Beyond the Required Readings

This semester I’m teaching the first course I’ve ever taught at St. Mary’s for credit.  Given that I arrived here in 1981, it’s obvious I’m a slow starter.  I’m teaching a First-Year Seminar Course called “Are You What You Eat?”  As I prepared for the course I did a lot of reading in books I own or books that are in the library collection.  (Yes, some of them were added to the collection because they lent themselves [groan] to the topic.)  I found a lot of really interesting columns in two publications I read regularly – The New York Times online, and the Chronicle of Higher Education online.  And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention receiving some great suggestions for other items from Asif Dowla that he passed along to me after we started discussing the course.

The result of this is that I’ve got a lot of online material bookmarked for possible readings for the course.  I can easily export the bookmarks to a file to share with the students, so they can see the cornucopia of offerings available at the click of a link.  (Some of these have actually been looked over by some students.  Two groups of students to date have selected from the possible readings items they wanted to have the entire class read as a basis for discussions they were responsible for leading.)  Because of the rich possibilities of various books I thought they might find of interest, I have posted excerpts from several on e-reserve, with the thought that perhaps some students might be motivated to look beyond the chosen selections to explore further.  In addition, many of the online items themselves have embedded links that, if pursued, connect the reader to more information – the modern incarnation of the (oft-ignored) footnotes of a hard-copy text.

There have been articles and blogs and books about how our students lead busy lives and how much of their time isn’t focused on academics.  I remind myself that particularly for first-year students they have an entire social world they have entered that is, if their experience reflects my own when I went off to college, transforming their lives.  I understand that when they seek information, when they read, it is often to find a specific answer, or to meet the demands of a particular assignment or task.  Three sources for a paper including one book and one article from an academic journal.  Check.  One discussion thread entry on Blackboard posting a question you have that was raised by the required reading.  Check.  Pick one of three readings and provide an abstract and citation according to “X” style.  Check.

I’ve really enjoyed pulling all of the course material together.  I continue to add to links to readings, and more items to the list of DVDs and books related to the course that I’ve provided them.  I reshape the class schedule to accommodate new directions that seem worth further time and exploration.  Our libraries, our online databases, and web resources, have made it possible for me to pursue my varied interests and questions that evolved into my first course offering.  And I hope that as my students join me in our ongoing journey of discovery that perhaps something outside the required course materials will catch the interest of a student and pull that student into an exploration that helps answer a question, think about a topic in greater depth, or scratches an “intellectual curiosity” itch.  And, thinking about it, given the students I have in this class and what they’ve said, this process has begun.  I’m optimistic.

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