I know everybody has their own back-to-school schedule... and for me, the Fall semester starts today, August 13. That's because I add a "Week Zero" to my classes, giving students a chance to start early if they want to do that. Often students are taking an class because they are super-busy, perhaps even adding this class on top of an already full course load (my school instituted flat-rate tuition a while ago, which means you see students taking 18 and 21 and even 24 units in order to "get their money's worth," for better or worse). So, if someone knows they are going to be really busy and I can grab them now, before the rest of their classes start, that's a good thing! Here's the email I just sent out:
Week Zero is also a huge advantage for me: if students go through the materials now, they can help me find and fix broken links, instructions that are not clear, anything that's missing, etc. etc. Because... feedback. One sure way to improve your work is to get feedback on what is not working, or what is not working well, and you need feedback to do that. Feedback is actually the theme for all my course design improvements this year in fact.
So, if I can get feedback from the early birds this week, that will lead to a better first week when school officially starts. It's not a good feeling when someone writes to tell me I messed something up (ugh, I feel terrible; that's natural)... but better to find out now rather than later. Just like software, courses can have bugs too. The sooner I can find and fix them, the better.
I also have a LOT of students, so if I can spread out some of the start-up activity (getting their blogs up and running, plus getting to know each student individually), that makes my life easier too. The next two weeks will be really hectic, but better to spread it out over two weeks rather than squeezed all into one week!
And here's something really cool: I opened up the Canvas courses and assignments this weekend, and several students noticed that (they were probably logging on to Canvas for something else and saw the course cards on their dashboard...?) -- anyway, they got started this weekend, so my blog network already has three student blogs up and running!
You can see those blogs in the Canvas course space (click, it's open): Myth.MythFolklore.net. The blogs are a very important part of the class, so the blog menu item is up near the top of the menu. Depending on when you click that link, you might see something very different from this screenshot because it is a LIVE blog stream, changing each time any student in the class (well, in the two Myth classes, combined in a single stream) adds a post to their blog:
In addition to the blog stream of all the posts, I have automated streams that show specific assignments. The first blog post assignment is a Favorite Places post (instructions). You can see some posts from this semester there at the top, plus posts from last semester below if you scroll. I really like being able to give even the early-starters examples of blog posts to look at when they go to write their first post because, for most of them, they have never blogged before. The whole idea is that there is no "one way" to do this, so being able to browse through past student posts to see the variety can help them relax and think about what they want to do with their own post:
That page updates automatically, just like the blog stream page in Canvas, so as the 100 students add their posts in the next two weeks, you will see it all there. This Favorite Places page shows only favorite places posts; the blog stream will show all the posts -- even now, you can see that difference: the blog stream has a test post by one student, but that test post does not show up in the favorite places stream.
It's all thanks to the power of Inoreader; I documented my use of Inoreader to run my blog network last fall semester, tagging all the posts with #Network2017:
Now I'm just waiting to see how many students take me up on the offer to get started early... even if it's just one or two, that's great. And sometimes it's as many as half the people in class. It's very random from semester to semester. It probably depends a lot on the weather in Oklahoma ha ha. The heat wave has broken and it's really cooled off this week, which makes outdoor adventures preferable to an class. Which is great! I'm about to go outside and enjoy our unnaturally cool weather today myself (it's a miraculous 74 degrees out there... in mid-August).
Happy New Semester, everybody!