the PDFs in the winter term - that works well.

Thanks for the great, detailed reply!

Pantagruelle said...

WebCT isn't nearly as complicated as it looks--or as the tech people make it sound. You really don't need to waste time taking a workshop in order to do the basics required to upload a bunch of pdfs. All you really need to do is login, click on your course title, you'll then be on the homepage for that particular course, go to the Teach tab, click on the tab Tool View, scroll down to File Manager, upload your files, and then go back to your course page, click on the Build tab, select Add to Home Page Content File... and voilĂ ! Your file(s) will be there on the homepage for the course when the students login. You can make it more fancy, of course, and do tons of other stuff, but if all you really need to do is post course readings, it's pretty easy. I could walk you through it over email if you like (I think I just did!). Just let me know...

Did I mention that my postdoc is half research and half being a technogeek web person? Once I get started on these topics... :-)

I do get you mean though about making sure the students have the text in front of them. You could simply be very clear from day one that they are expected either to come to class with the texts on their laptop or to print them out, but their responsiblity is the same, whatever their choice is, the same as they'd be responsible to bring their books and whatever else.

Hilaire said...

Hmmm...verrrry interesting...I'm going to look into WebCT stuff at new Uni in the next couple of days (see if/when they have workshops in August, what kind of support would be available to me as a newbie), and then make a decision.

Thank you so much for all the advice and help!

medieval woman said...

Good luck on all this, dear! I, too, hate course readers. I'm using Blackboard at Dream Academy this next year...