Ok, so I’m a bit behind. Our life has been a bit upside down, as we are coming up on the last month before our baby is due, and the urgency on getting things done is ramping up on a daily basis. So, it makes sitting down and getting extra things, like this blog, done hard. I actually have to go back and see what I did in the second “week” of the hybrid class, as that was a while back at this point. I put the “week” in there because it is technically the third week of the class, but the first week really didn’t count for the activities. This will be the last time that I put in the quotation marks, but I wanted to keep it consistent for the moment.
In the second week, I had the students go online to watch some pre-developed lectures. I decided to use the site to see if having the students access the same material in several different locations and forms made a difference. In this case, they have my own lectures, which are both written and in audio podcast form, the textbook reading, and these lectures. While these outside lectures are somewhat cartoony and simplified, the basic ideas are delivered well and they are at least moderately entertaining.
After reviewing five of the lectures in addition to the normal lectures and textbook reading, the students had to come ready to do a group activity. The activity was to be done completely in class, and each of four groups of 4-5 students was to create its own successful colony. They were to apply the lessons from American colonial development and create an ideal colony. I left it pretty much open from there except that I did stipulate that their colony must be a real one, as in it must be reasonable in presentation and must relate to the other existing colonies at that time. They were to discuss the people who would have come, where they would have settled, what their economic basis would have been, what religious ideas they would have had, and what type of government they would want.
So, how did it go?
Well, it was the first time for me for an assignment like this, and it was the first for my students in this class as well. The major issue was that all of the work was to be done in class. That was tough for a 75-minute class. I took out about 15 minutes at first to talk about the reading and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That gave about 45 minutes of work time and then 15 minutes to present. In all ways, it would be nice to have had more time. I did not keep as good of track as I should have the first class, and we had to do one of the presentations the next class. I graded them on the basis that they only had limited time to work on it. The other issue is that it is hard to hold the discussion to just 15 minutes for the first part, and if that goes long, then we really don’t have enough time to complete everything.
Overall, I think it was reasonably successful. I graded it on two things — the presentation and the group work. The presentation grades were all reasonable, as I had to be lenient considering the limited time to prepare. On the group work, I went around and observed each group and came up with my own grades for each person. I also had them grade each other and send me the information. I averaged their grades as one with my grade to come up with a group work grade for each student. It was a bit complex overall, but I think the grades were somewhat reflective, if a bit high for most people.
The problem for giving more time to prep for the students is that this is still early in the semester. I didn’t want to get them going too deep into pre-class prep yet, as that will come later in the semester, which does put a limit on it. What do you think? Am I being too cautious there? Should I have higher expectations of the work ahead of time or keep it as something that is done in class? I just don’t know.
I just finished up the first “week” of the hybrid class. The real first week was taken up with orienting the students to the class and introducing the format (as I detailed here). Since then, I have been seeing each of my sections for the first time with real work to do. I divided the class up so that each student only meets once a week, and, since Labor Day was last Monday, we just finished up the first round of classes today.
For this week, I had the students do the usual stuff – access my lectures and read the textbook. However, the activity in class centered around the students watching a video and then having a discussion in class. As this is the first half of American history, we concentrated in on the Spanish conquest and the motivations for coming to the New World. For that purpose, I chose a video that looks at the transformations that occurred on both sides of the exchange between cultures. I would have loved to have had the students watch the documentary Guns, Germs, and Steel, but that is not available for free and is not available streaming for my students. Even more, I would have loved to have them read the book, but that is even more impossible at this stage. So, I settled on one offered free and streaming through pbs called When Worlds Collide. It is not bad, although the narrator does get on my nerves a bit.
The actual class day went like this:
- Troubleshooting/check in on progress
- Student introductions (I waited for the smaller groups for this)
- Questions about lecture/textbook content and Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- Discussion on the documentary
The discussion went well in all four classes. Nothing spectacular, as expected for the first time out. And, as expected, only around a third of the students actively participated. Since the grade is almost completely participation based, I’m going to assume that some more might be participating the next time out. I also, since it was the first time out with this discussion model, let the students largely direct the discussion. I tried to ask as few questions as I could and let them go where they wanted. I started each discussion with the “What did you think? What did you learn new?” set of questions, and, for the most part, that’s the most guidance I needed to do. Because of the other things, we only had about 30-40 minutes for the discussions, but that seemed to work pretty well. What was interesting is how different the four different discussions were. Even though the material was the same, each class went in different directions. We did cover many of the same topics, but, instead of a lecture that dictates exactly what each student will hear, this more free-ranging approach allowed the students to concentrate in on what they found interesting.
Another very interesting aspect of this approach was the number of times that I was asked a question. When lecturing, I rarely ever get stopped and asked questions by my students. The very mode of a lecture can be fairly prohibitive of that. With this format, though, I was asked multiple questions by the students. While some were asking about things they did not understand, the majority of the questions were more along the lines of asking for further information about what they were interested in. In that way, I feel that the discussion model was a success.
