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Day One

Hi everyone,

Back in that first week of August, when it seemed we all the time in the world to reflect on our teaching, our courses, and the IF process, I volunteered to blog weekly about my Fall course.  The reality of the semester has hit, but it looks like Friday afternoons might be the best time to grab a few minutes and share how things are going.

I have twelve first-year students, all 17 or 18 years old, all women and all new to college.  About half are from Virginia, one from Jamaica, and the rest are from around the Eastern seaboard.  I shared my syllabus via e-mail with all SI 2009 faculty, so I won’t go into detail, but I’m beginning by asking them to discuss the question “what is art?”, without doing any outside reading.  So working without a text right now feels like tightrope-walking without a net.  On the first day we had an hour-long discussion, which was pretty haphazard.  I hadn’t planned on taking as much time as we did, but there was a lot of energy in the room, and I didn’t want to cut it short.  I didn’t have any flipcharts (I bought them later in the afternoon), so part of the problem was that we didn’t have notes visible to help orient everyone.  I also made the mistake of sitting among the students (sorry Jeff!), which I think gave them permission to get a bit sloppy.  Three of the 12 really dominated the conversation, 6 more occasionally spoke, and the remaining 3 were silent the whole time.  Smaller groups will really help later on.

I told them at the end of the discussion that they hit on at least two dozen ideas that deserve further exploration, and in later classes I’m going to push them to develop their ideas in more detail.  So I’m not at a loss for ideas – they could have gone on much longer.  I also found that one of the students in particular was quite doctrinaire in her beliefs, and I only partially resisted the urge to correct her by sharing an alternative view that challenged her beliefs.  Hopefully as the semester gets underway the group will develop in a way that ensures that other students will play that role, not me.  Hopefully time will also bring out some of the members of class who right now don’t seem comfortable participating in discussion.  It’s so new to all of us, of course.

So I think it was a successful, though rather unfocused, beginning to my IF-oriented course.  This coming Tuesday we’ll have another class discussion on the topic, this time with me standing, taking notes on the flipchart.  Next Thursday we’ll be discussing a reading I’ve assigned, which leaps off from discussion we already had yesterday.  More next week…

–Michael Gettings