By Shiladitya Sen
Over the last few years, I have been experimenting with involving students in the decisions that I make about various elements of my courses. It was, for me, a natural progression from the fact that my class discussions are always heavily mediated by the ideas and interests that students bring to the table. Thus far, my experiences indicate that involving students significantly increases their engagement in the course, conveys the fact that the classroom is a shared space where they have a responsibility to contribute, and makes students much more understanding—and appreciative—of the ways in which the course is designed to cater to their needs while holding them to the required academic standards. Here are a few ways that I have done so, across multiple courses.
My most substantial use of student input in syllabus/reading decisions was in the two World Literature courses that I taught in the English department in the Spring and Fall of 2015. I was certain that I was not going to teach any texts written in the USA or the UK, and that all our readings would be non-English texts, but beyond that I had a gigantic list of possibilities. So, I decided to get the students involved in the decision. After initial introductions and having explained the parameters for the course, I gave students a list of texts broken into six groups (e.g. The Ancient/Classical World; Medieval Europe; Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century). I then had them each pick one text from each group, write the list on a sheet of paper, and give it to me. To facilitate the decisions, I shared a little about the texts and had them look up information online before choosing. Once I had their choices, I simply chose the six texts that got the most votes, added a seventh to round out the list, and we had our readings for the semester.