Sunday, July 29, 2007

Getting back to work: assignments for large classes

I am nearly finished unpacking. If I put in a good day today, I can probably finish all that can be done right now, including hanging artwork. Then I'll just have to wait a few days until I rent a car and can unclutter the study area by driving ten or so boxes up to my office at the New Uni (will think of a name for the Uni soon...and am still working on the more positive name for Scary City!).

So, what this means is that I'm about to get back to work. And, given the crazily over-ambitious late summer to-do list I've posted on my sidebar (especially crazy given that R will be here for eight days in the middle of it), that is a great thing.

The first order of business, to ease myself back into things, will be to finish course design for my two fall courses. Readings are all set, of course, but I need to design the evaluation structure and write the syllabi.

I will have just over twice the number of students I had last year (yeah, I was one lucky contract/visiting prof last year at Dream Uni). I'll have about 110 students. 90 of them will be in my first-year, Intro course. And there are no tutorials (which pisses me off - my first order of business in this new job will be to change that, get a TA, for next year). This means I'll be responsible for grading for 90 students in this one class. Apparently I can get an undergraduate TA, but the only thing I'd trust an undergrad with would be things like quizzes - no written work. I have never given a quiz - it doesn't make sense with my discipline, nor my teaching style. Ugh. (Though will probably give in to it.)

So my question is, how have some of you managed with designing assignments for huge classes where you have to do all the marking yourselves? What have your evaluation structures looked like? How do you not get swamped??

In 2005-06, on my first contract gig, I taught a class of 50 and one of 60. In those big classes, I assigned way too much. It was back-breaking. Now that I'm TT at a place with fairly ambitious research goals, I just can't do that to myself. My fall is going to be insane enough as it is, what with a SSHRC proposal, two conferences, a couple of visitors from Home City, and getting acclimated to a new university - and running and growing a program! So, though it goes against my ideas of what good teaching looks like, I want to be pragmatic about this and easy on myself - somehow without sacrificing the students' learning.

Any suggestions for sane assignment design for large classes would be much appreciated.


hypatia said...

One thing I've used (somewhat successfully) in the past... About 1/month give an in-class group assignment. The assignment is HARD as far as critical thinking goes but graded generously. Altogether counts for about 10% of the grade - just enough that people care. And means that I get an attendence check/critical thinking exercise in while grading about 1/4 of the papers I ususally do. Groups more than 4 don't work.

Something I'm going to try: Require weekly writing assignments. Each week 3/4 of the class gets a 'check' grade just for turning something in and 1/4 of the class gets a real grade for content and detailed comments. This should lead to about 4 detailed grades per semester and again limits my grading to 25 papers/week instead of 100. Requires that they actually do the reading; limits my grading investment; hopefully improves their writing over time.

Check in with Dr. Crazy (Reassigned Time). Her archives have some nice comments on teaching composition and managing assignments/grading for a large number of students.

Hilaire said...

Love these ideas, Hypatia - especially the second one. I've known several people who have done such things...I think with som success. Some of their variations have struck me as really ballsy and harsh - but yours seems somehow kinder to them. I think this is a great route to try.


Anonymous said...

If you don't already design and use a grading rubric/checklist for each assignment. It makes comments easier and I think it makes things quicker and more consistent for me.

In the large humanities class I used to teach students did a research paper, but it was broken down into four parts: brainstorm, proposal, annotated bibliography and final paper. This meant that by the time the paper came around I was so familiar with what each student was doing that it was easier to grade than something I'd never seen before. It was also a good balance between things I really had to pay attention to (proposal, final paper) and things I didn't (bibliography, brainstorm). It also resulted in better papers. An undergrad TA could grade bibliography annotations with some good guidance.

hypatia said...

I should add that improving their writing would benefit me, because in the end I make them write a 7 page compare and contrast paper that is similar in structure to (but slightly more complicated than) the weekly summaries. So they hopefully see a link between the weekly things and a big grade.

Dr. Crazy said...

I'm actually trying something similar to Hypatia's second suggestion in one of my classes this semester. Students will need to write a weekly paper, but I'm going to collect them randomly during the semester and then the entire portfolio at the end.... It's complicated to explain in a comment, but if you'd like to see the assignment, drop me an email and I'll be happy to forward along what I've come up with.