The Fall 2011 semester at American University began on August 31st. This semester I am teaching two different courses: Education for International Development (EDU285), which meets on Wednesdays from 2:35pm – 5:15pm and Peace Pedagogy (EDU596), which meets right after from 5:30pm – 8:00pm. This is the first time that I have taught two courses in one semester, let alone back to back on the same day, so I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a bit overwhelmed taking on this course load on top of my full time job. That being said, the first few weeks have been going well. I have great groups of students, interesting subject matter, and a “manageable” schedule. There are also some new teaching tools and methods that I am trying out this semester and I am looking forward to seeing how they pan out.
This is the 6th semester I have taught Education for International Development, which I co-facilitate with my dad. I definitely feel like we’ve been honing in on some best practices over the past few semesters. This is the first semester that I am teaching the Peace Pedagogy course, although it is adapted from another course I taught at AU during a couple summer sessions called Education for Peace and Conflict Resolution, which was designed for DC Public School teachers, counselors, and administrators.
Both courses have their own websites, which are hosted through WordPress. Storing all the course content on a class specific website has been an ideal use of WordPress for educational purposes. All students submit papers and blog posts through the site. Since we only meet once a week, we establish an online community where we can share comments and questions about course readings and I am then more tapped into the students’ perspectives, ideas, and interests in the course materials before each class. There is a one stop shop for students to access all the materials – readings, websites, and videos. Lastly, these websites provide a kind of journal that the students and I can use to look back and reflect on all that has been covered and discussed throughout the semester.
This semester I have incorporated a course portfolio into each of the courses. This is a document that each students fills out after each class and asks them both evaluative questions based off the specific educational activities and materials utilized in each class, and self-assessment questions based off how they feel they are meeting the course objectives. It also asks them to summarize the contributions they made to small group discussions and the contributions they heard from another classmate in their group. I felt this was an important tool to bring into my courses because it asks the students to take on more responsibility in assessing their own learning, as opposed to just looking at the teacher to assess their learning. It also provides constant feedback for me regarding which in-class activities and exercises are effective in engaging the students in course topics and themes. The evaluative questions are also a way to keep the students thinking and reflecting as educators. After all, these are are education classes.
Third, I have incorporated the use of circle processes into both courses. Previous semesters and student evaluations have taught me that not enough time has been committed for the class to discuss, debate, and dialogue around the assigned readings and videos. I have found the circle process to be a great exercise to bring into the classroom because it encourages active listening and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to contribute. In addition, the circle process works well in both classes despite the difference in class size. The education for international development class has 37 students, while the peace pedagogy class has 8. For the larger class we have the students form smaller circles of about 5-7 each. My dad and I devise one intro question to prompt discussion on the readings and videos. Then we select 3 to 4 other discussion questions that students post each week online through the website. We try and select questions that we feel do a good job capturing and addressing some of the key issues embedded in the assigned readings and videos. After each group feels they have sufficiently circled around the first question they are then free to choose any of the other questions around which to circle.
So, despite the intense schedule of balancing the full time job, my AU courses, and my personal life, I am looking forward to this semester and seeing how some of these new pedagogical approaches will work for the learning experience.
I admire your passion for your work in Peace Studies. I really look forward to meeting you and possibly working with you on a project in Africa. Its undoubtedly clear the continent needs your service.
Ibrahim, I too hope that we can meet in person some day! Like I said in our introductions to the USIP course, I have Ghanaian roots and I hope to visit the country soon. Please let me know if you are going to be in the Washington, DC area. There is also always Skype. We should connect that way soon. I want to hear more about your work.