Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What is the point, you ask?

Jason wrote a blog post the other day, questioning the pedagoical reasoning behind the final exam in this course, and asking what was the point of coming to class. I encourage you to read his post, and the comments I wrote on it.

As I've been telling you in class, a major goal of this course is for you to learn how to be a more critical, thoughtful, media consumer. In fact, this is the first objective of the course, as stated in your course outline: "1. To experience and analyze, and learn to critique, all major forms of mass media communications, and to become a critical media consumer."

My teaching philosophy in general, whatever the subject matter (and I have taught courses in e-commerce, marketing management, advertising, communications, and media; at the highschool, undergraduate, and graduate level; the principle applies to all of them) is to encourage a critical approach.

And yes, that includes criticizing the course itself, and me as your teacher. Recall what I told you here: to criticize something does not mean to slam it; it means to analyze it, and comment, thoughtfully, on the pros and/or cons of it.

You have a right, as students, to ask why you are being required to do whatever it is you are being required to do. And it is our responsibility, as teachers, to be able to answer those questions when they are asked. This is one of the most important lessons I remember learning, as a student in teacher's college. I was in training to be a highschool English teacher (long story), and I remember asking my professor, "So you mean to tell me, that if one of my students demands I justify to them why they have to read Macbeth, I have to be able to give them an answer? I can't just say, because you have to?"

My professor answered, "Yes. That's exactly what I mean."

So, Jason, you are not the first student to ask the sort of question you asked on your blog, and I have no doubt whatsoever that you won't be the last. And I'm happy to answer your question.

The main reason why you should come to this class, MCOM 72 section 3, is because what we do in class is discuss, in more depth, the issues introduced in the textbook. If you had been reading the chapters all along, before class, as I expect you to do (and this expectation is clearly explained in the course outline), you would have recognized when something on my slides, a topic I introduced, or a question I asked of the class, was based on the material in the chapter. The fact that you apparently did not recognize these instances tells me you have yet to open your textbook.

The second reason you should come to class relates to the second objective in the course outline: "2. To learn about the "blogosphere" by becoming an active media blogger." One of the early classes this semester was almost entirely devoted to introducing you to the topic of blogs, and giving you the basic information you'd need to get started on yours. I allowed time for you, the students, to talk to each other about your blogs, and encouraged the students who had blogged before, and who knew the technical basics, to help those who were new to it. From that point on, at the beginning of almost every class session, I showed you a slide with a "blog tip of the day." I set aside time to answer your questions, and, as we progressed, and as you became more competent bloggers, I took time in class to discuss blog-related issues as they arose, such as Anngiely's experience with the comment threatening legal action against her. As well, in nearly every class I suggested at least one, if not several, topics you might blog about that week.

(Though I have not done a formal, statistical analysis I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that there is a correlation between those students who attend this class regularly, and those who got A's on their midterm blog grade.)

Another reason you should come to class is that group work comprises 25%of your grade in this course, and if you don't come to class you'll never meet the other students, and you won't be able to get into a group.

And, the final reason you should attend class — any class, not just this one — is so that you can participate, and show your professor that you are participating. As I explained to you last week, when you were giving your mini-presentations on international websites, in all university courses, regardless of the subject matter, there is some element of subjectivity in grading. When a student is borderline, or when there is a judgement call to be made, the professor must rely on what they know about the student to help them make a decision. If you never come to class, and never participate, and you end up being one of those students the professor is considering, when it's time to turn in those final grades, whether to assign a C+ or a B-, or whether to pass or fail the student, it's that information they will bring to bear. I have never known a professor to fail a student who attended class consistently, participated regularly, and made an effort.

I'd like to thank Jason for asking this question, because I know, from experience, that for every one student who asks a question, at least a dozen are wondering the same thing. So I hope that I have answered, for all of you who may have been wondering, the question "Why should I bother coming to class?"

Finally, I'd like to address the implied question in the first part of Jason's comment: "With the final exam in our class being based on the book alone I think that essentially our time spent in class two days a week has been a waste of time."

I believe I've just argued against coming to class being a waste of time, but I wanted to explain why the final exam is based on the textbook. It's quite simple, really. I'm testing whether you read it, as you were required to do.

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