If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Audition Week

It is the first week of classes.  Today, as I was parking my car to go and teach my first class, I overheard two drama students discussing what they would wear to auditions that evening.  It was a cute conversation (each one telling the other how great they were in their respective clothes).  I then went and taught my class but the concept of auditioning stuck with me.

My university has had a substantial increase in enrollment in the past few years and one of the undergraduate programs in our department has more than tripled since I started five years ago.  In addition to our majors and minors we also have several large departments that require our courses of their majors.  We have both online and face-to-face sections of all our classes in this program. However I only teach one undergraduate class and it is an elective.

Each year the first week of classes (also known as the add/drop period) feels more and more like an audition.  For a number of reasons students usually register for more classes then they are going to take and then drop some during the first week.  They also "shop around" attending a class or getting information from their friends and then deciding what to add and what to drop.  Some of this happens before the class even meets.  For example, my course has a cap of 50 students.  I am over-enrolled by 4 making the final count before I taught the course today 54.  However the latest student to register was number 93.  By the end of the week it may be well into the hundreds.

Students take courses for a variety of reasons with the number one being to fulfill their requirements for their major and/or minor.  Scheduling is also very important.  A class needs to fit into their schedule.  Both of these make perfect sense to me but it saddens me that a third of my class today had no interest in the subject matter.  Instead it met the first two requirements.  The third requirement for many students is level of difficulty.  There is the perception that electives are supposed to be easy.  Mine is not.

I use the first week (I teach twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes each) to make my expectations perfectly clear and to layout the amount and type of work they will be asked to do.  In most cases, students who have no interest in the subject and are expecting an easy class are going to end up failing.  That is not a good experience for any of us and I want them to drop.  I also want the students who are either interested and/or willing to give it effort an opportunity to either stay in the class or add the class.  And so the first two classes feel like an audition.  I try to highlight both the strengths and the challenges of the class sufficiently so both groups of students can make an informed decision.

By the end of the session today my stats were: 54 registered; 44 attended; 1 walked out; 3 asked about transferring to the online section.

This year we have more students then ever along with a severe budget cut.  There simply are fewer sections, fewer electives to choose from, and restrictions on some of the courses.  I fear many will not be able to drop the course.


Joan Kane Nichols said...

Here's wishing you a manageable number of students all passionately interested in what you have to teach them.

Annie said...

I hope it's all worked out favorably for you and your students, and you have a good group.

BrightenedBoy said...

I'd rather have fewer sections to choose from but still be able to afford my tuition. Costs for one semester at this state school are now just shy of $10,000. When I first started here, they were barely over $6,000. It's extortion and unsustainable.