Posts tagged schedule
This post is part of a series that are components of my “Expert Plan” at my school, looking to create a shared resource for my colleagues as the school moves towards greater adoption of laptops and technology in our pedagogy.
This started out as simply a way of addressing my own personal predilections: I’m tired of trying to build a syllabus on a calendar (the calendar doesn’t present the syllabus in a useful view), or in a spreadsheet (changing dates becomes a chore), so I decided to separate the various issues out and automate as much as I could. The result is a Google Docs spreadsheet that I embed on my course web site, which allows me to think in terms of units and lessons, and which automatically sequences lessons on to class meetings and updates me with notes about those specific days (Moadim L’Simcha, vacation days, etc.).
This is an example of one of my syllabi as the students see it:
This turned out to be some pro-level spreadsheet work. I like working in spreadsheets. Not everyone likes working in spreadsheets. This link takes you to a “scratch” version of one of my syllabi (you’re welcome to edit it to see changes — this isn’t live. The organization is thus:
- There is a worksheet for each unit of the syllabus, named sequentially Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3, etc. (The best way to create a new unit is to duplicate an old one and replace the information).
- On a unit worksheet, a few of the columns are automatically filled in. You just have to worry about editing the title of the lesson, the lesson description, and the assignment summary. Everything else is filled in automatically.
- The integrated view of all the units, sequenced together and lined up to days with notes is the Syllabus worksheet.
- The Meetings worksheet is just a list of days when the class meets (which I entered manually) and any notes about that day specifically that might be helpful for lesson planning.
- There are a bunch of “working” sheets that you can look at, but don’t edit — they’re collating and organizing all of the units automatically.
This was way more work than it was worth for a single syllabus. But as a tool that I intend to reuse again and again, I’m pretty happy with it and feel good about the investment. It is mildly idiosyncratic, in the sense that it meets my specific needs. But it could be used as a model for other people’s style of syllabus design, separating the schedule from the concepts in a way that makes visualizing the lesson flow much, much easier.
When I was in college, one of my friends posted a letter-sized sheet of paper labeled “the angry list” by the exit from her common room. She/we had plenty of legitimate things to be grumpy about (boyfriend, professors, the iniquities of life — normal college stuff) and this was a way to vent relatively quietly. Another friend, to balance the karmic scales of their common room, posted a list of things that made her happy on another letter-sized sheet of paper.
Over the course of the year, the angry list was filled, removed and replaced with some regularity. And the happy list was filled, expanded and grew and grew. By the end of the year it covered the entire wall and, if I recall correctly, there wasn’t really room for the angry list anywhere — a project that had been abandoned months earlier, in any account. Some of us would walk down the hill to their common room just to post something else on the happy list. And there were repeat appearances of some things (food and relationships figured largely, although there was a fair amount of nerdiness at large on the list as well).
I’ve been thinking about the happy list over the past couple of weeks. It’s January (soon to be February), the absolute nadir of the school year. A couple weeks ago we started our schedule review process with an expert who presented data that bore out what we all already knew instinctively: student (and faculty) enthusiasm and performance dip noticeably here in the midyear (she had some slick ideas for ameliorating that, of course). There’s lots to wear on us, everything from exams (not nearly as fun to write or grade as they are to take, I assure you) to budgeting for the coming year to curriculum review to end of semester course evaluations and fretting about students and advisees.
A friend poked her head in my office a while back and said, “I’m broken.” After a quick conversation, mostly to clarify what kind of broken she meant, not that she was referring to a mental rather than physical sensation, it was clear that both of us were feeling the strains of the season. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, well, the angry list. The things that didn’t go well in the past semester. The plans that failed. The work that didn’t pay off. The people with whom I disagree. The projects deferred and delayed. The gratification denied. Generally, the stuff of the angry list.
Which brought me to the happy list again. Which is one of those things to hang on to (like thank you letters from students and their families) in the “rainy day” file. I am feeling especially resolved to have fun in the coming semester, and I’ve been thinking about the things that make me happy in the classroom and in my work. And I’m going to try to do more of them, and to avoid the things that don’t (a list I decline to make public — but that I’m sure you can imagine).
- Student-designed projects (especially ambitious ones that succeed)
- Learning with my students (I like teaching them stuff I know too, but this is really fun!)
- Meetings for a purpose, rather than out of habit (both with my colleagues and with my students)
- Providing feedback and guidance for next steps (rather than a grade and an ending)
- Making things that seem hard possible (especially if I can help someone else do the real heavy lifting)
- Sharing ideas that are exciting to me with my colleagues and students
- Sharing ideas that are exciting to my colleagues and students (with me)