Starting With a Reality Check

Notice: Originally published March 15, 2016 at Teaching Out Loud.

“Oops,” I said.

I had big dreams for my new course. Teaching a First-Year Seminar at Dartmouth on Mass Media and Democracy is something I’ve wanted to do ever since arriving here as a Neukom Fellow. Who wouldn’t want to spend a quarter with Dartmouth students learning about media and democracy? And during a Presidential election cycle, no less!

For over a year, I’d been planning a carefully choreographed dance of exercises, assignments, activities, and room scheduling, with students moving among multiple roles, teams, technologies, and modes. Active? Check. Experiential? You bet. Cool technology? Aww yeah.

It looked really impressive on paper. Okay, a few smart people suggested that the design was too ambitious. And sure, one of my key collaborators left the college earlier this year. But I still thought it would be okay. I’ve taught complicated courses before. Dartmouth students are amazing. I have great support. Press on, right?

But then I looked at the workload from a student’s perspective, and reality set in. Did I really want them writing every single night? Did I really think it would help to have them editing each other’s work every morning? And presenting? And making letterpress posters? And writing a research paper? And using three different new technologies? And, and, and, and?

That’s when I had the “oops” moment. It’s easy to get excited about learning design, especially when you have great support like I do at Dartmouth. But you have to design the course around what you want students to learn, not just what you’d like to see them do. It’s great to challenge students. But the challenge should help them learn, not get in the way of their learning.

So now I’m collaborating with ace instructional designer Mike Goudzwaard to do things a bit differently. Active, experiential learning is still our focus. We’ll be writing. We’ll be editing. We’ll be using cool technologies, ranging from letterpress printing presses to federated wikis. And we’re going to spend a lot of quality time talking about media, democracy, and American public life.

But most important, we’ll be learning. I say “we” because I’ll be learning too. And for the rest of Spring Quarter, this blog will provide honest commentary about how well things are working (or not). Our objective for this blog is built right into the name. We’re going to teach out loud. We’re going to show you how we learn.

Please join us on our learning adventure.

Michael S. Evans

© Michael S. Evans 2008-2019