Textbooks, Jellybeans, and The Great Grape Show!

I am finishing up my classes for this semester today, and starting to plan for next semester.  This means lots of 12-hour work days and paperwork followed by a short one week break, and then it’s onto yet another incarnation of Miss Jane’s Professional Wine Studies Class.  This year marks my seventeenth year as a wine educator!

I always like to have everything “locked and loaded” on my class website well before the start of the semester, so I have been busy designing some new in-class exercises and assessments for next block. 

Somehow the calendar worked out so that there is an extra class day in my semester next block, and I have decided to fill  it with some in-depth study of  grape varieties.  I am even going to bring back the Jelly Belly Wine Bar, for those of you old enough to remember that bit of genius. On a more serious note, my text book has some excellent materials on the different grape varieties, and with 4,000 of them out there, it’s a lot to know. Oh yeah, it’s going to be The Great Grape Show.

One of the never-ending challenges of teaching college is trying to motivate your students to actually read the textbook before class.  Students get so much more out of class discussions, activities, and lectures if they are even just a little bit familiar with the subject before we begin. Reading the book before class enables a student to engage in active learning while in class, rather just staying in “listen and doodle” mode.

Over the years I’ve tried many things to try to motivate my students to read the text, and have heard every excuse in the book.  “It’s boring!” really failed to earn my sympathy, and “But I don’t need to read the book because you teach it so well” at least make me chuckle. Homework assignments straight from the book are effective, but these days I am trying to focus on bringing the learning process into the classroom instead of leaving it at home.

Recently, I  have had some real success with a pre-class requirement.  Not so much a homework assignment as a sort of “entry ticket” to class.  (Remember…class holds the promise of a Jelly Belly Wine Bar.)

To earn this “Get Into Class Free Card” students are asked to do some reading and  take a short on-line quiz before they are allowed in class.  It sounds cruel, but I try to make it kind…the whole deal should only take about 30 minutes. They even get a reminder email from me if they haven’t completed it by the day before class.  Students know to come to class with a print out of the quiz, and I keep the classroom door closed until one minute before class.  We position a “bouncer” (student worker) to collect the tickets at the door, and then it’s showtime!

So far, it has been working..and the Jelly Bellies are a big hit!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.