Thursday, October 05, 2006

Teaching: Clarity trumps Fairness

It started out so simple. Have students each study their own special topic, in-depth, and present to the class. They're presenting things that everyone in the room should know anyway, like who is Shigeru Miyamoto and why is he important, or what was Origin Systems, so that they don't sound like they were born yesterday when they're rubbing shoulders with veterans at GDC. They may or may not have played Katamari Damacy or Shadow of the Colossus, but they should at least know what it is because they will hear people referring to them.

May as well match up the topics with their relevant courses. If a student is going to speak about Knights of the Old Republic, let's do that on the day when we talk about sequels and licenses. Someone speaking about the ESA should do so on the day we cover game publishing. Spread it out so everything makes sense, and so that I don't have to devote a full day of class to having every student speak about a series of unrelated topics.

But it wouldn't be fair to penalize students who signed up for topics early in the course, would it? Then they only get a few days to prepare, while someone who signs up the last day of class would have many weeks. Every student should have the same amount of time to work on this so it's all fair. One week is plenty of time to prepare for a short (3 to 5 minute) presentation. So, each student signs up for a date, I'll keep the topics secret, and I'll inform each student of their topic a week before they're due to present.

Now, in doing this I wasn't thinking about actual implementation issues, just how fair the policy was. It turns out that doing things this way is really hard for several reasons. First, I have to remember to email the topics a week in advance; I now have reminders posted all over my living space, but there were a couple times when I notified the student late. Second, I had a situation where several students didn't receive their topics by email; something got fragged in the system and they showed up unaware that they had to present anything. In either case I need to give more time to the student, but that pushes back their topic to a class where it's no longer relevant.

Third, students signed up on a sheet that's in my possession, and many of them didn't think to copy the dates they signed up for, so I get a lot of emails asking when someone's next topic is due. The process is definitely not user-friendly.

For this course, I've already set the policy and it seems a bit late to change it now, so I'll just have to suck it up. Next time I do this, though, I'll just make the topics available at the start of the course; it may not be as "fair" but it's a whole lot easier for everyone to follow.

1 comment:

Jason said...

It's roughly as fair to assign all the topics at the outset, considering that most students will wait to (close to) the last minute anyway. Also, if students have the option to pick which week they present, you can make it known that folks who go a little earlier are more likely to get cut some slack in terms of grading.