Sunday, September 4, 2011

Electives Anyone?

I posted this to our staff discussion forum a couple of months ago,  It garnered zero interest other than skepticism from the parties it would help the most  *   but it did not get any traction. . . . However I still think its a good idea, so I'll share it here:
Having a daughter attend Mercy was wonderful and eye-opening. An example of the latter
was the frustration and trouble of trying to schedule her for electives. Granted, her interests
were broad, but the range of choices was surprisingly straight-jacked by our many graduation requirements. Since then, further state requirements have made elective choices even narrower for our most curious, eager, and students.

Flickr CC photo by rrrrred
The plethora of requirements has another detrimental effect as well-- They make it harder for a tuition based school to stand out from the pack. Colleagues I have with whom I have spoken agree that Mercy could have more dynamic programs in the arts if students could simply fit the courses into their schedules. Some of our high achievers would like to take more A.P. classes. I myself would love to see us develop enriched programs in media communications and design. Standing out in any of these areas would help make Mercy a “destination point” in the same way that kids come here to swim.

However, I know better than to take on the issue requirement modification. I also accept
(though dislike) that for the foreseeable future we will remain departmentalized.
So what to do? Well, I have an idea, and invite you to hurl the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at it. Who knows, maybe it will emerge stronger and serve us as we seek to grow our curriculum without radically increasing our number of students

I suggest that we offer some of our information-based classes as summer hybrid/online courses. These courses would be developed by OUR teachers who would then “teach” them online. Students who wished to pursue special interests (graphic design , music, religion, A.P.) could enroll in these courses at specified junctures as “summer school.” They would then be free to take electives (either within the department or throughout the school)
Take a course like American Government. It is required. Much of the course experience
requires learning certain facts and entertaining points of view. All of this could be delivered
online (with or without a required text book). It could be offered as a “summer school” hybrid between the student’s 9th & 10th grades.

I would never say that simply learning information about government is the same as taking my American Government course, because my personal contribution, as well as the projects and discussions are so critical. But there is no reason that one could not offer experiences to the individual students that would go beyond merely learning the facts. It would be a MERCY course, not some go-through-the-motions summer school class or online offering. I think of how members of our English Department emphasize how important it is for students to practice and practice their writing. In a hybrid course this would be quite possible-- The students could be assigned as much reading or writing as she might otherwise get. My hybrid course summer school student could see films, do projects, write research papers in addition to doing her reading and testing.

This approach strikes me as much better than “independent study”. It would be less ad-hoc
and the teachers would be compensated for designing and teaching the courses. 

Too utopian? Well, simply consider what a difference it would mean for our students and our electives if one or two of different courses were available to go-getters every summer. 

Let me know what you think!

 * See comment below to explain correction.


Susan said...

Larry, I will also revisit my comments from spring regarding this matter. While I agree that Mercy should pursue on-line courses, I think that such courses should be instituted following a review of the total Mercy curriculum. We need to consider MI curricular requirements, the current school curriculum and the desired profile of the Mercy graduate. We need to also consider improving the modular schedule. I also think that staff would like to hear the practical considerations of salary, teacher scheduling, etc.

Larry Baker said...

Susan, you make valid points. You have convinced me that my own lack of clarity here about what I envisioned, contributed to my impression that there was a lack of "interest". Certainly, I am proud to be part of faculty which shares an interest in providing our students with the best education. I think some of our upper level classes are among our most amazing and I would like to see motivated and able students elect more of these. A few hybrid/online summer school courses created and taught by our own teachers seemed a possible solution, albeit one with many real obstacles.

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