Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Coordinating a series of online reading groups

Since 2009, I have coordinated semester-long online reading groups for students involved in the Haley Scholar Program. The reading groups have typically included approximately 125 students each semester, though in some instances more than 200 students participated. Working with the reading groups has been an incredible learning activity for the students, and me.

We've covered a variety of books, including Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Beautfil Struggle, Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, and Clive Thompson's Smarter Than You Think, and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.

The participating students are not reading the books for a class assignment or grade, so I suspect that some are not reading as diligently as they would in a for-credit course. Nonetheless, I get a variety of indications that large numbers of the students are actively involved in the process. For one, they provide online comments. Second, when I meet them at our Public Thinking Events, they are always excited to engage in conversations covered in the books.

More than the level of participation, I've lately wondered about the kinds of participants the program involves. So far, the participants have primarily been students who are recipients of a partial scholarship on campus. That means the students are usually high achievers who did well enough in high school to qualify for the award. Moving forward, I wonder what approaches we could do to include students who were not initially so successful in school. Wouldn't they benefit from encountering books outside of class as well?

Haley Reading Groups

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