Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Grad students in undergrad courses

Why does Blogger keep coming up in Spanish for me?

Anyway, really what I'm wondering about is grad students in undergrad courses. For a number of reasons that I'm not going to get into here, often MA and PhD students at my uni take upper-level undergrad courses for grad credit. Of course they negotiate an appropriate workload for themselves, appropriate to the grad level. I'm not wild about this because I don't think the level of discourse is high enough for grad students, but so be it. This fall, I had one (good) grad student auditing my upper-level course. In the new term, she'll be taking my Theory course for credit, as will at least one other (PhD) student. Another PhD student has asked to see the syllabus. So it looks like I'll probably have several grad students in there, to my 20 or so undergrads.

Does anyone have any experience with this? I remember that as an undergrad, I took one fourth-year seminar that had about half a dozen grad students in it. That's the only experience I have with a mixed classroom; it simply wasn't done, where I was, except in this one department. I'm wondering if people have taught such courses, if they have been students in them, and what they might be able to share about it in the way of advice. My plan so far is to have a meeting with all of the grad students who take the course, to determine a common workload for them - I don't want each of them doing something completely different. Anyway, I'd love to hear any thoughts on this phenomenon.

11 comments:

dbm/gaa said...

As an undergrad I took a Feminist Ethics course that had grad students in it. One of them was one of those people who can quote great chunks of text and sound absolutely brilliant doing it, it intimidated the shit out of me for a few weeks. Then I started paying attention to what she was saying, and how the (wonderful, very well respected) prof responded to her and realized that she wasn't really all that brilliant, aptitude for memorizing texts notwithstanding. And then I started ignoring Text Spouting Woman and getting into the class and I think I learned a lot from the other grad students and that their being there really brought up the level of discussion.

So, you might want to meet with the grad students beforehand and come up with a strategy that allows for their participation in ways that won't intimidate others and take up too much space, but that will still meet their learning needs. Perhaps as part of their 'deal' for extra work they could do their own seminar (if there are 3 or more of them) or something.

This situation isn't as unusual as it sounds. Lots of grad students take undergrad research methods courses if they don't have any methods training, for instance.

tresrose said...

In our department we often combine undergraduate electives with master level electives. We also combine master level with doctoral level but doctoral students would never sit in on undergraduate classes. In both of the combined cases we list them as upper-level courses for the undergrad/masters students. The courses are actually listed separately but then taught together. This allows us to offer more courses than we can actually cover.

Usually the upper-level students have additional assignments and may even have an extra couple of classes where they show up alone for more "in-depth" discussion but this is rare. The problem of ability to participate in the class does come up. However sometimes it works in the reverse. I just finished teaching a doctoral methods course which had one masters-level student and she trumped them all.

I'm about to teach a small practicum course in the spring that will have one doctoral student, 3-4 masters' students and 5 undergrads. Since it is a practicum my plan is to give the upper-level students additional responsibilities in managing the teams, reviewing work from the lower-level students and serving as mentors. I believe in our field that this type of "practical" experience is just as important as the content.

I also run student-research teams that are multi-leveled and have found that the type of relationships formed are good for everyone and they can often give each other types of resources and support that I can't provide.

Sorry for the long comment.

Psychgrad said...

Last winter, I audited an undergrad. course. Or, I should say, I started auditing an undergrad course. I went to about 5 lectures and dropped it. I decided to take it because the topic sounded interesting to me and potentially related to a research interest of mine. I dropped for a few reasons, some related to the undergrad/grad difference. 1. I didn't connect well with the prof. I found that she didn't really listen to my in-class comments and there was really no connection there. 2. I didn't like the structure of the course. The prof. would give us 2-3 topics to discuss in groups but would purposefully cut the discussion time so short that you couldn't even get through the 2nd topic. I didn't like having to rush through a conversation for the purpose of keeping a fast pace. Perhaps this is an undergrad/grad distinction --where discussions are kept really short at the undergrad level to ensure that the prof. can maintain the students' attention. 3. I didn't find the content of the course very interesting. It was more about remembering details (names, times, places) than any psychological aspects that would have been of interest to me. But it wasn't in the psychology department, so the issue here is more to do with my own false expectations and perhaps a tendency for undergrad. courses to be more memorization/regurgitation focused than integration and critical thinking.

