by Carrie Dunham-LaGree
This week, Drake began its inaugural January term (J-term). For these three weeks, I’m embarking on the greatest teaching challenge of my career so far: teaching a 3-credit course over fourteen class days (rather than fourteen weeks.) I’ve developed a new information literacy course based around documentary film. As a believer in a catchy, yet informational title, I named it, “What’s Up Doc?”: An Information Literacy Exploration of Documentary Film. I teach from 11-3 five days a week for three weeks (excluding the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.)
The idea seemed obvious as soon as I thought of it: each day, watch a documentary. Then I only have a two-hour time block to fill, and I can do that! I designed the course around a broad scope of films. We then use the films as a vehicle to explore a variety of information resources, examine bias and think critically.
I’ve used film in courses before, but I’ve never had the luxury of watching a detailed two-hour documentary and discussing it immediately afterward with students. Unsurprisingly, thus far the discussions are livelier and more detailed when the source material is fresh in all of our minds. I’m optimistic and excited to see the rest of the course play out. I’m most curious about the state of final projects: will three weeks give them enough time to grasp the concepts and excel? Will they excel more without the distractions of four other classes? Ask me in three weeks.
Part of me can’t believe J-term has arrived. I’ve been planning, reading, and watching in preparation for more than a year. After two days of class, I’m loving the experience and also already looking forward to spring. By its very nature, J-term is intense. In two days, I’ve already spent eight hours with my students. In a normal semester, that takes a month. My students haven’t turned in an assignment yet; in a normal semester, they’d have turned in four. Still, I’m having fun teaching this topic. I confess: I was intimidated by the concept of a four hour course. As a student, I would be afraid of a four hour course, but as a professor, it’s my job to make those four hours engaging, and that’s a daunting task. Thankfully, I had the epiphany to teach information literacy through documentary film, and J-term has provided me with the time to put my idea into action.
The compressed time gives grading a new urgency; students need frequent feedback. Each time I teach a course, the day before class is filled with reviewing notes, readings, videos and creating an outline. I’m spending almost as much time planning for class as I am in class, and the pace is exhausting. It’s likely my students feel the same way: they’re spending as much time doing homework and reading outside of class as they are in class. I’m teaching this course again in the spring semester, and I know I’ll have to adapt many ideas to the traditional, twice a week 75-minute class periods. I hope I enjoy it just as much, but I’m already looking forward to the grand illusion of having time to relax in between class sessions.