Yesterday afternoon one of my SPAN 232 TAs stopped by my office to pass along some student feedback on the course. As is always the case, some feedback is very useful and I can act upon it, but not all. Here are the main points that I will tackle for next semester.
Problem: Some students don't feel they benefit from doing the diarios digitales (students speak into a web cam for five minutes to reflect on a specific topic related to their community service learning, record it, and turn it in to the instructor).
Solution: Create a lesson plan so that students can discover that in this course we work on the four skills--reading, writing, speaking and oral comprehension--and why. Some students suggested doing oral exams instead of the diarios digitales. The diarios digitales are oral exams. I have successful course materials that walk students through the basic tenets of community-based learning, the 5 C's of foreign language learning, and now I will add something about the four skills in language learning and relate the various course components (including the diarios digitales) to them.
Problem: Some students had trouble posting their diarios digitales to YouTube.
Solution: This semester was the first time we used YouTube to turn in the diarios digitales so I'm not surprised that there were problems. We documented the most frequent problems/solutions (many thanks to Marcos Campillo for his help with that!), but that obviously wasn't enough. I will contact our tech department to see if we can set up an orientation session about posting to YouTube and/or a help desk or office hours for students who have trouble posting.
Problem: Some community partners asked students to use English all the time, thus defeating the "mutually beneficial" relationship between students and community partners.
Solution: Students are in the class to learn Spanish and thus need to speak Spanish during their community service learning. Not all the time, but certainly not never. This happened with a new community partner, so again, this is a case of working out the kinks in something new. In this school, I communicated with the volunteer director, but not directly with the teachers. I can't take up the teachers' valuable time, but I will come up with a brochure that the volunteer director can give to all participating teachers. The brochure will include a brief explanation of community service learning, including the benefit that my students need to get from our relationship. I will also try to include examples of how other teachers have used the students to their own benefit in their classrooms.
Problem: Some students use only English because the Spanish-speakers they work with switch to English.
Solution: Again, I'll create brief course materials on this. It is true: when someone switches to English on you, your self-confidence falls to the floor. The important thing is keep going with Spanish. Or simply state that you'd like to speak Spanish. Some students are capable of doing that on their own, others obviously need a little push.
Problem: Some students aren't really engaged in their community service work. They sign up for the course simply because they need a Spanish class, any Spanish class, and they treat their work in the community as if it were just a homework assignment.
Solution: Honestly, I don't know how to solve this one. Even if I could have a very tough pre-screening process, how do you really know how students will perform? And students who take the class without strong convictions from the beginning often end up performing great in the class and in the community. Right now, I give students lots of information ahead of time about the course. I send them e-mails after they have registered for the course. The Spanish advisor screens the students. I'm not sure what else to do about it.