45 A New Mindset, An Open Approach

Katharine Harrington

Summer 2019

When I first joined the CPLC, I was looking for some inspiration and guidance for my teaching as our university navigates its way to a cluster-learning model. Although we have been working in clusters, and I have participated in several cluster projects with my students, it had often felt somewhat forced and rushed, and as if I was making it up as I went along. While the making-it-up-as-we-go part will still likely be true for me and for many of my PSU colleagues for some time, being part of a community of educators through the CPLC has allowed us all a space to come together, to take a step back and analyze, discuss and focus our pedagogy in a way that will benefit our students. Beginning with the USNH ATI Institute that I attended in May, followed by the various CPLC sessions this summer, this has been a truly energizing and transformative experience for me so far.

Prior to joining this learning community, my own teaching already reflected a desire to do work with my students in a way that is outward-facing and of use and interest to the greater public. I look forward to continuing this type of work including my proposed website project that I will be working on this year. A more unexpected takeaway for me however was in learning more about the underlying principles of Open including empathy and trust in our students. I have always seen myself as an educator who cares about my students, not just in their academic success, but also about them as a whole person, not just a student in my class. However, my exposure to Open has caused me to reexamine my syllabi, my assignments and how I structure my courses. It has made me want to seek ways to empower my students, to ask them what they want to learn and what their passions are. It has encouraged me to open up my syllabi and my courses to make room for student contributions and choice. In addition, I have really been struck by the concept of “ungrading” and “cruelty-free syllabi” and plan to implement some of these ideas in my fall courses. It now occurs to me how much our words and our tone, as instructors, really matter in establishing a community of learners in our classrooms.

Thanks to the new mindset that I have gained from participating in the CPLC, I have spent significant time this summer rethinking my courses, my approach and my assignments. Among the changes I have decided to implement for the fall semester are the following:

  • I have reframed the course policies on all my syllabi that contained a punitive sounding message in favor of a more trusting and supportive message.
  • Instead of assigning a specific homework assignment each week in my 1000-level course, I will be asking students to demonstrate self-regulated learning. They will be given a menu of possible practice tasks to do on their own to reinforce our classroom learning. They will then write a weekly journal entry that describes what work they did on their own and what was most useful to their learning.
  • In addition to language learning, I have added an independent project to my 1000-level course. This project will be very open-ended and flexible. Students will be encouraged to explore an aspect of French Language and Culture studies that interests them. This could include a research project on a cultural topic, linking the study of French to their major discipline, serving as our class DJ and bringing in a new French song to class each Friday, interviewing a family member about their French heritage or creating an ancillary material to go along with our OER textbook. I aim to make this assignment very open so that students can feel ownership over this portion of the course and hopefully engage in work that is meaningful to them.
  • In my 2000-level course, we will do a community translation project as I have done in the past. This time, however, I will encourage students to contribute their own ideas, use their prior knowledge and contacts to identify a potential community partner and translation project rather than me coming with a ready-made project.
  • In my 3000-level film course, I will be instituting Twitter for the first time. In the past, I had students write reactions to each film on a Moodle forum and asked them to respond to several other students’ reactions. This time, students will post reactions, questions, etc. to Twitter using a designated class hashtag. I will encourage them to search for existing hashtags for each film and to mention directors, actors and actresses in hopes of bringing in an outside audience to our class discussions.
  • I will have my FR 3020 students organize and implement a community event of their choice related to French cinema in honor of International Education Week.

I am really looking forward to starting the fall 2019 semester with fresh ideas and an open approach to my teaching. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of CPLC.




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