M A I N * L I N K S

SUNY Fredonia
Division of Arts and Humanities
ENGL 216: Science Fiction
Spring 2008
TTh 2-3:20 pm
Houghton 101
Office: Fenton 265; TTh 3:30-4:30, W 9-12, F 1-4:30, and by appointment; 673-3856
E-mail: simon@fredonia.edu (work days); brucesimon18@yahoo.com (other)
Web Page: www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon/
Course ANGEL Space: https://fredonia.sln.suny.edu

Group Research/Teaching Project, Spring 2008

What It Is

Each of the groups we created during the first two weeks of classes will be responsible for teaching to the rest of the class for at least half their class period what they see as the most important relations between their novel and the main idea of the unit from which it comes. Hence, the group project entails forming a group, choosing a date and topic related to the readings for that date, formulating a research plan, dividing your labor when putting it into action and running 40-60+ minutes of a class period, and writing a group-authored reflection on and assessment of your performance in the project as well as an individual learning analysis on the most interesting things you learned about the author and work on which your team focused.

Groups will have great latitude in choosing their research topic and mode of running the class. However, each group must meet with me once (preferably at least one week before its presentation is scheduled) and keep in touch with me on its plans and progress. For our meeting, the group should come at least with possible focuses for research and preliminary teaching ideas for the class, along with questions about any aspect of the project, and at most with a fully-formulated research and teaching plan. During that meeting, I'll answer questions you have and give suggestions and/or feedback on your research ideas and interests as well as your teaching goals and strategies. After that meeting, the group should feel free to modify its plans without feeling the need to run every little thing by me for approval. But if you want to change something major--like your research topic or your goals while running the class--please let me know, so I can continue to give useful feedback and suggestions.

Two Mondays after your teaching day, each team must email me a group-authored group reflection and assessment (of what happened during the class period and its relation to your expectations and plans, as well as of your mode of working together as a group and any aspects of planning, researching, or teaching that you would change if you were to teach the same author/work again). Also due then from each team member is a short learning analysis essay in which you share a few of the most interesting things you learned about the author and work on which your team focused in the course of doing the project. To raise the stakes for this essay, I will post it (either under your name, under a pseudonym of your choice, or anonymously) on our course blog.

Each student will be graded individually, although a good part of your grade will include how well the group worked together in the planning, research, and reflecting/assessing stages of the project. As 25% of your final grade, this is one of the most significant assignments in the course, so take it seriously and start working on it early!

What It's For

It's a truism that you don't really learn something until you try to teach it to someone else, but there is nevertheless a good deal of truth to this cliche. Being responsible for teaching anything makes you pay a lot more attention when you're learning it, since you'll be in the position of setting goals for the 40 minutes (at least) of class time you'll be running, designing questions and activities, and trying to anticipate, answer and prompt your peers' questions. And because this particular project is not just an individual endeavor but something you have to work on with others to make it work, there's an added dimension of cooperative learning and decision-making in the mix, as well. Given that you all are relative newcomers to the academic study of science fiction, I thought each group would better understand where potential sources of confusion or frustration might be--as well as how to engage the key relations between the later and earlier novels in the unit--than I would. Hence, you all have the opportunity to "peer teach" in a way that could well be more effective than my own teaching at times. At the very least, you all will be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and methods over the course of the semester and, when teaching, have the opportunity to draw on what you feel are the most effective and appropriate teaching strategies for the material you all will be wrestling with. Along with the critical essays, this assignment encourages you to focus intensely on 3 of the authors/works from our reading list this semester.

So the main goal in assigning a group project in this course is to have you learn more about some aspect of the works and writers your presentation falls on, mostly through your research and planning for that portion of the class period your group will run. Another goal is to get you in the habit of using the resources available to you-our relatively vast library holdings, the links on the web site, and above all, the works on reserve in Reed Library--when doing research with a purpose. The assignment thus gives you the opportunity to get out of "book report" mode--out of simply finding something out about something and summarizing it. Rather, the purpose of your research is to help you shape your objectives for your class presentation/discussion/activities. Another major goal of the group project is for you to gain proficiency in "oral communication skills"--not simply lecturing in front of a group (if you choose that mode of running the class), but also the kind of communication that's essential to the success of your group collaboration, to directing a class discussion, to running a particular activity, and to crafting a group-authored document. This is where the final goal of having you work together on this project comes in: by reflecting on the relation between your plans for the class period and what actually happened during it, by considering where the class period went well and what you'd most want to change in either your plans or the way you tried to implement them, and by collaborating on the written reflection and assessment, you are meant to develop and improve your critical thinking and writing skills.

So there's a lot you can learn from the process of completing this project: from your experience of the challenges, frustrations, and satisfactions of research, from your experience of "being responsible for" a portion of our class time, from your experience working together as a group (about setting goals, dividing labor, and reaching consensus), and so on.

Furthermore, I'm hoping that the things you learn in and from this project will carry over into how you approach subsequent classes--about preparing for class discussion, about being an active reader and learner, about what it means to gain some degree of expertise on a particular topic, about how you and your peers might appear from the perspective of someone "running a class." Hopefully the experience of being responsible for a portion of a class period and learning from how other groups handle that responsibility will raise serious questions for you about what it means to take responsibility for your own learning.

How To Do It

I don't want to limit the creativity of your group's approach to running a portion of a class period by laying out a step-by-step approach. So much is dependent on your individual interests and interpretations, your beliefs about the most effective modes of teaching, the way the people in your group interact with each other, and the process by which you narrow down the many possible comparisons/contrasts between the two novels down to your top one or two, that it's probably impossible to create such a list, anyway. But what I can do is offer some examples of kinds of things you might consider doing when running--or getting ready to run--a portion of the class period.

And let me end this overview by reminding you that you don't have to wait to ask me questions until the time your group is scheduled to meet with me in person. Feel free to stop by my office during my office hours or email me if you have any questions about the group project that haven't been answered on this page.

Grading Criteria

Your grade for this segment of the course will be based on a combination of factors: my overall assessment of your group's lesson plan, teaching effectiveness, and commitment to working collaboratively; the quality of the group-authored reflection on/assessment of your planning, research, and teaching; the quality of ideas and writing in your learning analysis/blog post; and my overall assessment of your individual contributions to the group's efforts and success.

M A I N * L I N K S

ENGL 216: Science Fiction, Spring 2008
Webmaster: Bruce Simon, Associate Professor of English, SUNY Fredonia
Created: 2/26/08 8:44 am
Last modified: 2/26/08 9:00 am
Feel free to explore the Spring 2005 version of this course.