The Element of Time or What Really Runs a Classroom
As we wrap up the three part series on studying history that is the first lesson in my classroom, we need to address the boogeyman in every classroom. This is the element of time and it dominates every classroom in college. We simply do not have enough time for the content we would like to teach in the available time we have. A three credit course meets for just under three hours a week. We have sixteen weeks minus any classes that are cancelled for holidays, weather, illness, or anything else. Invariably we lose one class each semester for something.
In teaching the US History to 1865 course I have two class sessions each week for 85 minutes or 170 minutes per week. Multiplied by 16 that is 2720 minutes or 45.33 hours per semester. I have a full course of content just with the course objectives. I love it when people who do not teach try to tell me to add things to the course. What comes out? Everything has to be measured by time and learning factors. If the desired content takes time to present to students in the classroom, then I have to eliminate an equal amount of minutes from that section’s content somewhere. This is why I get a bit irritated with people who think I should teach X when I have a lot to teach already.
At a certain point things get left out. As a historian I hate that because I want to cover everything! However, reality forces me to limit the content so that the students are getting what is needed to meet objectives. There is a lot that goes into designing a course. Everything that is content has to be weighed against the objectives. If something does not meet them, then it is placed into categories. I use several categories. Invariably I end up working with two of them and the others get ignored. I simply do not have time to use those categories. This is why I work with themes in the survey courses. It makes it much easier to select the content and to eliminate what does not fit.
Something I love is how I am expected to do an examination of the US and State constitutions during this class. Now that has to be shoehorned into the course. I know many people that think I should go through the US Constitution in detail. There is a class for that. If people want to explore the Constitution article by article, then go take that course. That is what it is there for. Going through Article I takes more than a class session. Basically, the element of time dictates that a detailed study of the US and Missouri Constitutions is not possible in the survey course. The students are going to learn why the Constitution was created, how it was created, and what it took to get it ratified, but I am not going to go into great depth with a deeper study of the document because I just do not have the time.
I like to use the flipped method of teaching which actually increases the time I have available in each class session. Lecture sucks up time and is really just a repeat of the content. The students need to engage the content and interact with the instructor to cover the parts they need help with. This is a much more time efficient use of the class time, and allows a greater study of the content which just adds to the richness that is history. What I do not like is showing movies in class because that really is a huge time killer. I teach a film class and watching films sucks up far too much time. That is one class where sending the students home with the films would really save a lot of time.
As you can see, time is the most important element in constructing a course. I do use video in my classes, but I seek out short ones that are direct and to the point. I like using clips to add some visual effects to the class such as what we will be working with on Monday. We will be going over Jamestown and that lesson involves tobacco. Students read about planting and harvesting tobacco in this lesson, but most have no idea why it required so much labor. We can also do the same with sugarcane, rice, and cotton as all involved slave labor which is part of the lesson’s theme. I like to use a clip from the History of US that shows tobacco planting and harvesting. A few minutes of video goes a long way in driving home the lesson about the need for labor which then fits in with primary sources where colonists wrote about their work or need for more laborers.
Again, time is important. So for those of you reading this that are not teachers, consider what goes into the design of a course before you tell instructors to add things to it. We already have a long list of stuff we would love to put in our courses. The problem is we just do not have the time to use it so that our students learn it. If it is just file and forget material, what is the point of bothering with it? The content I use is what I hope my students learn about so that they can understand what happened in the past that shaped our present.