Tagged: Fordham University

Spring Breaks, Compared

The middle of March is upon us, and all around the New York area, many college students and faculty are preparing for Spring Break. The break is always welcomed because it “breaks” up the extended slog of the spring term, which usually lasts for four full months.

This semester, I’m teaching at two colleges: at Pratt Institute and at CUNY Queens College. For my film history class at Pratt, I was able to schedule the midterm exam today, on March 11, just before spring break starts on March 14. However, I couldn’t do the same for the students in my media technologies class at Queens College. Their midterm exam will take place on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), but their spring break doesn’t take place until April 28. That is a very late spring break, taking place between the twelfth and thirteenth weeks of class.

Here’s a comparison of spring 2016 semesters at four area colleges where I have worked (Pratt, CUNY, and Fordham) or studied (NYU).

Week NYU Pratt CUNY Fordham
Jan 18 Week 1 Week 1
Jan 25 Week 1 Week 2 Week 2
Feb 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 1 Week 3
Feb 8 Week 3 Week 4 Week 2 Week 4
Feb 15 Week 4 Week 5 Week 3 Week 5
Feb 22 Week 5 Week 6 Week 4 Week 6
Feb 29 Week 6 Week 7 Week 5 Midterm Exam
Mar 7 Midterm Exam Midterm Exam Week 6 Week 8
Mar 14 Spring Break Spring Break Midterm Exam Week 9
Mar 21 Week 8 Week 9 Week 8 Spring Break
Mar 28 Week 9 Week 10 Week 9 Easter Break
Apr 4 Week 10 Week 11 Week 10 Week 10
Apr 11 Week 11 Week 12 Week 11 Week 11
Apr 18 Week 12 Week 13 Week 12 Week 12
Apr 25 Week 13 Week 14 Spring Break Week 13
May 2 Week 14 Studio Days Week 13 Week 14
May 9 Reading Day Final Exam Week 14 Final Exam
May 16 Final Exam ?
May 23 Final Exam

NYU and Pratt both schedule their spring breaks in the middle of March, just after Week 7 at NYU and Week 8 at Pratt. That’s ideal because you can schedule a Midterm Exam the week before and have it wrap up the first half of the course. Fordham schedules their spring break a week later but, because it’s a Jesuit university, it adds an additional Easter Break. For some reason, Fordham dictates that faculty schedule their Midterm Exams in late February. Whereas courses at NYU and at Pratt are divided into halves, the semester at Fordham is broken up into (unequal) thirds: before the midterm, between the midterm and breaks, and after the breaks.

The CUNY schedule, on the other hand, is a mess. As I’ve complained in the past, CUNY should stop scheduling spring break around the spring Easter/Passover holidays because it’s not conducive to learning. My students will endure twelve consecutive weeks of class before they get a break. Once the break is over and they will have emptied their minds of everything I taught them, they will have only two weeks to recover that knowledge before heading into the final exam. Moreover, the students in my class will also bear an additional burden: our final exam is scheduled for two weeks after our last class, despite Finals Week starting on the week of May 16.

My own undergraduate experience was quite different from that of these students. My university was on the quarter system, and spring break was the week between the winter and spring quarters. Once we finished our winter-quarter, final exams in late-March, we were off until classes started again in early April.

It was a true spring break.

Three Things to Tell Students on Day One

With the spring semester having already started this week, it was an opportune time to consider what to tell students on the first day of class. Many teachers use the first meeting to pitch the course to students and explain to them what to expect throughout the semester. Each instructor will enforce a different set of policies, require a different set of books, and assign their own assignments. As Fordham students take about four to five courses each semester, it can be an overwhelming amount of information to process this early in the term.

In the past year, I’ve simplified what I tell my students on the first day of class. Instead of reviewing the syllabus, which can be quite long, I try to answer the three most pressing questions students might have about the course. Based on my observations as a teacher and my own experience as a student, I have found that students are most interested in three things on day one:

  1. They want to know what books they need to buy. They are interested in where to get them, and how much it is going to cost them. I tell them to use their Internet skills to find the books. I don’t care if they get ebook versions, although I warn them against the Coursesmart titles because those are functionally terrible and are far too expensive. I also don’t care if they get the books from somewhere other than the campus bookstore because those are usually run by awful companies.
  2. They want to know what topics we will be covering. I usually start with a one-sentence version of the course description and then list a few major themes we will be covering. For example, this semester’s electronic media course covers three media: radio, television, and digital. I then summarize the course schedule and show how we will cover each media and, ultimately, how they converge.
  3. They want to know about the assignments and the exams. How intense is the workload for this course? Will there be weekly assignments or just a few big ones? How many papers will there be and how long are those papers? To address their concerns about the exams, I usually give students sample questions from the final exam.

