In Fall 2020, I did two things that made all the difference in terms of student buy-in to courses, their ability to participate in a course community, and their intellectual curiosity:
- I gave students as much control over the course content/scope/policies as possible, starting with having them annotate the syllabus & grading contract in a Google Doc, which remained “live” for the whole term.
- Students and I used a running Google Doc of “Collaborative Session Notes.”
The first was meant to be as inclusive as possible but also turned out to help students internalize and take ownership of the syllabus and grading structure. I made my syllabus in a Google Doc and gave students editorial access, asking them to comment on it as well as offer suggestions (in “suggesting” mode): What excited them about the course (and why) as well as what worried or confused/troubled them (and why). I will never go back. They had long conversations with each other in the margins, answered many of each other’s questions, and made some wonderful suggestions that enriched the course.
The collaborative session notes became a lively record of our class discussions, full of relevant hyperlinks and a site where I could also offer formative assessment via commenting on their breakout room discussions and notes and/or offering general feedback based on what I’ve been seeing in class and in their offline work. These notes also allowed me to gauge how their breakout room discussions were going: I could watch them populate their room’s ideas and questions. Almost every single student told me they loved the breakout room time, and the vibrancy of their discussions attests to that.
Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing