January 29, 2010
I wish I could post this for my students, but too many of them would take offense at a sick panda bear.
As the add/drop period comes to a close, I am reminded of an email I got from a student some semesters ago. It was the kind of email that spews diet coke over your computer screen and has someone popping their head in to make sure the the scream that just emerged from your office didn’t require medical attention.
Dear Prof Art:
Hi! This is Suzie Snowflake, I’m in your online class. I just noticed the F I keep getting for the discussion stuff. I thought my posts were really thoughtful, and I wondered why I got an F. I know I’m supposed to post two times, but I thought I’d at least get some credit for what I did. I have a full-time job and three kids at home, so I don’t have a lot of time to post and log in to the class. I hope you’ll remember that when you grade this stuff, and take into consideration that I don’t have a lot of time. I really need this class to graduate, I have to have three humanities credits, there required, so I can’t drop this class or fail it. Can you give me some advice to help my discussion grades, and can you check to be sure you graded the last three weeks right? I just don’t see this as F work.
What did you think I advised?
A. I will certainly look into your grades and think about your home life when grading your work. Heck, you should get an A, because who needs humanities, anyway? Its just three credits.
B. My advice would be to meet the minimum requirements for each and every assignment. When you do not meet the minimum requirement, the only possible grade is an F. I did give you some credit for posting. If you had not posted at all, I would have awarded you a grade of 0.
C. You need to withdraw from this class.
Keep in mind that this student later accused me of “favoritism”. And by the way, I teach 2-3 online classes each semester, so I had to hunt down who this student was in the first place.
January 8, 2010
As someone who teaches intro-level classes, I feel it is part of my job to help students transition to the college environment. This is a broader challenge in the community college system, as there is a wider variety of “real world” situations students are transitioning in from, and a wider variety of college-level situations students are transitioning into. Most of the 4-year-college students are coming from a high school and into a group-living dorm situation, where they sometimes work a part-time job. A good chunk of community college students are coming in from situations involving work, family, and educational needs and transitioning into a world where college courses need to fit into the work, family, and educational needs. Even younger students are often working full-time, and increasingly don’t understand that you can’t work full-time and go to school full-time and expect to be giving your full effort on both fronts.
This transitioning has been an increasing challenge. To be honest, I thought it was me. Then I started reading blogs and talking to other colleagues, and hearing the same thing I was experiencing: an increasing number of students who arrive without an skills for reasoning and analysis, and increasingly poor writing and communication skills. When you up those science and math classes in schools, don’t neglect English and art! What good is making discoveries if you can;t communicate them to other people?
The new student profile includes kids who are really not on the college level. They require a lot more structure, a lot more spoon-feeding, a lot more specifics. You can’t just give them a task and have them discover for themselves how to complete it- they won’t do it. I am now realizing they can’t do it. Personally, I find that not only frustrating, but highly concerning. These kids have no problem-solving skills. They have regurgitation skills.
How do I transition these kids from a world where everything is plotted out for them, and all they have to do is get from point A to point B, to a world where they have to make their own decisions, decide where they want to go themselves, and use a map to get there? Especially since they seem to never have had a map in their lives?
And although the great influx of newly-out-of-high-school students is the major part of the problem, I am seeing these issues in “adult students” as well. Most of my plagiarism cases have not been “traditional age” students- it has been far more often the “adult” student, the older-than-usual, coming-back-to-school students who have proven to be a problem! How do I transition these students appropriately so that they understand this isn’t about slapping a grade on a transcript? Why are they even here, unless they want to learn? It used to be older students were great assets. Now they are increasingly huge liabilities.
I have made some redesigns to my classes to increase structure and flow, while encouraging individual exploration. I think the first step to striking out on your own is to strike out in a safe parameter. Instead of “write a paper about art”, we can start with “write a paper about the art of second-century Rome.” The student has a specific parameter to crutch themselves, but also have some wiggle-room to find something that interests them.
Now I just have to worry about the kids who have never had passion about anything, and so have trouble finding anything to interest them.
January 4, 2010
One good thing about college teaching is you only have to deal with specific problem children for four months, then you move on to a new crew. Yes, they usually have the same problems, just different faces. However, it can be really nice to have the new faces.
This semester, I am smokin‘ hot! We had a meeting on online staff at the start of the year, and we agreed it would be a good idea to have our classes actually available to students a week before classes started. The reasoning behind this was that online education and online students were different from live students, and they needed extra time to get the ball rolling and get themselves together and settle in. For some reason, people felt online students couldn’t go to the bookstore and wait for the first day for the syllabus like everybody else. Whatever.
The point is, I did it. I got the classes open a whole week early, despite having to redesign the entire course to address issues of students needing increasing amounts of structure and hand-holding to get through material, despite digging up more online activities for them to complete, despite having to re-record many of my own presentations to be available in the trendy format of the podcast. Despite issues with Blackboard, and the college servers, and my own access. I did it! We are up and running! Woo-hoo!
Here’s hoping the students put as much energy into the classes. Stay optimistic!