Those who read this blog regularly know that last semester in my introductory survey course I had my students produce scrapbooks of their learning throughout the semester. As a teaching and learning tool, my approach worked very well. As a group my students produced much better work and, based on my end of semester survey, they enjoyed the scrapbook approach more than others they had experienced in prior history classes. A number of them talked about how the format of the scrapbook really helped them to tie together everything they’d learned during the semester–a result that pleased me very much.
But I’m not going to do it again.
Why not? This was an experiment I ran with a class of 23 students. Even with only 23 students, it turned out to be much harder for me logistically than I had expected. Grading the scrapbooks–using a rubric cribbed heavily from my friend and colleague Lendol Calder (Augustana College)–took much longer than grading normally takes me. I think the students got much more out of the assessments I gave them than has typically been the case in my classes and so in future I’ll use a version of that rubric. But scrapbooks just were harder to grade. This semester I’m teaching the same course to 50 students and so if I used the scrapbook approach again, I’d die from the grading.
The second problem was that the scrapbooks themselves were too bulky and difficult to get from the office to home, back to the office, and then back to the students. Even with only 23 students, I ended up doing a lot of hauling of scrapbooks across campus. I tried to encourage my students to submit their work digitally, but only one did. I suppose if I required their work to be submitted as digital objects, this problem would be solved, but then I’d spend more time than I like on teaching them to use the technology.
So, it was a strategy that worked very well, but I can’t see myself doing it just that way again. Instead, this semester, I’m having the students do something like the scrapbook–but as a final essay that is the culmination of a whole series of preliminary essays. In this way I hope to get the advantage of the synthetic thinking I saw last semester, without many of the logistical problems.
And before I go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that today is the anniversary of Katrina’s landfall. Go to the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank and write something for posterity–something that is either about your own experiences with Katrina and/or Rita, or something that is a reflection on what has and hasn’t happened since.