The drawback that is quite apparent at this point is that only about a third of students are participating. The rest just sit there. This class cannot work with only a third participation, and grades for the rest are going to be quite low otherwise. I am going to see how this next set of assignments work, as it will involve some in-class group work. We shall see what happens then.
One of the things I am doing this semester with my hybrid class is reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This is going to be something new for my community college students. I have assigned some outside reading before, but I have not asked my community college students to read an entire book outside of their textbook before. This has been, unfortunately, one of the things that has gotten lost as I have moved from teaching at a university to teaching at a community college. I regret that, but it was one of the things that I was told I would not be able to do with community college students. So, this is something new.
I am having the students read it in a different way. We are using the Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture site for the reading and work this semester. Instead of having the students just buy the whole book and read it, I am having them read it through the site. This has the advantage of being free, which is important. As well, I am having them read the novel as it originally appeared, as a newspaper serial. The breakdown is on the site as a weekly reading, set up in a way that makes it easy for me to assign pieces as we go along. I am not holding the students responsible for reading it weekly, as it is assigned, as I am really only concerned in the end that they do the actual reading. However, the bargain for them is that I will be reading it with them. And, every week, I will start the class by being available to answer any questions about the reading. So, if they read it on schedule, they get help. If they do not, they don’t. Very simple.
Ultimately, we are going to have a larger project to go along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I will write more about that here as we get to that point. In other words, the assignment is still under development. More later on that as well.
Here we go, it is the second day of the semester, so I have met both my MW and TR class once so far. This is a new and interesting semester for me. We are teaching in our brand new academic building that has all of the latest technology in it. As well, I am teaching a completely redesigned course. If you followed my blog last semester, I talked about the push for redesign, and I have jumped in with both feet here. This is a fully hybrid class that takes on the “flipped” model of moving the lectures outside of class and reserving class time for applying the material.
I am teaching two sections of this newly redesigned class and four sections of my more traditional online class. So, I will have a direct comparison between the new class and one of my old models to see how it goes between them.
For the first day of class, it was largely a presentation of the class, ie. going through the syllabus and such. However, I talked mostly about why this class exists as it does and how my changes are intended to improve the learning process. Some of the big points I hit are:
- what is a hybrid class and what does it mean to meet only one day a week?
- what is a “flipped” classroom and what is the student responsibility that goes with that?
- what does active learning mean as opposed to passive learning?
- what does it mean to have a class graded on weekly participation?
- how is the new emphasis on research and sources going to play out in the class?
- and, of course, what is history and why is this a good method for studying it?
I was also very clear to the students that this is brand new. In fact, in one of my classes, I called it the beta version of the class. This is going to be an experiment on my part, and I told them to bear with me as we work through it, just as I will bear with them as they try to learn in a new way. I also explained the high hopes I have for them in the course and how we realistically might reach them. Finally, I told them that if they wanted a traditional, passive learning, lecture class, that they could go to most other history classes here.
I will try to update at least every week on this blog, as I have split the class in half, with each group meeting on only one day. Thus, every four days, I will go through the same set of assignments with each group. I will probably blog more, but this type of update will be at least weekly.
So, we have done it. We finally moved into our new house a week ago. We had worked on the house for about a month and a half. During that time, we had new flooring put in, had new insulation put in, installed new doors and door locks, refinished the kitchen, repainted the rooms, had fans installed in the upstairs bedrooms, reworked the outside flower beds, had our trees trimmed, and generally cleaned up the place. We got the house for a good price with the idea of putting a bunch of money in up front to get it into the shape we wanted. I’d say that we came within 85-90% of what we wanted upon moving in, with mostly money limitations keeping us from going further. Still, we did a whole lot over that time. We also, of course, worked to pack up our own stuff, so that we could be ready to move in.
Last Sunday, we made the move. We called up the movers and had them start us out at 9am on Sunday. They left right around 7pm, making two loads from our apartment to the house. It went very smoothly overall, although there’s still quite a bit of stuff left at the apartment. Luckily we don’t have to be out of there until the end of July, so we have time to finish up there.
My wife and mother-in-law did a lot of the work on the house. I was preparing for teaching and then teaching through a lot of the time getting the house ready, so I had a more limited role. Still, we all worked on it well throughout the time, and I think we did a good job.
Since moving in, we have been unpacking and continuing to clean/organize the house. Our space has been increased by about 1000 square feet, so we can really stretch everything out well. We have had some hiccups along the way. We are still getting the kinks out in our cable/internet, but we seem to be a good way along the right path there. We have had a number of plumbing issues, but we really knew that going into the place, and it has just been a matter of getting them taken care of. We have also discovered that we are going to have to get a second air conditioner in upstairs at some point, as the one in the house is just not able to handle a large house. Our electrical input to the house is also pretty rough, and we are going to have to get that taken care of. We are prioritizing what needs to get done and deciding when to pull the trigger on the various things that are needed.
