Required vs. Suggested Readings
One thing that I try to do is, as honestly as possible, ask myself what readings are absolutely necessary for students to actively participate in the class session. It can be very tempting to add in those readings that would be nice for them to work through, but that aren’t really necessary. After all, when your steeped in your content, it can be hard to leave out those readings that may explore a nuance of the topic in more depth or a reading that is tangentially related.
I think it’s probably more productive to include the second category of readings as suggested readings. These kinds of readings can provide an entry point for those students who want to go deeper into the content than the required readings. We all know that some students in a given course will always read the suggested readings. An even larger number will probably never read them. Where this can be helpful is to encourage those students in the middle to dive deeper into a particular topic that speaks to them. When they see it as a choice, they may feel more empowered and less “put upon” to go deeper in their learning.
Crowd Sourcing Readings
Another way to approach supplemental readings is through crowd sourcing. In my classes, I often post one or two suggested readings that I think may be interesting to students, but I also encourage them to suggest additional options. This works really well when students can post these directly to the course website if you’re using a collaborative web page tool like a wiki. I’ve also encouraged students to Tweet their suggestions, using a custom hashtag for the course that I provide for them. If I’m not in a position to offer students either of these options, I encourage them to email me. I then add them to the course website myself. I’m always careful to attribute the readings to the students who submit them. This provides them with the credit they deserve for taking the initiative to submit the suggestion.
Thinking Beyond Readings
Oftentimes, students assume that suggestions they submit should be scholarly works. In my field of education, this often equates to peer reviewed journal articles. While this kind of scholarly contribution is great, I think it’s important not to overlook other kinds of resources. Whether it’s a website, an editorial from a major newspaper, a video, or even an interesting infographic, these kinds of resources can provide engaging, valuable contributions as well.
At least for me, the key is sorting out what is most essential for the students to prepare in advance, and then providing options for students to extend their learning.
How do you determine what you should require? And how might you encourage students to offer their own suggestions?
Please add your comment below.