There was another graduate student in that class who had to do a couple of extra assignments. But, I agree with you - the level of discourse (or alloted time given to discourse) were not sufficient for the graduate level.

Dr. Crazy said...

I've been on both the undergrad and grad sides of this in the phenomenon you describe, though I never taught such a course.

In my PhD program, here's how they handled grad students enrolling in undergrad courses:

1) The professor gave grad students an alternate syllabus, usually one which required around 4 meetings outside of regularly scheduled class time (intended to make up for potentially lower level of discourse in full class meeting and to stop grad students from commandeering class meetings with esoteric grad student minutiae).
2) There was no negotiating about workload. The professor decided the workload. Generally, it meant that students did a major seminar paper instead of smaller tests or paper assignments. I think in at least one instance the grad students were required to do a presentation as well. I also seem to recall that extra reading was required.

In undergrad, I only had one class that I recall being mixed with grad students and yes, at first it was intimidating, but I think that the higher level of discourse ultimately was really good exposure for me. I think a lot just depends on the instructor not allowing blow-hards to speak and speak and speak - making sure that participation gets spread around (which, honestly, I think is an issue in regular undergrad classes as well when you've got students of varying ability levels).

Good luck!

kermitthefrog said...

I'm with Dr. Crazy: my undergrad institution had a category of such course. The understanding was that grad students would write a major seminar paper instead of the smaller writing assignments, and I believe they met with the professor sometimes outside of class as well.

Bardiac said...

I had one class at my phud institution that did this (that I took/know of), and it was horrid. The prof didn't seem to have a pedagogical reason for doing it.

At my current institution, and at a pre-phud institution I went to, there were mixed classes; some worked well, some not. The key seemed to be the prof having a real sense of the difference between the two levels, and the grad students meeting higher expectations. I've had grad students who didn't meet higher expectations, and the experience was bad.

I'd love to see some mentoring, but grads at my current institution aren't necessarily better prepared than seniors, so I haven't tried it.

Sorry not to be more helpful.

Fifi Bluestocking said...

I teach a course of a type common at my institution which is a mix of honours students and MA students (and I guess could potentially have PhDs in too, though that hasn't happened to me yet, non-honours undergrads can also enroll with permission of the instructor but this is discouraged). It seems to work quite well since students sign up for it as a hybrid class and so both camps know what they are getting into (undergrads that they will have to work damn hard and MAs that there will be students in the class who may have less background knowledge than them). I suspect I have been quite lucky so far as there haven't been huge discrepancies between the different types of student in the class but I don't know of colleagues that have had problems with this type of course. Anyway, not quite what you were asking about but I thought I'd share.

Anonymous said...

My institution has scads of courses like that -- the usual plan is to expect more extensive papers, etc., from the grad students, but otherwise it seems to mesh seamlessly from my (grad student) perspective. Then again, the undergrads never seem to talk much... perhaps they're intimidated.

Earnest English said...

You have been tagged for a meme, dear hilaire, back at the old haunt:

http://absurdistparadise.blogspot.com/2007/12/five-loved-books-of-2007-meme.html

Andrea said...

I had that in both my masters and phd. Like many people have already noted, we were given extra assignments and met a couple of times outside of class as the grad class. Now I teach a combined masters/UG course. It's theory intensive (videogame analysis) and the way I structure it is we have articles we discuss each week (and then play a videogame the last hour of the 4 hour class) I give 2articles each week, the undergrads have to read one (the more accessible of the two) and the grads both. It has worked well. Part of the discussion includes a student giving a brief summary of the article so the undergrads don't get too bored on the article didn't read because they can still follow the discussion. The class went well and the UG stepped up.

Anonymous said...

At both my MA and PHD schools this was pretty normal. This blog and the comments come as a surprise to me because I figured it was pretty normal for grad students to enroll in upper division classes. Like some posters said, grad students often had to do some extra work that undergrads don't, but not always. It never seemed like any big deal, it was just normal. Although at 1st I was confused about what my role as a grad student should be in the class. (worried about talking over undergrads head, or more embarrasingly, not. Only because at my undergrad school there weren't any graduate programs.)