Chocolate class by the numbers

Image courtesy of Paul Coles

The spring semester has ended, and so has the adventure that has consumed my thoughts and energies over the past few months. The course African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, or, to use my students’ more efficient moniker, “Chocolate,” is now complete. I learned a great deal through teaching Team Chocolate (aka The Chocolate Army, aka the wicked smahties), some of which I hope to share as I reflect on the class this summer and tweak it for next spring’s iteration.

Many have inquired about the logistics of the class, so here is a basic data summary.

Note: most figures approximate

175 students (estimated enrollment by registrar: 16 – whomp!).
25 lectures (25 hours), including 5 guest lecturers.
11 weekly teaching fellow-led section meetings (11 hours per week for 11 weeks; 121 hours overall).
4 films (7 hours total).

100 pages of reading per week; 1,300 pages total.
These readings have covered 12,000 years of history, taking us from the early botanical origins of the theobroma cacao tree all the way up to present day developments in the fine chocolate industry.

5 assignments.
5,000 words total writing per student (20 double spaced pages); 900,000 words for the entire class (3,500 double spaced pages), around 1.5 copies of War and Peace.
30 pieces of multimedia included in assignments per student; 5,250 for the entire class.
Worked to master several new digital skills using the tools TimelineJS, Storify, Google Drive (spreadsheet, presentation, document).

5 graduate student Teaching Fellows.
30 hours of office hours per Teaching Fellow; 180 total for the entire teaching staff.
2/3 of the class met with me in office hours or before or after class.
Nearly everyone met with a Teaching Fellow at least once, often multiple times.
???,??? emails sent among Teaching Staff, among Teaching Staff and students, and among students (many thousand, and still counting).
Behind the scenes hours devoted by teaching staff to lectures, tastings, assignment guidelines, teaching and grading meetings, photocopies, reading scans, section plans, grading: 150 hours per week (6 days a week); 2,300 hours (94 days) over the course of the semester.

7 guided chocolate tastings.
18 samples of chocolate and chocolate components.
50 pounds of chocolate eaten by entire class.
Per student: 600 calories, 50 grams of sugar, 30 grams of fat.
For the class: 100,000 calories, 9,000 grams of sugar, 5,000 grams of fat.

Social media
250 posts submitted to our course Tumblr, Bittersweet News.
I will be creating a course project gallery over the next weeks to make much of our student work available in one place for the public to see. It will potentially include:
120 historical timelines.
175 Storify blog posts.
60 advertisement presentations.

Based on these figures, I think it’s fair to say that we have created a significant legacy!

The Harvard Gazette also provided thoughtful coverage of one of the major themes of our class in this article, which features images of and quotes from several students.


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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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