Lessons From a 2-Week Interim Course

When I proposed a two-week, or “J-term,” course this January on fly-fishing—and for an English credit, no less—some of my colleagues looked at me like I was nuts. But I had just written a book about fly-fishing, and so I’d been steeped in the literature as well as the practice of this activity. It was out of my pedagogical wheelhouse, though, and a gamble to see if students would even sign up. That said, those of us who teach at colleges and universities keep talking about higher education in crisis—indeed, in multiple overlapping crises—and so it seemed like as good a time as any to try something new, something different.카지노사이트

Ten students enrolled, and they all stuck with it for the two weeks. Each student read a book on the subject, and we reflected on their readings at the beginning of each day. Then we spent the bulk of each day practicing fly casting and tying knots with minuscule-diameter monofilament, and three students even caught fish. We were learning to do this all in New Orleans, too—in the cement-lined bayous and park lagoons that filter through the city.

The students took so much away from the class, more than I’d ever expected. (That’s the subject of a collaborative essay we wrote at the end of the two weeks, for which we’re now looking for a home.) But I learned a lot, too. In fact, the experience reoriented my sense of teaching almost entirely. Here’s what I discovered a two-week intersession can do.

Boost academic confidence. One student said to me at the end of the class that he’d had his confidence as a student restored. This initially made me laugh, because here we’d just been traipsing around the swamp grass and urban detritus, flailing with cumbersome fly rods, for two weeks. But as I reflected on it, I think his point extended past the class itself: in the long shadow of the COVID pandemic, a lot of students simply lost track of their internal compasses as students, so just having two weeks to focus on one skill set and a specific topic helped him reset his capability to gain new knowledge.

Provide singular focus. It was pure magic to have students (and myself) only focused on one subject for those two weeks. We weren’t pulled away by other classes, heavy reading loads, online modules or assignment deadlines. This was their sole class to take, and my sole class to teach. We all benefited from that concentrated time in which we could immerse ourselves in the history, theory and technical details of this subject—all while actually doing it by hand.

Let students learn by hand. Several students mentioned that they learned best “by hand,” and while it sounds obvious in retrospect, I hadn’t really thought about this when I planned the class. But in a time when studio art programs are cut and students have fewer opportunities to learn by doing in class (even in English classes), this experience of trying something in real life felt all the more important, because such experience was largely missing from my students’ recent academic pursuits. Practicing something by hand for multiple days in a row, with close guidance from an expert, yielded real-time learning and knowledge acquisition that surprised us all.

Increase socialization. It has been well documented that, due to the ripple effects of the pandemic, current students missed out on a variety of social experiences in and around high school and in their early college years. What I saw during our two-week class was my students making social breakthroughs and inhabiting social settings in ways they maybe hadn’t up to this point in their adult lives. I saw the small group coordinate carpools to our meeting locations, banter about favorite restaurants and shops in town, become friends across disciplinary boundaries, make plans to do things after our class days concluded, even flirt a little. Such simple things have honestly seemed less frequent lately in traditional classrooms, where computers and smartphones increasingly funnel social energy away from the present group and the general mood is dour, to say the least.

Improve the student-instructor dynamic. I got to know each of those 10 students, and they got to know me probably better than most students can in a normal 15-week class. We spent so much of each day together, and I worked with each student—correcting their casting form, observing them tying a tricky knot, taking a fly out of a fish’s mouth and snapping a picture of them holding a fish for the first time in their life. (“It’s slimy!”) These experiences formed bonds of trust and mutual respect that made teaching and learning dynamic again.바카라사이트

Making Ideas Real

And so I found my own teaching reinvigorated after this experience. That isn’t to say it wasn’t exhausting and nerve-racking at times. It was, both logistically and in terms of being way out of my comfort zone, as far as teaching something for which I’m not exactly credentialed. But again, if we keep insisting that we’re teaching through times of crisis, maybe we should act like it: give your teaching a jolt, offer students real experience with a topic or skill that they’ll benefit from in practical terms—and might just change their lives. As I finished my class, that old Marxist notion of praxis floated into my mind: we hadn’t just learned abstract theories in our class but had put them into practice—and thus changed our relationship to the ideas and made them real.

It can feel risky and weird to propose, then plan and teach such a class—but I promise you the rewards are worth it. You probably have something that you’ve become an expert at (or even just a really committed amateur) that your students could benefit from learning about in a concentrated setting. Gardening? Birding? Baking? Cooking? Dog training? Running? Walking? Painting? All great candidates for a two-week intensive course, with just a bit of thoughtful academic framing. Your institution probably has some sort of umbrella course category that can fit such a class. (In my case, it was a core curriculum course called Creative Arts and Cultures.)

So if you’re feeling pedagogically depressed, exasperated by the state of higher education and/or uncertain about how to reach your students, try teaching a fresh, experience-driven two-week course if your institution offers such intersessions. And if not, propose it to your administration. Beyond offering the strategic benefits of being a recruitment or retention tool and generating revenue for an institution—all important but not the fundamental reason we exist—intensive intersession courses can be fulfilling and gratifying to students and instructors alike.온라인카지노

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