I am in the midst of my fifth year in a row of teaching almost the exact same courseload. I had still been getting good student reviews, but I could feel myself getting into a rut.

At the same time, I’d been hearing more and more from colleagues about learning management systems (LMS) and the concept of the ‘flipped classroom.’ I had hesitated to try either of these earlier as, although I’m a technophile, I’ve always hesitated to bring technology into the classroom if I wasn’t absolutely sure it would directly benefit students and not be a distraction for them and a crutch for myself. The most I had used so far was ThinkWave, a cloud-based platform for grade book management, and dipped my toe in the waters of flipped classrooms with EduCanon.

After a bit of research, I decided to take the plunge. Here are the changes I made:

  • LMS: Switched from ThinkWave to Canvas.
  • Abandoned EduCanon in favor of Udemy for hosting video lectures
    • The extra in-class time gave me better chances to bring in documentary films, group projects, and guest speakers.

The puzzle pieces came together in quite different ways for each class:

US Politics

Flipped classroom using Udemy. Electronic submissions (via Canvas) for homework (monthly essay assignments and occasional group project submissions).

Comparative Politics

This semester I taught this class for the first time. The difficult thing was that I do not have a substantial background in the topic myself, so I relied on the basic format the previous professor used with the class. Instead of bi-weekly essay assignments, I used Canvas for a weekly graded discussion. Each student was expected to make a substantive (100-200 word) comment on the prompt.  After making their initial comment, Canvas would then show other students’ comments. They were then expected to write two brief responses to classmates’ comments.

Instead of a group presentation, I let the class decide what kind of final project they would do and they picked an “individual case study report.” All of this submitted online through Canvas.

Politics English

This class remained structurally exactly the same as before. We follow the book closely in class with no homework to speak of. As we move through each chapter of the book, they complete a freewriting, brainstorming, outline, first draft, peer edit, self-edit, second draft progression. I collect this as homework.

At first, I tried to do it as an electronic submission, but I scrapped it after the first time. I continued to collect these hand-written papers in class for participation points and moved the “Essay test” for each unit to an online submission. The midterm exam was an online essay, as was the final exam. The final exam was a bit more difficult though because it asked them to make a bit of a leap: after writing 1-paragraph essays all semester, they have to apply what they’ve learned to a 3-paragraph essay.

What I am keeping

All told, I was very impressed with the technologies I brought in. Next semester I teach a slightly different course load. I will likely keep Politics English 2 exactly the same as this semester, but using the more difficult book.

I have to make a decision about International Organizations. I could pre-record the lectures and put them on Udemy just like I did with US Politics. But I’m thinking of structuring it more like Comparative Politics from this semester, where it is based on readings and has weekly discussion questions, and essays for exams. I could mix in a few films/documentaries as needed as well. The downside is that this means I need to spend my summer break finding a good textbook for it that continues keeping my IO class “practical” rather than theoretical. Most IO courses are more theoretical in nature, but I was asked to teach it in a way that would encourage students to apply for jobs with IOs.

Honestly, I am as surprised as anyone in terms of how much of these systems I will likely keep in place for future semesters. Udemy is imperfect in many ways, but the way I explained it to my students is that we are using it rather than a textbook. The only thing you get for student progress is a progress bar with the percentage of the course they have completed, but for the slick and professional interface as well as the mobile experience I think the tradeoff is worth it.