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January 13, 2013

Teaching is not so easy: Part 3

Well, it’s the middle of January once again, and soon you will notice an influx of students eager to begin the spring semester at Plattsburgh State.

You may recall in my Sept. 9 column, “Teaching is not so easy as it looks,” I recounted my progress and lack thereof in preparing for and offering CSC 372 Ethics and the Information Age — the required ethics and writing course for computer-science majors at SUNY Plattsburgh.

I had great (albeit misplaced) confidence I could easily do this as I had developed this course for the department a couple of decades ago.

I described college teaching using the metaphor of The Acting Company where the professor plays all of the roles: starring actor, producer, director and the most difficult and frustrating — stage manager.

The part I totally underestimated was that of stage manager, who must attend to gazillions of unanticipated details (ranging from making sure the software actually works to getting the right keys for the right doors). You can go to: http://tec-soc.blogspot.com and then click on the CSC 372 link for the full syllabus to the course.

Now the most interesting part of the course — after the ethical theory, of course — was the slick way the writing part was handled. Professor Del Hart, a colleague, had developed an Online Peer Review System based on the SWORD System developed at the University of Pittsburgh (sword@pittedu) that could be used locally and tailored especially for our students.

On a schedule of Monday, Wednesday, Saturday (the computer never sleeps and apparently similarly for our students), they would submit a first draft, critique the essays of three other students and, using them to improve their papers, write the final draft (usually very close to 11:59 p.m. Saturday).

Although the SWORD project’s research has shown that students come remarkably close to issuing the same grades that an instructor would assign, I still read the papers and assign the final grades.

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