In addition to review these three topics on the first day of class, I also format the main navigation area of each course website, such as this one to include the books, the weekly topics, and the assignments and exams. It hopefully keeps things simple and also helps students decide whether my course is for them.

My Spring 2015 Classes at Fordham

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not until next week and it’s 20° F outside, we’ve already started classes for the “spring” semester at Fordham. (Yes, it seems much too early to me, too.) Since my two classes there already met, I am lifting my self-imposed embargo on promoting them.1

Introduction to Electronic Media

I have taught this course five times since 2007. Despite its odd and possibly antiquated title—after all, what media isn’t electronic these days?—it is one of my favorite classes because we get to explore radio, television, and digital media with a reasonable amount of depth. It’s nice to spend several weeks to explain some nuanced concepts from these media with some detail. For someone who does a lot of survey classes, it is a rare luxury not to feel so rushed when I want to explain radio frequency allocations, dayparts, and why computers use hexadecimal numbers to undergraduate students… or anyone who will listen.

The class meets on Wednesday mornings, 8:30–11:15 AM.

Introduction to New Media

This course will someday be the foundation of a digital/participatory media concentration in Fordham’s Communication and Media Studies undergraduate major, but for now, the curriculum is still developing. As a result, the department has given me free reign over this introduction to studying digital media. However, one of my issues with a lot of digital media scholarship is that, at least to me, it resembles science fiction. I’d rather confront social and cultural issues in digital media from either a historical or contemporary perspective. Instead of poring over heavily theoretical works in an introductory class, I am relying more on texts that explain a cultural issue, such as how young people use social media, to give students an understanding of digital media with some concrete data and examples.

As I tell students on the first day of class, it’s a graduate-style class for undergraduate students.

The class meets on Tuesday afternoons, 2:30–5:15 PM.

  1. This “self-imposed embargo” was because I had not finished my syllabi until early this week. 

Adjunct Teaching: Procrastinate or Else

Earlier this summer, low enrollment cancelled two of my courses at Fordham. I was slated to teach two new offerings, The Broadcast Industry and Digital Media and Cyberculture. The two were so new that no one had taught them at Fordham before, which is probably why students didn’t enroll and the class was cancelled. I had kept thinking about materials for these courses in the back of my mind, but I never prepared a syllabus or ordered textbooks. I learned a some time ago that, because your course can be cancelled due to low enrollment, you have to be prepared to trash a syllabus you worked on over the summer. It’s better to wait until August to create that syllabus.

After the classes were cancelled I was assigned to teach TV News and Today’s World, a stalwart course of the undergraduate curriculum that I’ve never done before. A few weeks later, I was asked to fill in for a professor on medical leave and cover his Introduction to Media Industries. I was happy to do that because this is a course I’ve done many times, as recently as this past spring. I went from having two courses to zero, and then back to two. In addition, another professor was granted some course relief (sounds nice, doesn’t it?), and I was asked to cover his Introduction to Electronic Media course. Because I consider him a friend and because I have also done this course in the past, as recently as the Sandy-shortened semester of Fall 2012, I happily took the course, provided I was relieved of TV News and Today’s World.

That’s exactly what happened. At the beginning of the summer, I dreaded the thought of creating two new syllabi for courses I’ve never taught before. That’s a lot of work to do over the summer, and I was even preparing to ask for a raise when I went in to sign my contract. I was also anxious about the new courses because I suck at doing a class the first time around, or at least it feels that way to me. But then they were cancelled. With these personnel issues that arose over the summer, and that our department chair had to handle, I was able to not only substitute for two full-timers who couldn’t teach their courses, helping out the department with crucial staffing issues, but my overall workload will be much easier with these tried-and-true courses.

Sometimes, it pays to procrastinate.

Going Asynchronous: Recording a Final Exam Review

This winter, we had more winter storms than usual and consequently, some schools closed. Now that the spring is here and the end of the semester is upon us, those same schools have added days to make up for those closings.

At Fordham, my New Media class was cancelled twice due to the snow storms, and the college added a makeup day. However, as I am a part-time instructor, I have other jobs, and I am not able to miss a shift, where I do get paid, for a make-up class, where I don’t get compensated.

