I just took a first look at my course evaluations for Spring 2017, and once again they show a striking pattern that has dogged me for several years. I often teach back-to-back sections of the same course, at 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. It’s the same homework, same assignments, same in-class activities—but the course evaluations from the 8:00 AM class consistently come in lower than the 10:00 AM class. Our evaluations use a numerical system, a 1–5 Likert-type scale, and then means get reported back to us. What I’ll show you below is the difference between the 10:00 AM mean and the 8:00 AM mean.
The course is well-organized.
The course textbook and other reading assignments are appropriate in content.
The course tests and other evaluations are appropriate in content and difficulty.
The course assignments are reasonable and appropriate in content and difficulty.
The course is demanding in comparison to other courses.
The course has increased my knowledge or understanding of the subject.
The course is excellent.
The overall class experience has enhanced my ability to think clearly, logically, independently, and critically.
The overall class experience has contributed to the development of my sense of personal values and moral integrity.
The professor shows interest and enthusiasm for teaching the course.
The professor is available outside of class for consultation if needed.
The professor is prepared for class and makes good use of class time.
The professor presents course material in a clear and engaging manner.
The professor is an excellent teacher.
Although I’ve seen this pattern for several years now, I still find it striking, and the magnitude of difference on some of these items—remember, it’s a scale of 1 to 5—continue to perplex me. I don’t think I’m that different at 8:00 AM compared to 10:00 AM. It’s particularly striking that the item about the textbooks and readings shows one of the highest differences, although these are identical for both sections and unaffected by my classroom demeanor/deportment and therefore independent of practice, adrenaline, mood, or any other such factors that might fluctuate over the hours I’m in class. Might there be a kind of halo effect here because of students’ general displeasure with having any 8:00 AM classes at all?
I’ve just been watching a twenty-minute online educational video about making online educational videos. By the halfway mark, the gentleman lecturing into the camera has told viewers that online educational videos should include a lot of images and should be five or ten minutes long, maybe fifteen at the absolute most. In case you missed it the first time, this advice came from a talking head lecturing into the camera in a twenty-minute online video.
If you teach Biblical Hebrew in a seminary, university, or college, you might consider attending TALMID 2017, a workshop in communicative pedagogy for Biblical Hebrew. I would love to participate, but cannot for reasons of both cost and scheduling; however, I have previously attended two similar workshops, one by the CoHeLeT Project (with some of the same leadership team as TALMID) and one by the Biblical Language Center. Adopting communicative teaching/second language acquisition techniques has transformed my experience of teaching Biblical Hebrew, and all for the better (though not without growing pains). At any rate, I recommend the experience!
For the convenience of anyone who wishes to follow along with my November 20, 2016 Society of Biblical Literature presentation entitled “Character-izing Gameful Learning: Using Student-Guided Narratives to Motivate, Engage, and Inform Learners,” here is the slideshow, presented as a PDF with one slide per page. The program book abstract reads as follows, though it’s no longer 100% accurate to the presentation:
Religion 101: Old Testament in Context is the first of three religion courses required of Pepperdine University undergraduates. For some time now, my students have encountered foundational course material (basic facts and orientation to key questions) in the form of 21 substantive homework assignments delivered within Pepperdine’s course management system. These lessons resemble a textbook in informal prose; students interact with the lessons by reading materials directly in the LMS, by following hyperlinks to other online readings and videos (mostly from Bible Odyssey, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, and educational YouTube channels), and completing reading quizzes in the LMS. Beginning in Fall 2010, I began to inject elements of gameful learning and teaching by introducing the “Worlds of Biblecraft” metaphor, switching to accrual grading, and introducing content-themed terminology to describe course activities (“learning tribes” instead of “small groups,” for example). Since then, “gamification of education” has gained steam worldwide. However, the blossoming literature on gamification can be hard to review, interpret, and apply. As Karl Kapp (2012) notes, “There are literally thousands of books, articles, and newspaper reports on the effectiveness of games and gamification. Some of the reporting is based on theoretical underpinnings, some of it is based on opinion, and some of it is based on wishful thinking.” In the Spring and Summer terms of 2016, I sought to contribute to the empirical research on the effects of gameful learning in biblical studies. Supported by a grant from Pepperdine University’s Technology and Learning department, I reframed one-third of the homework assignments as narrative “choose your own adventure” experiences using the fictional characters of Deanna Jones and Larry Croft as guides to help students explore the biblical stories of the creation of humanity, the exodus, the Israelite “judges,” the Assyrian domination of Israel and Judah, the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the edict of Cyrus, and the trials of Job. Core elements of the previous versions of the assignments—biblical readings, secondary readings and videos, and quizzes—remained fundamentally the same as in the discursive version. Learning gains were measures by comparing aggregate quiz and test scores in the control (pre-revision) and experimental (post-revision) groups. Additionally, student attitudes toward the two different types of assignments were measured self-report instruments.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the preparatory assignments in my introductory Old Testament course for first-year Pepperdine University students. Actually, I started this process during the Spring 2014 semester, but I’m revisiting it right now for various reasons. Early in the Fall 2015 semester, I consulted half a dozen handbooks for college teachers, and found very little firm guidance on how much reading is appropriate for a college course. My sources generally agree—and rightly so—that the complexity of the reading material and the purpose for reading it must factor into the decision. However, these import caveats sometimes come across almost as excuses for eschewing any sort of quantitative guidelines whatsoever.
Being unable to locate any commonly accepted best practices for gauging the length of college reading assignments, I’ve cobbled together some tentative guidelines for myself. I offer them here for your review and comment—especially if you happen to know of empirical research that can better inform these practices.