Student grades are in and its time to evaluate on my survey course for Asian religious traditions. These blog posts began as a project for the Summer Training Institute for Associates, but ended up becoming a valuable tool for me to reflect on numerous aspects of my course (all of the hyperlinks here link to my original blog posts).
The Good: The biggest issue I wanted to address from the last time I taught this course was to provide students with a better framework for creative comparisons between traditions. I also wanted these comparative lenses to form the basis of a writing assignment which asked them to analyze, evaluate, and ultimately to creatively engage the material.
This issue was addressed through a careful progression of assignments. Daily readings were combined with podcasts on selected “threshold concepts” of which students had to write about daily. Daily lectures, classroom activities, and various lecture materials all reinforced the basic content and asked the students to challenge their assumptions about what constitutes a “religion.” Regular, low-stakes assessment was done through online quizzes (which saved time in class and some time on grading).
The final writing assignment was divided into stages as well. For the final product I wanted the students to craft and defend a definition of “religion” solely based on the traditions we covered in class. They were required to draft a partial argument for the midterm exam, which was peer-reviewed and given audio commentary by myself.
Overall, I was pleased with the “chances” I took with podcasts, threshold concepts, and online quizzes. I also feel several students stepped up to the final writing project and crafted creative and sometimes challenging definitions of religion from the Asian tradition perspective.
The Bad: Student participation attrition was evident by the last few classes, making me reconsider the practice of cold-calling. I received positive feedback on the group activities, which certainly expanded participation by several students, thus I will continue to expand on these (as long as I can make them central to class content or progress the dialogue I wish to maintain). Overall I am still looking for techniques to maintain engagement throughout the term.
Perhaps the biggest remaining issue (which I have not discussed here previously) is that of selecting effective readings. There is no introductory textbook to Eastern/Asian religions that I find effective for the direction I want to take my class. I used the fourth edition of World Religion: Eastern Traditions edited by Oxtoby, Amore, and Hussain (2014), but find it does no go into the depth I would like and covers much terrain that I cannot fit into my course (UCSB terms are only ten weeks long). To supplement the textbook I use the primary sources compiled by the prestigious Columbia anthologies Sources of Indian Traditions, Sources of Chinese Traditions, and Sources of Japanese Traditions. I am selective in choosing what my students read since these anthologies are fairly expansive. I have come to find that being more selective is the key to active student engagement.
Overall, I will continue to look for readings that cover the range of topics I find important and to continue to seeks avenues of active student engagement.
I now transition into teaching composition and rhetoric, and will continue to update this blog on these ventures.