Even with the winter storm closings, we had covered all of the material I planned to cover. As a final class, I recorded a Final Review where I summarized the material for our final exam. I shot the video using a Canon EOS M, a portable mirrorless SLR-quality camera, with a 22-mm f/2 pancake lens. I used a small Slik tabletop tripod, similar to this one to stablize the camera on an adjacent desk. Since I don’t have a shotgun mic so I used the built-in microphone, which is why the sound quality is sub-optimal.

The final review was simple: I summarized all of the readings and material we covered in the second half of the course. It took about forty-five minutes to record the review, including a few retakes. I edited the video using iMovie and inserted a few images to illustrate a few of the concepts and to give viewers a break from looking at me the entire time. The edited video was just over twenty-five minutes. That was a little longer than I had planned, but I didn’t have the time or the skill to cut the parts where I ramble on. Also, I was trying to minimize the agony of watching myself on video. I did add section titles to break up the video into more managable segments so students can take a break and come back later.

Update: The video is now available on YouTube.

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More Ice than Snow

I was all set to lecture this morning on the telegraph for my Introduction to New Media class, a topic that Communication and Media Studies students study a lot, but then we got another storm today. If I’m counting correctly, that makes this the fourth winter storm this year.

By the way, if you ever noticed that New York City has almost no overhead utility lines, it’s because they caused havoc during the Blizzard of 1888.

This storm is a different than the previous two as it brings with it wintry mix. As lovely as it sounds, wintry mix should be renamed winty misery. You’re going to get wet, the streets are essentially covered in slush, and as soon as the slush hits the ground, it freezes to create ice. And ice makes travel a dangerous enterprise.

Consequently, my morning class at Fordham University, Lincoln Center was cancelled. As my only scheduled commitment today, I’m turning it into a GTD day.

But what about my other colleges?

  1. Queens College is defying the weather gods and is open all day.
  2. Pratt opened late, at noon, allowing the sanitation department to clear the roads.
  3. NYU opened late at 11:00 AM to similarly let things clear up.

I don’t understand what factors schools consider when closing due to a storm, as there seems to be little consistency, but apparently New York City public schools consider snow accumulation, temperature and windchill.

My Fordham Semester Has Sprung

IMG 1073

Springtime at Fordham University, Lincoln Center.

Another semester begins this week at Fordham University, Lincoln Center and with it, I’m making available the syllabi for the two classes I’m teaching there this semester.

Introduction to Media Industries

This course is an overview of the mass media communication industries, including print, electronic, and digital media. We will examine the institutional, social and technological histories of these media, the influence of economic factors in shaping content, and issues surrounding regulatory policy. I like to give special emphasis to the media’s role in society, the concentration of ownership, the impact of new communication technologies, and increasing convergence of particular media.

This course meets on Thursday evenings, 6:00 – 8:45 PM.

Introduction to New Media

This course examines the cultural impact of new digital technologies such as the Internet, telephonic communication, and audiovisual media. We will survey the origins of digital communication and the Internet and engage closely with contemporary the work of seven contemporary on the impact and effects digital technologies, the Internet, the institutions that control these technologies.

This course meets on Wednesday mornings, 8:30 – 11:15 AM.

LMS No More

This semester I swore off all learning management systems (LMS) for my classes. The biggest reason was out of self-interest because I am teaching four classes at three colleges and mastering a different LMS for each is a huge pain. Don’t believe me. Let’s take a look:

College Learning Management System Version
CUNY Queens College Blackboard 9.1.70081.25
Fordham Blackboard 9.1.110082.0
Pratt Institute Moodle 2.5.2, I think

Each also has a very idiosyncratic way of logging in. With Fordham, I just use my single sign-on, and I’m usually in. However, with CUNY, I have to login twice using the same credentials and then select Blackboard, after I tried to login to Blackboard.

It’s also hard to brush up with each individual platform because you often don’t even know if you’re going even to teach the class as colleges cancel classes at the last minute. This is one of the cruel realities of part-time teaching: it really discourages advance preparation, and many of us don’t bother with it until just before the start of the semester.

Another reason for abandoning the learning management systems is that each one was recently updated. Let’s face it, none of these learning management systems were going to be easier to use than the previous version. In fact, you can bet that each iteration adds a number of new complex features for the IT department purchasing the upgrade, at the expense of usability for the teacher and students. No, thank you.

Can you tell me where to stick my syllabus?

Can you tell me where to stick my syllabus?

