Sunday, March 29, 2015

Waiting List Procedures

Since I just now sent around the email for the Fall enrollment special permissions, I thought I should write something up here about the waiting list system I use for my classes. It's something I have to run manually since the waiting list at our enrollment system (Ozone.ou.edu) is really terrible; instead of supporting my own waiting list procedure, it actually gets in the way (more about that below). So, here is the scoop on my waiting list:

WHY. Why do I need a waiting list? Because there are not enough online courses at my school, that's why! My courses fill up really fast, as do the other online courses, especially the General Education courses. Every semester I enroll 90-100 students in my classes, I usually have at least 40 students (or more) that I had to turn away. So, I keep a list and then offer enrollment permissions to those students the next semester. I also keep a list of sophomores who want to enroll; because of the demand for upper-division Gen. Ed. online, I am not allowed to enroll any sophomores, but I keep track of the sophomores who contact me so that I can offer them a chance to enroll when they do become juniors. As students contact me during the actual enrollment period, I also want to be able to save space for students with special needs who really do need the flexibility online class: expectant mothers, people who unexpectedly have to move out of state, anyone managing a complicated medical situation, etc. In addition, I try to accommodate anyone who is seeking to graduate that semester (although I can only do that when students contact me early; if they wait until their enrollment window opens, it's usually too late).

HOW. The way I run the waiting list so that I can accommodate the students on the list is that there is open enrollment for 50 students total across both my classes, and then I spend enroll an additional 40-50 students with permissions to enroll in the course even after it is closed. I think that is a really good solution: it allows for half the students to enroll via the regular system (in which athletes and National Merit Scholars get to go first in the enrollment pre-week, then seniors in the first week of enrollment, and then juniors the week after that), while allowing me to manage the enrollment for the other half of the class, accommodating students who make the extra effort to get in touch with me because of their interest/need for the class.

"OFFICIAL" WAITING LIST. Unfortunately, my school also has a waiting list system built into the regular enrollment system but it does not fit with my system at all. It is designed for instructors who do not get involved in enrollment at all and instead prefer to let everything happen automatically. In the official system, after a class is full, students can put their name on a list and then, if anyone drops, the slot is filled by someone from the waiting list, I guess based on how long they have been on the list. For my classes, this won't work: once my classes fill, no slot ever opens up because of all the special permissions I've issued. That means anyone who signs up for the official waiting list is doomed! So, I check the waiting list manually once a week to make sure I contact the students myself to explain how my waiting list system works. At that time, I ask them about whether they are graduating that semester or not, have any special needs I should know about, etc. This is a really awful process because I cannot remove people from the waiting list after I have merged them into my process and there is no way to see how is new to the list: ugh. Of all the tasks listed here, this is the one that is totally and utterly frustrating. I asked the Registration office if the automated waiting list option could just be disabled for my classes, but apparently that is not possible.

THE SPREADSHEET. To manage this system, I use a spreadsheet. As people contact me, I write them back and explain how things stand, and I label their email "Waiting List." Then, periodically (once a week during enrollment season), I transfer the email address and other details from the email to the spreadsheet and remove the "Waiting List" label. I send out one mass email at the beginning of the enrollment season to everybody remaining on the list from last semester to see who wants to enroll this semester or stay on the list for a future semester; I delete anyone who doesn't write me back. I then use this spreadsheet to manage the enrollment process, collecting their OU ID numbers and issuing the full-class permissions. There is no easy way to keep track of which permissions are used in our enrollment system, so I also use the spreadsheet to keep track of the permissions that I have issued, checking to see who has enrolled and who hasn't enrolled (I guess that is just too complicated for our multimillion-dollar student enrollment system to manage...). As people enroll in the class, I delete them from the spreadsheet completely.

General Observations. It's not a perfect system, but it's what I have developed after teaching these classes (and, sadly, turning away students) for 10+ years. It actually used to be so much better when we had the old enrollment system. In the old system, each class was automatically linked to a webpage of your choice, so I was able to share lots and lots of information about the classes, including information about the waiting list, with prospective students. Admittedly, most faculty did not use that feature, but I sure did, linking to the course homepage and prominently featuring information about the waiting list on that page. Well, that feature disappeared when we bought the Sungard/Banner student information system that we now use, branded Ozone.ou.edu. In Ozone, there is no way for students to know anything about the courses beyond the instructor's name and the generic catalog description; no links allowed. As a result, it takes real personal initiative on their part to look up my email address and write me. Of course, that just makes me more committed to my waiting list system: if a student shows the initiative to get in touch with me that way, I definitely want to try to help them if I can!

