What are comps for?

Every major at Sewanee has them, but what exactly are comps for? Last week faculty from a wide range of different departments—including history, economics, math, theater, religion, Spanish, and philosophy—came together to discuss what comps look like in different disciplines, what has changed in recent years, and what changes we might like to see in the future. It was a rich and thought-provoking conversation that brought out a range of different answers to the question of why we make our students take comprehensive exams and what we hope they will gain from the process. Four general themes emerged from the discussion: 

  1. Gatekeeping (making sure that students have a mastery of the skills and knowledge that ought to come with a degree in their field)
  2. Shared experience (having a process that all majors go through together, in some cases helping with and offering criticisms of each other’s work)
  3. Independent work (using skills and knowledge gained in the major to produce a significant piece of work that reflects individual creativity and/or interests)
  4. Looking forward (applying what has been learned in the major to life after college)

Not all departments gave equal emphasis to all of these themes, and particular themes were much more prominent in some comp processes. In recent years, a number of departments have changed their comp processes by making use of oral exams, spreading out comps over a longer period of time, or de-emphasizing certain elements (for example mastery of a “canon” of great works).

Missed the discussion but want to catch up on what was said? You can watch the recording here on the CfT website.    

-Mark Hopwood, Philosophy

Executing Plan B

“Did you try turning it off and turning it back on again?” We’ve probably all been given this advice at some point, but do you actually know how to turn off and turn on all of the technology you use in the classroom? (It might be more complicated than you think.) In a recent CfT session, Adam Hawkins took us through some of the most frequently encountered tech issues in the classroom and the best ways to deal with them (as well as avoid them happening in the first place). We also discussed creative fixes for what to do when all else fails, and swapped our best ideas and war stories. As one of our attendees commented, this was “a very useful session”!

Weren’t able to attend the session? Don’t worry! You can watch the recording here and see Adam’s slides here.

Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to Adam for doing a wonderful job of leading the discussion. We’re also very grateful to the whole faculty technology team for getting us through our crises and helping our classes run smoothly on a daily basis!

-Mark Hopwood, Philosophy

What are office hours for?

We all hold office hours, but what exactly are they for? Should students be incentivized or even required to attend? How can we make office hours accessible to all students? How long are office hours actually supposed to last? Should we even be calling them “office hours” at all? We had an excellent discussion of all kinds of questions relating to office hours at our CfT session on Thursday 2/11, but don’t worry if you couldn’t make it – you can see a recording here and read a very useful background piece on office hours from the Chronicle here.

A few comments on the sessions from our attendees:

“It was extremely helpful to me to hear from colleagues about what they do to promote, and how they relate to students during, office/student hours.”

“I will likely change the way I ask students to contact me about office hours.”

“It was really neat to hear what other people are doing and to just interact with my colleagues.”

Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to the faculty we invited to share their wisdom and experience: Kati Curts, Evan Joslin, Matt Irvin, and Emily Puckette. 

Mark Hopwood, Philosophy

How should we grade? Why do we grade? And how can we get more out of Zoom breakout groups?

With the late start to the semester, we took the opportunity to hold a couple of pre-semester workshops for faculty to swap notes, exchange ideas, and help each other with last-minute tweaks before the start of classes. Both discussions were well-attended and very productive, but don’t worry if you couldn’t make it – recordings are available at the links below:

Online Discussions and Breakout Groups

Grading and Assessment

During the breakout and discussion session, we shared a couple of helpful resources on How to Make Breakout Rooms Work Better (by Beth McMurtrie) and How to Hold a Better Class Discussion (by Jay Howard). Both are highly recommended! If you have technical questions about how to use the gradebook on Brightspace, breakout rooms on Zoom, or anything else, it’s still not too late to make an appointment with one of our awesome faculty support staff.

A few comments on the sessions from our attendees:

“I heard a lot of great ideas and think I may be able to implement some of them.”

“Very helpful to hear other philosophies on grading.”

“[These ideas] will be part of my zoom class this coming semester.”

Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to the faculty we invited to share their wisdom and experience: Stephanie Batkie, Anne Duffee, Lauryl Tucker, Richard O’Connor, John Coffey, and John Willis.