Films, Easter Eggs, and Snow: How to Prepare for Spring Semester

This week I’ve been completing final preparations for spring semester. In New England this necessarily includes planning in some flexibility for the likely weather interruptions. When teaching a course, such as mine, that only meets once a week it’s especially important if you want to avoid make up sessions outside of regular class hours. I learned this the hard way one year when I taught on a Monday in spring. Between holidays and and snow storms my class never met in person until the fourth week of the semester. I was able to shift course content to Blackboard on the fly. But to avoid that anxiety and confusion for both me and my students I simply build in online alternatives right from the start.

For this course I thought it would be fun to include some streaming video options using library resources and the film’s websites, if the filmmakers have authorized a free streaming version of their documentaries. Of course, I wanted to make good choices about which films might be useful and how, so I’ve watched more food-related film over the last couple of weeks than I ever knew existed. My films-to-review list included Food Inc, The Healing Effect, Forks Over Knives, Fresh, Food Matters, The Harvest, The Dark Side of Chocolate, and Super Size Me, among others. Watching all of these films in succession left me feeling ethically (and occasionally physically) uneasy about eating much of anything.

This was especially difficult because two of these films are part of a body of work left behind by my friend U. Roberto Romano whose work I was cataloging for historical preservation before his untimely passing just over a year ago on November 1, 2013. However, I feel like this would have been a gut reaction for others as well. Through this film review process I not only prepared myself for snow days and meaningful course enhancement options, but I also prepared myself for the possibility that this semester’s content might prove emotionally difficult for students. While the former was logistically productive, the latter was by far the more meaningful takeaway. This inspired me to seek out campus resources to produce short video lectures that will contextualize the films and include any trigger alerts that I should share before a screening of the particular film.

Because this is a technology supported course, not a fully hybrid or online class, I also took time to incentivize the students to regularly utilize and explore the site. For the second year in a row, I’ve done this by hiding Easter eggs in the Blackboard course content they’re expected to review in the next couple of weeks. The first student to post a screen shot of the Easter egg in our discussion board gets a prize the next time we meet for class. The rules are that an Easter egg stays in play until a student finds it. But as soon as a prize is claimed it is taken down and a new Easter egg is hidden somewhere on the site that I expect engaged students might find. It’s a game that lasts all semester and adds some competition and comic relief to the class.

With these steps behind me, I finally feel ready for the students to return to campus. I have my films and Easter eggs ready for the snow. And I have my tissue box next to a plush penguin basket filled with an array of hand sanitizers for meetings with students battling winter colds. Bring on spring.

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