Friday, April 25, 2014

Add a Paper?

I got an email from a colleague the other day, asking about a student who needs an upper division course, but also needs Shakespeare (which I'm teaching at the lower division next semester, as is usual).  The colleague wants to know if I couldn't just add a project or longer paper and make it so the lower division Shakespeare course can count as an upper division course.

1.  Guess what field this colleague is in.

2.  Guess how insulted this colleague would feel if I asked the same question about one of their courses.

How do your departments or fields think about the differences in lower and upper division courses?

Do you think of the differences as being primarily in one or another assignments?

Do you think of the differences as being more foundational and intellectual?


  1. Argh. I also get colleagues asking if I can't just teach one of my upper level classes as an independent study. You know, in my spare time.

  2. The only lower division classes we have in my department are the freshman comp sequence and the 200-level lit surveys, which fulfill gen ed requirements. The differences are massive and stark because of the student population -- anything at the 300- or 400-level will be almost exclusively filled with English majors, except for Shakespeare, which draws about 2/3 English and 1/3 theater majors. Anything at the 200 level is populated by students from all over the map, but especially from elementary ed. I can't really assume they have any skills or any experience analyzing literature coming in, and an alarming number of them have massive difficulties with reading comprehension.

    Frankly, the students in my lit surveys are weaker than the ones in freshman comp, because of two issues. First, more than half of them are transfers from open-admissions community colleges, whereas almost all of the freshmen have actually met Misnomer U's admissions requirements -- which are not especially rigorous, but which do at least exist. Secondly, all of the students in the residential Honors program are required to take special sections of the Brit Lit surveys as a block, which causes a bit of a brain drain (especially in my classes, since I teach the non-Honors sections of those same surveys).

    So the surveys are really geared toward getting students engaged and participating, and teaching basic lit analysis. About 20% of the grade is based on showing up for class every day with an index card on which students have written questions and comments about the reading, and I accept ANYTHING that suggests they've made a good faith attempt and isn't plagiarized from SparkNotes. (And yes, there is always one student every semester who does plagiarize their index cards from SparkNotes.) Another 30% is based on four short close-reading papers (I allow them to skip one short paper OR drop the lowest grade on the fourth if they complete them all). The final paper is sorta-high stakes, but has required drafts and conferencing built in. I don't do any of this in a 300- or 400-level class; with majors, I can assume that most of them will do the reading, and that they will know how to read, and have some idea how to write about what they read.

  3. An upper division course assumes (at least in history) that you have the basic tools for historical analysis. So yes, we ask more writing, but the discussion should be at a different level.

  4. saucyturtles6:12 AM

    My first thought was a scientist. Where I teach, the sciences offer alternate labs for more and less advanced students, and even students in different fields, to accompany the same lecture. If it is a scientist, that sort of adjustment of a course is normal, and therefore they might not be insulted if you asked the same of them.

  5. Interesting, SaucyTurtles. I'm surprised by that. So a student would be able to substitute a first year chem lab for a 3rd year physics lab?

  6. saucyturtles9:26 AM

    No, but a bio-chem major could do different labs than a bio major. I'm not defending the request, which is clueless, but I'm currently serving on Curriculum Committee, and I've learned a lot.

  7. Anonymous10:33 AM

    I'm the literature person in my language-section of a languages and cultures department and in my few years on the job so far I've done almost as much educating of my colleagues as to what my field is as I have with my students. Our curriculum is a bit of a mess (product of long-standing prejudice that views our work only as a service to other departments, imparting second-language skills exclusively), so even with some of my colleagues (non-lit people teaching lit classes) it's an uphill battle. Students in upper-division courses are not only studying different material in my classes - it's also a qualitative difference in the kinds of inquiry we do.

    I don't know what department the requests would come from in your institutional context, but in my context they would probably be coming from Education or Business.