I guess if you add it up, I spend about 10 hours per semester on enrollment-related issues. That's not too bad really, and it's worth it when I am able to help a student who is really eager to take the class, for whatever reason. I don't want their hopes to be frustrated! :-)




Spe expecto. I wait with hope.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Indian Epics UnTextbook: BIG Reorganization of the Class

I've been working hard on building the book list of possibilities for the Indian Epics UnTextbook, hoping for student feedback: Indian Epics UnTextbook Book List. I've also got a Pinterest Board going too, of course!


There are 50 books there now, although some books can be used for multiple units, so the number of possible units is quite large, and I already have 16 units available from the Indian section of the Myth-Folklore class. So, an abundance of material: no worries there!

And here is the big revelation that I had just today about how to REORGANIZE the weekly readings in a way that will help students better manage the "flow" of readings in the class so that the overall purpose and design of the reading will make more sense to them. I am really excited about that because, to be honest, I was kind of worried about how that was going to work. Unlike the Myth-Folklore class, this course does have an overarching structure, instead of completely free-standing weekly units. So that makes the flow from week to week really important.

In the current model, the first half of the semester is focused on the Ramayana (Weeks 2-7) and the second half is focused on the Mahabharata (Weeks 9-14). That made sense when I first designed this class ten years ago, relying on mass paperback translations of the epics. It worked okay, but it was not great. Pretty much all the students love the Ramayana, so starting out with the Ramayana first made sense, but some students did get tired of the Ramayana after that first half of the semester. Worse, many students just did not get into the Mahabharata at all, coming in the second half of the semester when burn-out and senioritis can be intense (most of the students I teach are graduating seniors).

So, here is the revelation: I will still divide the class into halves, but the first half of the semester will cover both epics, and then the second half of the semester will be all free choice, based on what the students decided was of interest to them as a result of the readings in the first half of the semester. This way the students will get a fair chance at both epics, and they will also have a much better basis on which to make their reading choices in the second half of the semester. Having total freedom in the second half of the semester should also be a big help in combating senioritis and burn-out!

This is how it will work:

Weeks 2-3-4. Ramayana. We will start off reading a two-week version of the Ramayana, either the prose version by Narayan (for students who prefer traditional paperback book) OR a two-week prose version by Sister Nivedita OR a two-week version in English verse by Romesh Dutt. Update: I'm writing the two-week version myself as an anthology! Then, for Week 4, students will choose a one-week version of the Ramayana to follow up and reinforce what they learned from the first version: there is the animated film by Nina Paley, along with versions of the Ramayana that can be read in one week by Gould, Oman, Wilson, Monro, Mackenzie, or Kincaid.

Weeks 5-6-7. Mahabharata. We will start off reading a two-week version of the Mahabharata: once again, that can be the prose version by Narayan (for students who prefer a printed book) OR the two-week anthology that I prepare. Then, for Week 7, students will choose a one-week version of the Mahabharata to follow up and reinforce what they learned from the first version: that would either be the Wilson version or the Monro version, or spending one week on the Bhagavad-Gita, or one week on Nala and Damayanti (Mackenzie version) or one week on the story of Savitri (I would probably pull the Savitri unit together from a couple of different sources).

Then, in the second half of the semester, it would be all free choice from a huge variety of sources.

EPICS. For students who really are enjoying the epics, there would be lots of Ramayana and Mahabharata reading that they can do (with reading units that are one, two, three or four weeks in length). They would at that point be able to CHOOSE which epic they want to focus on, based on what they learned in the first half of the semester. I have lots of good reading options online for both epics, along with the two paperback books by Buck which I have ordered in the past and will continue to order so that students who do prefer a printed book can have one.

HINDUISM. I have some great reading units lined up for students who are interested in the gods and goddesses along with the heroes and heroines of the Indian tradition, some of whom they will have encountered (if only briefly) in the epics. I am especially excited about the materials related to the life of Krishna!

BUDDHISM. I have some good reading units on the life of the Buddha, along with the amazing Jataka storytelling tradition.

FOLKTALES. Finally, I have an enormous collection of Indian folktales and fairy tales which are also available for students to read. My guess is that the students who just are not into the epics at all might spend the second half of the semester reading these types of stories, and that would be fine with me! Many students are in my class because they need a Gen. Ed. Non-Western credit, not because of any interest in the epics. So, if they decide they want to spend the semester reading Indian folklore, that would be great — plus, they will have a much better understanding of the cultural context of those stories after reading the epics, as the gods and goddesses often make appearances in the stories, along with allusions to the characters and events of the epics, etc.

So, overall, I am REALLY pleased with this reorganization: it's much more flexible, and it will also "show" students in the design itself just how the class is laid out, helping them to learn more and more about the Indian storytelling tradition each week. Best of all, as they learn more, they will be able to make better and better choices about just what they want to read as they continue broadening/deepening their knowledge all semester long.

Next Step: I need to go through this model and come up with a minimum set of materials that I need to have prepared in advance to launch this new model in the Fall. That will be fun: I am so excited about all of this!

Bring on the stories!!!!!!!