June 24th, 2015
This fall I will be teaching rhetoric at the University of Iowa. As it will be my first time back in the classroom in two years, I’ve been working hard to prepare — reading books and essays on rhetoric, deciding on readings, and thinking about assignments, assessments, and in-class activities. I am almost childishly excited to be teaching again, and so I’ve thrown myself into preparation; I am determined to get it right.
But as I prepare, one question keeps jumping out at me, stubbornly refusing to go away: How do I balance my desire to integrate student-centered learning practices with my almost pathological need to have every last bit of the course planned out and thought through?
Most of my pedagogy research has suggested that we as faculty should be looking for ways to give students a real sense of ownership in the classroom. One of our goals should be to create an atmosphere that leaves space for students take an active role in their own learning. How, then, do we design a course before even meeting our students? Isn’t there a danger in showing up to the first day of class with a syllabus that shows the whole course planned out? By doing so, aren't we clearly communicating to the students that the instructor is in charge, that if you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow these rules?