FAQs & Notes

Will you raise the class ceiling, or do you keep a waiting list for the course?

Please know that I do not intend to raise the ceiling for any of my classes; it is not conducive for discussion which is crucial to the learning goals. I’d recommend that you come to the class or both classes during the first week and hopefully you’d find a spot. Almost without exception a few students drop my classes in the first week or so, and in the past, invested and interested students have been able to find room without a problem. If it is meant to be, you’ll be able to get in. If not, there will be other semesters for you. 

And I usually do not keep a waiting list. 

What about grades?

It is worthwhile for us to undertake a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the grading system, its underlying purpose and intent, its effects on the classroom, particularly on the professor-student and student-student relationships. Despite having tried hard I have not been able to make peace with the growing awareness that grades are now at the center of the classroom and have taken it hostage, along with us, our interaction and relationships. Candid conversation about grades and their impact upon what goes on in the class (and inside the classroom) I deem part of our class, curriculum and education.

Grades being grades and unavoidable – at least for now – here’s how I am oriented in determining them. There are two aspects that remain critical in pursuit of knowledge (or for that matter any other initiative of serious investment). That pursuit demands a) “Dedication” expressed through the quality of the time, effort and energy we extend to it; and b)Mastery” (or Excellence) in what we have tried to dedicate ourselves to. In other words, Dedication is the pathway, Mastery or Excellence in the subject, the goal. In my experience, dedication does not ‘insure’ or ‘guarantee’ mastery, Though dedication is much appreciated, it’s the scales of mastery (or excellence) that provide grade-assessment.    

[NOTE: Someone does need to grade the grading system. I give it a straight ‘F’.] 

Again, though my views on grading do not map onto this blog entry “Why I Don’t Grade”, I do think that reading and thinking about the issues it raises can help us re-imagine, re-think, re-configure and hopefully re-turn to more humane ways and expressions of how we are and what we do in classes and in classrooms.

[NOTE: This source was helpfully shared by my colleague Prof. Scott Denham during our Humanities program last year.]

What is your class attendance policy?

Being in Physical Attendance vs. being Intellectually Present :

Physical attendance is a prerequisite for meeting the goals of the study. It is therefore compulsory. More than 1 absence without valid excuse such as sickness or family emergency etc. will result in the lowering of grade. (B+ will become a B, B a B- and so on).

Being in attendance, i.e., being physically inside the classroom space, however is not really “being intellectually present”. Your intellectual presence is “felt” through its overall qualitative impact, through  your wakefulness, intellectual alertness, concentration, energy and investment and “experienced” through the quality of the questions you pose, mindfulness you bring to the study of the texts assigned, engagement with the intellectual community, and your contributions (or miscontributions) toward raising (or lowering) the quality of class conversation.

Absence:

▪️ College policies allow religious observances and the instructor respects those as well. Should there be a conflict between a class meeting and a religious observance, let SRZ know;

▪️ Life-urgencies and health difficulties are also understandable; communicate those to SRZ as they arise;

▪️ In case of absence, the burden of knowing what happened in the class, ‘catching up’, and obtaining notes will be yours.

Absence/Presence Sheet:

Toward the end of the term, you will give me a handwritten or typed “Absence/Presence Sheet”. It will have the following details:

▪️ Your full name;

▪️ Number of classes you have missed with respective dates;

▪️ An explanation as to why you have missed these classes, and anything more that you’d like to say in regards to those;

▪️ Provide an assessment of your overall participation this semester. What grade would you give yourself and why?

[NOTE: Attendance policies usually involve “policing” and I am hardly a cop.]

Please:

▪️ Read the note “On Being Used by Technology” here;

▪️ Always bring “The Map” & “Text-Guides” (i.e., syllabus and readings) for the week to the classroom;

▪️ Do not come in late or leave early—it is usually disruptive.  

▪️ Keep track of your attendance. The last day you will turn in a sheet detailing your attendance and your own assessment of your overall participation grade;  

▪️ Most significantly, for a positive, healthy and enjoyable learning environment it is crucial that class members bring their best warm and engaged selves to the weekly meetings. Do whatever in your capacity (yoga, exercise, listening to your favorite music or coffee etc.) to freshen yourself up for the class.

Do the longer essays require an argument (i.e. a thesis statement) or are they simply longer responses than the short answer questions?

Coherence, logical flow of thought and structure that is easy to follow, YES; thesis or argument, NO. And this applies to all answers.

Do the long essays we write have to be 5-paragraph format with an introduction and conclusion, or should we just write a couple of paragraphs that answers the question?

It’s neither the 5-paragraph or just the 2-paragraph format. I also cannot offer a definite length for the answer in quantitative terms. The answer will be assessed both on its quantity and quality. The simple idea is to answer the question, and answer it fully. Staying on point and on target, and managing time, seek to impress with what you know. 

There is definitely no need for introductory or concluding paragraphs.

 

A Note on Absence from (& Presence in) the Classroom

Being Present (& Active Presence):
Being inside the classroom space does not automatically classify as “being present”. Your presence is “felt” through its overall qualitative impact, through your wakefulness, attentiveness, level of concentration and investment, and significance of the questions you pose, in terms of where they emerge from and to where they take those in your presence, in our own way, we all contribute (or mis contribute) toward raising (or lowering) the level of our classroom conversation about the subject. Effectively contributing more than what is asked of you is quite welcome.

Absence:

  1. Should there be a conflict between any class meeting and a religious observance, let SRZ know. Religious observances are allowed by college policies and respected by SRZ;
  2. Life-urgencies and difficulties are also understandable; communicate those to SRZ as they arise;
  3. It is up to you to ‘catch-up’ (e.g., obtain notes). Absence does not seem to be a good excuse for not knowing what happened in the classroom.

