Darren Grem, Courses, CYA Syllabi, and Competing with the Dawgs

Darren Grem, Beyond Drive-by Surveying?

In between dissertation research and writing, I've been toying with an "uncoverage" version of my Religion in American History syllabus for next term. Check out a draft here (available until 10/31). It's on the venti side (17 pages), but a decent amount of it is just CYA syllabus filler.

I'm teaching two sections of it in the spring, on a MWF schedule. To give y'all some demographics, UGA is a R-1/Div-1 state school, but these upper division classes usually allow for more one-on-one interaction. The majority of my students are history/history ed. majors, with the rest usually coming in from a mix of other humanities or social science departments. Most are full-time students, although some have part-time jobs to pay the rent (a smattering have full-time job commitments and/or families). Given all these considerations, the assignments shouldn't be too overbearing since most UGA students have enough time to complete this sort of reading and writing schedule (barring "extenuating circumstances" like UGA football, Halo 3, YouTube, and Facebook).

As mentioned in my previous post, I wondered what techniques and assignments might provide quantifiable proof that students were learning the “high points” of American religious history and how "to think like a historian." I think this syllabus addresses those concerns for myself, but I'm curious about what y'all think because I presume that my concerns are relatively common. Admittedly, there's only so much that you can tell about a class from its syllabus, but it gives an outline of my aspirations for what the American religious history survey might be and, hopefully, some points for discussion. Hence, suggestions and critiques are more than welcome.


Tim Lacy said…
I have nothing substantial to say about your syllabus, but I have two comments nonetheless:

1. "Venti side." Good one.
2. 17 pages. This is the longest syllabus I think I've ever seen. Wow. Granted, CYA is the M.O. But still, UGA forced you into a 17-pager? Is the CYA due to "uncoverage," or other factors? - TL
DEG said…
Ha ha. I suppose it's a mix of my own over-thoroughness and the uncoverage approach. There's a lot of supplementary stuff in there that may or may not be in the final draft. The real "meat" of it is probably only about 10 pages. Still, the assignment-heavy, document-heavy nature of the pedagogy - and the fact that the students aren't used to its type of assignments - seems to encourage length over brevity, which may or may not be a good thing.
Art Remillard said…
I can' only echo Tim's conclusion that this is one thorough syllabus! And an excellent example of CYA.

I scanned your syllabus to see how you do evaluations, and it seemed very reasonable. I really struggle with grading--that is, I hate grading. I've generally relied on writing assignments. But no matter how comprehensive the rubric, it's always imperfect. And there's the problem of consistency. Some write well, but say little; others write poorly, but have shreds of brilliance; some are brilliant, but are way off topic...

My friends in education tell me that there's movement away from the essay. The claim: there's little proof that essay tests improve writing when there's no re-writing involved. More, courses with essay evaluations can lessen the amount of content knowledge absorbed and retained. Finally, profs can burn themselves out reading papers, giving quality feedback that may often go unnoticed.

So I've been tinkering with returning to standard tests (perhaps short answer)--or using the weekly quiz format that you have. (I hated tests as a student, so this is a real struggle) Then, I'll have them write one substantial essay. However, they'll write it in stages (proposal, bib., update, first draft, final draft). Each stage will be peer reviewed, including the first and final draft. Additionally, they would do a presentation, which would also be peer reviewed and practiced with the peer group.

These are just some early morning thoughts. I'll be interested to hear your ideas.
DEG said…
Art, I dunno about those multi-choice tests. You never know what might happen.

Then again, in a recent essay response, I had a student write, quite persuasively, about the apocalyptic "Millerlite" group of the 1840s...

Serious thoughts coming soon.
Paul Harvey said…
Deg, I wouldn't call this a CYA syllabus, or a Venti syllabus, but a bhurka syllabus, it covers everything! Beautifully done, I wish I had so much energy. Hope you will keep us abreast here on the blog when you actually do the class.
DEG said…

Ha ha. I'll be happy to report back in as the class gets going in the spring and let y'all know what I've observed. And as far as energy goes, all I can say is: viva cafe!


Re: Re-writes. I like them as well, and I guess my main attraction to them is how they approximate my everyday job. It's a little strange to me that we make our bones off writing, re-writing, reading reader's reports, writing, re-writing, but forgo introducing our students (sometimes even our majors) to that process. Obviously, that's usually out of a concern about the labor demands of multiple drafts. I share that concern, so I'm going to use rubrics and peer reviews to try and cut down on the labor a bit. It won't be perfect the first few go-rounds (and may never be), but I still think it allows for students to develop their writing over the term, something that will hopefully teach them that "critical thinking" and "writing skills" are disciplines instead of just buzzwords created by the university's marketing department!

Re: Spotty writing. It sounds like most of my students are like yours: wildly varied in their writing skillsets. I don't know if this might help, but this exact issue actually directed the "workshop essay" rubric that I drew up (inspired by Lendol Calder's copy here). I'm going to treat this like a coach's conditioning sheet or a doctor's diagnosis chart, noting on their papers where certain types of infractions occurred and where certain types of strengths were illustrated. I'm hoping that this will show them trends in their strengths and weaknesses and let them know what they specifically need to work on during the term. Whether they respond, of course, we'll see.

Re: Presentations. Do you do group or individual presentations? How do you handle that? I've never been able to figure out how I could schedule enough time for, say, 30 students, or even 5-6 groups to give a formal presentation of any depth. I may be teaching a class on American consumerism/consumer culture in the future and I'd love to incorporate a media presentation assignment.
Art Remillard said…

Here's a link to _What the Best College Teachers Do_ by Ken Bain. One of his main findings is that the "best teachers" provide opportunities for improvement. So re-writes are strongly encouraged. I'm reading this now, and hope to give a longer comment later.

Thanks for the rubric link. I'll need to consider this some more.

As for presentations, I think in larger classes, the group approach is the only way to go. I've had them conduct discussions. To offer a model discussion, I show "The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud." http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/

It's the best example of civil discourse I've seen.

Here's the thing, though. At SFU, our largest classes are 30. I've had as few as 5 in a class. So presentations are much more reasonable. When at FSU, I didn't even consider it, with classes ranging from 75-150.

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