Teaching

Last term gave me a teaching high (and the course evaluations only sent me higher)

So it’s been almost a month since my Superhero class has ended, and, for the most part, I feel really good about it. The class discussions were always amazing, and the work that students produced floored me every time – they gave a whole new meaning to going “above and beyond.” I also challenged myself in other areas – by sharing my mental health and having discussions of mental health in classroom, interrupting the scheduled material. I also pushed for an intersectional composition of the course reading list and approaches to the reading list, while still being accessible to first year students (or upper year students new to these concepts). And while some students wanted more “mainstream superheroes” than I included (Superman, Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Batman, and the deaf issue of Hawkeye) or more historically canonical explorations of the hero (like Gilgamesh) , a lot of students really appreciated the focus on comics and the diversity of the material. And the criticisms I received were rather constructive, giving me a better idea of how students, and in particular STEM students, understand Humanities-related assignments and rubrics.

So, I’d just like to share a few of the comments and then comment upon them, a sort of reflection on my teaching. Let’s start of with a couple that comment on diversity of the material taught:

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I’m not sure how exactly I “subverted traditional lecturing,” but perhaps it’s the combination of including “non-traditional” works and not solely lecturing the entire class. And while the one student, echoing a few others, would like some kind of traditional works included, the benefits of including the kinds of non-traditional/canonical works outweigh the wants of canonical texts. Nevertheless, if I were to teach this course again, I may consider including one or two mythical texts. The reason why I didn’t that term was simply the fact that I’m not familiar with Gilgamesh or Beowulf, and it’s been some time since I’ve read ancient mythical origins. But overall, I was floored by these comments and others liked it – to know that the efforts I put into composing this class were appreciated by the majority of the class because it introduced them to new perspectives and texts they never heard of was so awarding.

There a few that echoed “more structured guideline for assignments,” though. In the last two years, I’ve been trying hard to include a detailed rubric and guideline, especially keeping in mind that the majority of students I do teach at Waterloo are in STEM. While the Superhero course had a few humanities students, there were a lot of students in Science. So I found their feedback instructive. Most science students said that my feedback was very instructive and helped them become better writers, but the comments in the course evaluations wanted more clearer guidelines and/or expectations:

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Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve been editing and re-editing my rubric and similar assignments, looking over others to how they construct their rubrics and their guidelines. Although this year I did my best to tie my feedback to the language of the rubric, it seemed that students had issues with the language of the rubric. So, my attempts to point to the rubric wasn’t as effective. Going forward, I’ll continue to edit and re-edit my rubrics and assignment guidelines. While it’s difficult to reach out to all learners, it doesn’t hurt to keep trying to create an inclusive rubric/guidelines.

The rest of the feedback remained largely positive, with a lot of comments reflecting on how they were able to connect my lessons to real-world issues and to their own lives:

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With these comments, and considering the evaluations in total, I am seriously touched – I cried with joy, and was so happy that the labour and vulnerability I put into the entire course was acknowledged, appreciated, and had students take something away from it. I understand that I am in a more privileged position in taking these risks, so I don’t want to over-exaggerate these accomplishments. And I also want to acknowledge the labour of my students, and how they also exhibited courage and vulnerability in engaging with the excellent discussions we had. I feel that the class was a very serendipitous event that was so fruitful and instructive both for myself and for my students. I owe my students a lot of thanks for their comments and for the productive and inclusive space that they helped me create!

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