Getting It Right

– Jeanne M. Slattery

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Senior Seminar students after presentations at the Undergraduate Research Conference

I sat down at the end of last semester to evaluate how things went with my Senior Seminar course. I had a great experience with this course and for much of the semester thought that I had finally gotten it right (whatever right is). I planned on submitting my syllabus to Project Syllabus, a peer-reviewed compendium of excellent syllabi in Psychology, where I’ve published a number of my other syllabi.

Senior Seminar is our capstone and, as our capstone, also a course that serves as the source of much of our assessment efforts. There are three primary sections to my course: one focused on making sense of their college career, another preparing them for the workforce (résumés, interviewing, social media, and searching for jobs), and a semester-long research project. This is a writing intensive course and also earns an information literacy flag.

As I work my way through a course, I make edits using the Track Changes feature in Word. I opened my syllabus at the end of the semester to make the final edits to send it to Project Syllabus. I had thought I had it “right,” yet even after a good semester, even after teaching this course four times, I am planning on making more changes to this part of the Calendar section of my syllabus. See Figure 1. The rest of my syllabus is similarly riddled with edits.

Figure 1. A screenshot of my Senior Seminar syllabus at the end of the semester with the blue being changes I plan for next semester.

Figure 1. A screenshot of my Senior Seminar syllabus at the end of the semester. The blue indicates changes planned for the next time I teach this.

In some cases these edits are mere tweaks, as when I changed the point value that an assignment would earn. In other cases, I changed the date when an assignment was due (e.g., the Education paper), while in other places I clarified my expectations or course expectations (e.g., meeting with me about their projects, guest speakers). In yet other cases, I’ve added or changed assignments (e.g., the ASI-R and annotated bibliography).

Figure 2. Student learning cycle.

Figure 2. Student learning cycle.

Does this mean I didn’t get it right?

Maybe I don’t believe in “right.” Because I think about my teaching as a journey rather than a destination, I try to continually think about what my learning goals are, consider the effectiveness of my teaching strategies, assess my students’ learning, and consider how to close the loop and make things better next time. See Figure 2.

In this particular course, my assessments indicated that my students’ research skills are weaker than I think they should be at this point in their career – although an equal number are doing as well or better than I’d hoped. Knowing this, I’ve begun implementing changes to help them be more successful.

Maybe next time I’ll get it “right,” but I promise there will be further tweaks.


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She loves teaching and learning and describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has published three books: Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill She can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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