How is an overworked teacher supposed to function without an LMS? Am I helpless like those teachers at Springfield Elementary when the students stole the Teachers’ Editions? No, I just roll things back to the days of web 1.0.

Static HTML syllabus

After a year of testing, I’m bringing back the static HTML syllabus. For example, my Media Technologies class has one with a pretty easy-to-remember web address: http://juanmonroy.com/mediatechnologies. I wrote the whole thing in Markdown and then exported it to HTML using Byword or Marked, depending on my mood at the time, which I then uploaded with the help of BBEdit. On the syllabus, there’s links to resources, such as:

  • textbooks
  • reserve readings, available as PDF.[1]
  • screenings
  • lecture outlines
  • slides

If you want to print the syllabus, there’s a print.css stylesheet that will render a printer-friendly version. (I told you this was really old stuff.)

Spreadsheet Gradebook

On my own computer I keep a gradebook in Numbers. You can do the same with Excel, Google Docs, and Open Office. Blackboard never had a good way of taking attendance so I’ve had to do this anyway. Moodle offers its own attendance module, but sheesh, it’s way easier to use an old paper attendance sheet than to decipher one of ten “attendance codes.”

In any case, calculating scores by spreadsheet is not the easiest thing in the world. I know most people use spreadsheets like a database to store lists and such, or to add and subtract simple values. However, a long time ago, a former boss of mine taught me Excel functions with weird names like VLOOKUP, LEFT, LEN, MIN, and SUMIF. Things really get fun when you nest functions inside others, and with those lessons from 1996, I calculate student’s grades in 2013.

Weening yourself off an LMS might not be the easiest thing. I am really pushing the limits of what I know about HTML, CSS, and spreadsheet functions. But I know that fighting bloatware is a cause I’m prepared to support.

  1. To avoid the ire of publishers, I use HTTPD Auth with a single username and password for everyone in the course.  ↩

Introduction to New Media, Fall 2013, Syllabus

The syllabus for Introduction to New Media, at Fordham University, Lincoln Center, is now available on my professional website.

From the course description:

This course examines the cultural impact of new digital technologies such as the Internet and new telephonic and audiovisual media. We will survey the origins of digital communication and the Internet and engage closely with contemporary scholarship on digital technologies, the Internet, the institutions that control these technologies.

In preparation for this course, I wrote the class last week alerting them to a few important points before we get started:

  • This is a "graduate-style, undergraduate course." The class is small and the material is open-ended so we’ll run it like a seminar.
  • We are not using Blackboard this semester. Its most recent "update" has the responsiveness of a 100-year-old tortoise. I’m done with it.
  • I didn’t provide the bookstore with a list if books because I expect us to change our plan somewhat as the course progresses.
  • Students will contribute to the "design" of this course throughout the fall as much as I did when I outlined a plan in August.

The class begins on Tuesday, September 3.

Writing Syllabi in the Summer

Although Labor Day isn’t for another seven days, for all intents and purposes, summer is over. I usually try to get my syllabi done in early August, but I haven’t been especially motivated lately, especially since I’ve taught these classes before. I didn’t start reviewing the syllabi until last week, and I even posted one for this semester’s Introduction to Electronic Media and that class that was ultimately cancelled on Friday.

After getting that bit of bad news, I lost whatever slim motivation I had developed last week. I took the weekend off and started reviewing my unfinished syllabi today. Since it’s a bit late in the game here, I did a little triage to figure out which classes to prioritize, and, in doing so, I figured out that I have a “soft landing” at the beginning of the semester.

Course College Start Date Enrollment
Introduction to Electronic Media Fordham University August 28[1] 3
Experimental Film Pratt Institute August 29 14
American Film Industry CUNY Queens College September 3[2] 9
Introduction to New Media Fordham University September 3 19
Media Technologies CUNY Queens College September 9 27

As you can see, my classes start over the course of three weeks. And with one already cancelled and one in danger of being cancelled, I start one class each of the next three weeks, giving me a bit of time in finishing each of these syllabi. It could get complicated if Queens College runs American Film Industry. The course had six students enrolled on Thursday, when I learned it was in danger of being cancelled, but it now has nine students. I’m not sure if that’s enough to spare the course. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I am not updating another syllabus only to have the class cancelled.

It’s not easy to write syllabi in the summer…especially when there might not even be a class.

  1. This class was cancelled on August 23, due to low enrollment.  ↩
  2. This class is in danger of being cancelled due to low enrollment.  ↩