Robin Paige, associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University, wrote in to share how she’s experimenting with this idea in her “Sociology of Gender” course.
created by Robin DeRosa, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University, as a model, Paige is having her students create a “resource book” for the course. This kind of project, Paige said, decentralizes power. “I tell students I don’t have complete ownership of this knowledge,” she said.
In Paige’s version, which she’s doing for the first time this semester, the 16 students in her class spent the first few weeks reading the theory that the rest of the course will rely on and practicing, with her guidance, the sort of work she will be asking them to do.
During the first several weeks, Paige broke them into four groups of four. She gave each group responsibility for two weeks of the course, with each week devoted to a topic, like the social construction of gender, or gender and work.
Each group has been completing its weeks’ readings – which are academic articles – far in advance. The groups have been coming up with with in-class activities based on the readings, which they run past Paige, who helps refine them – say by pushing them to include good discussion prompts if they want to show a video, and by steering them away from asking comprehension questions and toward ones that probe more deeply.
The groups have also been writing a short summary and analysis of the week’s readings, weaving them together much the way a textbook might.
Paige has also set up a rotation for the groups to take turns evaluating one another’s work, which can also serve as a way to bring in additional ideas on the topic.
Both the activities and the summary readings will go into the resource book, along with a list, compiled by students, of actions someone interested in combating the problems studied that week might take.
Paige plans to make the resource book available to other professors – and to keep building it, too. When she next teaches the course, she expects to assign different readings on similar topics. That will allow the new group of students to craft different assignments – and add new material to the summary texts the current group of students will have started.
One benefit of the project, Paige hopes, is that students take it seriously. It makes them realize, she said, “I’m not just writing a paper for Robin to read.”
It also gives them a deeper understanding of scholarship, Paige said. Academics know that research literature will continue to evolve over time, but students often view what the textbook says as the final word. The project, Paige said, helps convey that the “creation of knowledge is an ongoing process.”
In college, many people say, students are supposed to transition from being knowledge consumers to knowledge creators. How do you help your students make this shift? Tell me about it at
and I may mention it in a future newsletter.
– Becky Supiano, Teaching Newsletter: The Chronicle of Higher Education