I’m wrapping up the 2011-12 term this month. One aspect that’s felt luxurious has been my seminar. It’s both been a good class and a small class with under twenty in either term. (Pro tip to faculty wanting to shrink their course sizes: schedule your class for 8:30 on Friday and then have the registrar screw up the listing to suggest it starts at 8:00. You’ll scare all but the determined or the desperate away!)
Next year, the picture is bleak. Due to budget constraints and sabbaticals, we’re offering very few senior seminars: fifteen credits worth (or 2.5 full year options). Students with a concentration in history have to take twelve credits of seminars to graduate while majors only need six. Theoretically, fifteen credits should be enough but not when you factor in the large number of majors and concentrations history attracts. And I don’t even get the scary Friday morning time-slot for my seniors. This fall and winter, I meet my seniors on Wednesday mornings. (Grad students? Prepare for a Friday morning fun-fest!)
The crisis of classes and credits has become personal for me in the looming fall and winter terms. I’m teaching six of those fifteen credits offered in our program: seminars on Tudor Britain in the fall and Stuart Britain in the winter. Having crunched the numbers and chatted with others in the department, I safely expect to see a record-setting enrollment of more than 38, especially since some majors have ambitions of finishing up their 2012-13 coursework in the fall term by taking my seminar in conjunction with another scheduled for the fall. In the winter term, mine will be the only senior seminar into which a student in need of seminar credits can enroll (the other six credits on offer is a fall/winter course): also an enrollment booster!
I’ve told our admin that my ‘hard cap’ is 44. There are twelve weeks in the term and every student needs to make one in-class presentation the way that I run seminars. (I’m not willing to negotiate on the presentation component: I don’t consider it a seminar without students having to prepare and make a formal in-class presentation.) Week one won’t count for those purposes since I can’t get students ready to present before class has begun. So there are only eleven weeks left and I know that I can’t run a good discussion session in a three-hour class and take time for more than four oral presentations. The math is then simple: 4*11=44.
Now I have to come up with 44 presentation topics stretching from Henry VII’s reign through Elizabeth’s (with forays into Scots and Irish history along the way). I’ve used biographies before: these are very easy to generate as topics but also quite easy for students to plagiarize. Nothing demoralizes an educator quite like listening to your senior students read the Wikipedia entry word for word! I don’t want to use articles or monographs for presentation topics: these tend to turn into snooze-fests as most students do little more than summarize the contents.
I’ve toyed with the thought of having the in-class presentations be on historical events but I’m a bit staggered at the thought of coming up with so many topics that I can also equally and usefully distribute across the 1485-1603 period so that we’re not having someone present on an early Tudor topic when the discussion’s all about late Tudor wars! So wish me luck or give me suggestions of the almost four dozen topics I’ll need to nail down for Tudor history presentations before the syllabus goes to the press in late August. Please?