Please:

  1. Read the note “On Being Used by Technology” here;
  2. Always bring “The Map” & “Text-Guides” (i.e., syllabus and readings) for the weekto the classroom;
  3. Do not come in late or leave early—it is usually disruptive.  
  4. Keep track of your attendance. The last day you will turn in a sheet detailing your attendance and your own assessment of your overall participation grade;  

Absence/Presence Sheet:

Toward the end of the term, you will give me an handwritten or typed “Absence/Presence Sheet”. It will have the following details:

  1. Your full name;
  2. Number of classes you have missed with respective dates;
  3. An explanation as to why you have missed these classes, and anything more that you’d like to say in regards to those;
  4. Provide an assessment of your overall participation this semester. What grade would you give yourself and why?
[NOTE: Attendance policies usually involve “policing” and I am hardly a cop.]

A Note on Class Ceilings & Wait Lists

Please know that I do not intend to raise the ceiling for any of my classes; it is not conducive for discussion which is crucial to the learning goals. I’d recommend that you come to the class or both classes during the first week and hopefully you’d find a spot. Almost without exception a few students drop my classes in the first week or so, and in the past, invested and interested students have been able to find room without a problem. If it is meant to be, you’ll be able to get in. If not, there will be other semesters for you. Do not worry.

And I usually do not keep a waiting list. Please do feel welcome to email with further concerns.

A Note on Being Used by Technology

When we interact with technology, we use “it” and perhaps “it” uses us as well. When we are in a class meeting it is not within my capacity to know which one is happening when. It is up to you to discern the difference and decide what needs to be done.

It is an absolute must that electronic devices, if used at all, be used in the class for class-related activities only (e.g., for taking notes, pulling up readings etc.).

A Note on Learning Outcomes (Yours?)

My intended and proposed learning outcomes for every course can be found on the syllabus. Under that you will see blank space under a heading “Yours?”. Unless communicated to me it is almost impossible for me to know what your intended goals and learning outcomes for the course are. You are invited to think about those and if you choose so, discuss those with me.

Students interests and investments do inform the way I teach the course.

A Note on Intellectual Contributions, Quality of Study & Presence

My substitute for what is usually referred to as “class participation” There are three dimensions here. Each benefits the intellectual community by elevating the quality of in-class conversation and dialog.

▪️ Intellectual contributions: e.g., the quality of your insights and questions posed on forums and during class meetings;

▪️ Your preparatory study for class meetings: Usually it manifests as good grasp of the assigned material (and issues it discusses), textual nuance in interpretation, and observing patterns and connections among the assigned text(s) and those that have gone before;

▪️ Presence: It is more than just being there or just saying something. Even a presence that is attentive and listens well could contribute intellectually. 

SELF-ASSESSMENT:

On the last day of the semester, deliver (handwritten or email) a note that states:

▪️ Number of classes you have missed with respective dates;

▪️ An explanation as to why you have missed these classes, and anything more that you’d like to say in regards to those;

▪️ Provide an assessment of your overall “Intellectual Contributions, Quality of Study & Presence” this semester. What grade would you give yourself and why?

A Note on Grades

It is worthwhile for us to undertake a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the grading system, its underlying purpose and intent, its effects on the classroom, particularly on the professor-student and student-student relationships. Despite having tried hard I have not been able to make peace with the growing awareness that grades are now at the center of the classroom and have taken it hostage, along with us, our interaction and relationships. Candid conversation about grades and their impact upon what goes on in the class (and inside the classroom) I deem part of our class, curriculum and education.

Grades being grades and unavoidable – at least for now – here’s how I am oriented in determining them. There are two aspects that remain critical in pursuit of knowledge (or for that matter any other initiative of serious investment). That pursuit demands a) “Dedication” expressed through the quality of the time, effort and energy we extend to it; and b) “Mastery” (or Excellence) in what we have tried to dedicate ourselves to. In other words, Dedication is the pathway, Mastery or Excellence in the subject, the goal. In my experience, dedication does not ‘insure’ or ‘guarantee’ mastery, Though dedication is much appreciated, it’s the scales of mastery (or excellence) that provide grade-assessment.

[NOTE: Someone does need to grade the grading system. I give it a straight ‘F’.]

Again, though my views on grading do not map onto this blog entry “Why I Don’t Grade”, I do think that reading and thinking about the issues it raises can help us re-imagine, re-think, re-configure and hopefully re-turn to more humane ways and expressions of how we are and what we do in classes and in classrooms.

[NOTE: This source was helpfully shared by my colleague Prof. Scott Denham during our Humanities program last year.]

A Note on Weekly Preparation for the Class

Preparing for the class is absolutely critical for your success in this class, both for comprehending the subject and in earning a good grade. Preparing entails: 

▪️ A quality and purposeful reading that involves: 

1) Recognition of key terms, concepts and passages;

2) Recognizing and striving for connections and patterns between readings for a session with what we have studied thus far;

3) Marking unclear passages or concepts; 

4) Formulating significant text-based questions. 

(For a quality and purposeful reading, read Chapter 2 “Levels of Reading” from How to Read a Book by Adler.) 

▪️  Occasionally, you may be asked to 1) summarize or present formally selective portion of the readings, 2) make critical comments, 3) work in groups, 4) turn in questions from the readings, and 5) bring examples from the media (audio/video, blogs, magazines, and social media) for further discussion and clarification.

▪️ The Instructor’s role: Even when lecturing interactively, the instructor seeks to 1) provide necessary background and clarify the significance of what’s been studied, 2) help you better understand the assigned material, 3) be a highlighter, i.e., highlight the key terms and passages, 4) offer commentary that illumines the text; and 4) draw connections among texts and ideas. 

 

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