Things I Know 215 of 365: I did some (course) shopping

We used to build civilizations.  Now we build shopping malls.

– Bill Bryson

Rather than jumping directly into registration, HGSE does something called course shopping in the days leading up to enrollment.

Each professor teaching a course in the fall hosts a 40-minute introductory session of the course in which syllabi are handed out and general questions are answered.

Though I was fairly certain I knew which courses I’d be taking this semester, course shopping was an invaluable experience.

For one, it eliminated the feeling of walking blindly into the whole process. One of the questions I asked of exiting students last semester during the open house was about the pedagogy of the professors on the whole.

I was told then (and rightly so) that pedagogical approaches varied as professors varied and that I would get a better idea from course shopping.

It’s quite true.

Initially, I thought this interest in pedagogy came from my identification as a teacher. I’m starting to see it comes from a different place. My questions and concerns around pedagogy rest in my needs as a student.

I wanted to know how my professors would be teaching and what they believed about classroom practice not because I was measuring them up as fellow teachers, but because I will be learning from them and wanted assurances of how they would see and treat me as a student.

This marks not only a shift in identity, but a better understanding of the agency which I am afforded as a graduate student.

I’d love to see course shopping in middle and high school classrooms. I’m curious as to how it would shift teaching practice if teachers were teaching students who chose to be in their classrooms and if students were in seats they’d chosen for themselves.

I’d venture to guess the naked emperors in the profession would be swiftly identified.

At the end of the day, I wanted to enroll in every class I shopped. To head off being overwhelmed by decisions, I stopped shopping once I’d built a schedule that was balanced and could meet my needs. I’ve got a course that will push me in uncomfortable intellectual places, a course that will wake up my math brain, a course that will invite deep debate and a course that will ask me to invest in new habits of mind.

In chronological order, my schedule will be:

Monday 4-7: A-341 Supporting Teachers for Instructional Improvement w/ Professor Richard Elmore

Tuesday/Thursday 11:30-1: S-012 Empirical Methods: Introduction to Statistics for Research w/ Professor Terry Tivnan

Tuesday 4-7: A-326 School Reform: Curricular and Instructional Leadership w/ Professor Katherine Merseth

Wednesday 2-4 (w/ weekly 90-min. sections): A-107 The Ecology of Education: Culture, Communities and Change in Schools w/ Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

And, it should go without saying, any times not listed above will be spent in a corner, reading for those courses.

8 thoughts on “Things I Know 215 of 365: I did some (course) shopping

  1. What an amazing opportunity to learn from, at least, Elmore and Lawrence-Lightfoot (the other two are unknown to me, but probably great as well).Course shopping is nice. I've been thinking that it would also be great if professors were required to create a 2-minute “commercial” about their course that students can watch before setting schedules.

  2. 'In local, public education, we accomplish a sort of “teacher shopping” by talking to other parents. This is a flawed system, but it's the best we have. “Course shopping” isn't available because there are not enough courses & teachers to allow such choice, or so we are told. Let's face it – most people and systems KNOW the naked emperors, but the administrators don't, won't or can't do what it takes to get them out of the classrooms. So what do we parents resort to? SCHOOL SYSTEM SHOPPING – if we have enough initiative, anger, desire, vision, and/or courage. It ain't pretty, but it's becoming more and more common.

  3. Undergrads at Bard College (best school in the world IMHO) are required to call, email or meet with a professor before enrolling in a course. That experience alone is more educational than many classroom experiences.I'm anxious to learn what you think of Richard Elmore. I'm a tad bit suspicious of his work, but find myself colliding with clients (particularly overseas) who love him.I agree with Professor Becker, Sara Lawrence-Lightfood should be great.So, how does this whole MA thing work there? Are there required courses?

    • Ah, there's the question.There are no specifically required courses. We are required to take 5 A or S courses from within the Ed School. The program requires one course each from the policy, research and evaluation, and leadership/management strands. That leaves 3 courses from anywhere else. (The program recommends we take no more than 4 courses per semester.)This semester, I'm taking all courses in the Ed School, but I hope to take a class at either MIT or the Kennedy School in the spring.The curriculum for the program is listed here: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/aca

  4. One more thing, one would think that the free-market capitalists leading so many “education reform” efforts would embrace true market-based teacher accountability.Allow students to vote with their feet when selecting classes, including choosing the teacher of that course. There will be faculty with no students. Therefore, problem solved.

    • With such a policy, it would become apparent at all levels of education whose classes were most effective, wouldn't it? Or maybe whose classes were LEAST effective and easiest. It would be interesting to see how the dynamic played out.

  5. And another thing…When I hear the term “shopping mall high school” used derisively, I think, “Thank God I went to a shopping mall high school!”Had I not been able to schedule two or three music classes per day every day for four years, I would have blown my brains out as a high school student. Block scheduling with 3/4 of all math teachers would have made an excruciating ordeal even more torturous.I needed to be able to choose learning opportunities suited to me.

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