It’s that time of the year again and my thoughts, like those of Rex back “a few weeks ago”:/2005/08/17/the-grim-smile/, turn to pedagogical issues. One things that has been haunting me for my entire teaching career (OK, OK . . . 2 ½ years!) is the viability of a four-field intro course. Semester after semester, I try to cram in the so-called “tip of the iceberg” of anthropology into 45 hours (minus tests, pre-test reviews, post-test revisions, assignment explanations, occasional cancellations, fire drills and so forth). And semester after semester, I try to decide ahead of time where I will wind up having to cut. Because I always wind up having to cut, despite my best intentions. I could fit it all in probably if all I did was lecture but about half of my class time is spent in learning activities. So . . .
This leads me to question how useful the four-field approach is in pedagogical terms (i.e. as a teaching tool). The more topics one tries to cover in one semester, the more each topic gets watered down. So what is important to us as teachers and professors of anthropology? To cram as much info into the brains of our students as possible for later regurgitation? Or to help them learn ways of thinking and analysing that are part of the “anthropological project”?
In any case, the nature of the course has been decided for me so I have to deal . . .and figure out where I will cut (if I have to, of course, which I probably will . . . ). Keeping in mind, of course, that 99.9% of my students will not go on to take university-level anthropology courses (this is Cégep we’re talking about which is a 2-year general studies programme between high school and university – a neat little Québécois idiosyncrasy) helps me determine what is important and what isn’t.
What will help them in their future careers as teachers, plumbers, lawyers, secretaries, nurses, police officers and so forth? What will whet their appetites enough to get them to take one of our 200 or 300 level courses such as Race and Racism, Community Studies, Archaeology, Human Evolution, Culture and Sexuality, etc? What will help them in their everyday lives as residents of multicultural Canada? These are the questions I need to ask when determining what stays and what goes . . . and this is what I’ve been forgetting to ask myself in the past 2 years as a newbie teacher.
So now I’m trying something new. I’m going to start backwards. Well, not completely. But rather than start with the usual physical evolution stuff, I will start with where we are now and meander through different topics with occasional flashbacks to pre-history. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to pull off the dream-style sequences when it’s time for a flashback but . . . I’ll figure something out.
Now excuse me while I go back to mixing a soundtrack for my course . . .