As of now, however, we are quite pleased with the set up of the house and what we have here. It is a very nice place in a nice neighborhood. I hope everything continues to go as smoothly.
So, I had no idea this was a thing until it came across my email (I just can’t say came across my desk, as nothing comes across anyone’s desk anymore). The article in the Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog titled, “Grading with Voice on an iPad,”raises the idea of leaving voice comments on graded material for students along with the normal written comments. Here is the reasoning by the guest author of the post: ”One of the frustrating things I found in teaching online last semester was the lack of direct contact with students. The class felt impersonal, despite my efforts to give it life. I found that especially frustrating when I graded assignments. The feedback seemed cold and distant, even as I as I tried to point out strong areas of writing and multimedia projects. I overcame this in part by using my iPad to add audio comments to grading. This was a revelation to me.” As I said, I had never thought about this at all before. I then noted, as I am grading right now, that if you go to turnitin.com, you will also find an “advertisement” toward the top for adding voice to graded responses there as well.
I had not really noted the piece on turnitin before, considering that I normally have adblockers on my browsers and generally do everything I can to avoid advertisements of any kind in my daily life. So, this really hit me as something completely new. Has anyone else out there ever done this? Have any students out there had graded assignments returned with voice comments? I’m really curious about this.
Beyond just asking about this (which is a primary purpose here, so please let me know if this is something you have heard of), it also got me thinking about the whole concept of it. The basis on which the above instructor said they found it useful does not really apply very well to me. I have never provided verbal feedback after an assignment. History essays and work tends to be graded and handed back with no opportunities for correcting the material or working on it again. Thus, written comments work pretty well for the few students who actually bother to read them. Or, at least I assume they do. Am I missing out on a whole avenue for providing feedback here? This whole idea just set my mind swirling about the whole way I provide feedback. As I just said, I have strong doubts (and in the case of turnitin.com, which documents students who look at their graded assignment, I know) that many students ever look at the written comments. So, I’m spending a lot of time grading for a very minimal payout. Would verbal feedback in general get more of a response? I don’t mean just recorded as the article refers to, but actually sitting down with students and giving them verbal feedback. Or, would I be just as frustrated at that prospect considering most students would probably resent the fact that they were required to come in to talk to me to get feedback. I already offer to explain grades or answer questions after every assignment I hand back, with a near 0% acceptance rate for that offer. In fact, since most students don’t look at feedback and just accept the grade as given, perhaps providing verbal feedback would be just another waste of my time. I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud (on the keyboard?) here.
There’s always one. The student who can cancel out all of the good comments you get. The student who can make a semester that seemed to be going well into one that seems like a descent into madness. The student you can’t get out of your mind. It’s the trouble student. I have already had one this summer, and I hope she is the only one. She is dropping the course, so she should be out of my hair soon, but she has already had a negative effect on my attitude toward teaching.
This one popped up earlier this last week, so about 1 1/2 weeks into the summer session. The first email I get is about a legitimate problem she had with one of her assignments being recorded. I referred her to the support system for the textbook site. Along the way, I had noted that she had listed a completely ridiculous amount of time she had been working on this particular assignment. As to the assignment, for each chapter, the students have to complete a quiz. The quiz is 45 questions long, multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank. The students can redo the questions as many times as they like, open book, with the only grade being given when they get 70% of the questions right, at which point they are given a 100. It is a testing mechanism inside the textbook website, so I don’t have any control over it beyond that. So, for this assignment, essentially 32-33 questions of an open book quiz, she was claiming to take 5-6 hours for each chapter. I commented that it should not be taking her that long and asked what she was doing. At that point, I started getting the exploding walls of text from her. She started slamming the course as being incredibly difficult and unreasonable in expectations. I tried to calm her down while still insisting that something was not going right is it was taking her that long. That exchange of emails lasted from Wednesday through Friday.
On Friday, I was contacted again about something different. This weekend, the Critical Mission assignment is due. They had 2 weeks to work on this Critical Mission, although the majority will, of course, do it all at the last minute. The Critical Mission has the students put themselves in the place of an advisor to a historical figure. In this case, the students are to take the role of an advisor to a member of the Continental Congress and advise this person as to whether they should vote for or against revolution. The students are given a timeline, a map of events, and four primary source documents. They are then asked to identify some themes they would use in making this argument (ie. they are given 5 themes and have to pick the 3 that would make a strong argument for their case). For each of the themes they pick, they then are given a list of evidence (mostly quotations) that they could use to help support their theme, and they have to choose which ones would support their themes. So, by the end of the Critical Mission, which should take most students 20-30 minutes to get through, they have an argument to make, 3 themes to present (3 paragraphs), and a list of evidence to support those themes. Then, I ask the students to write it up in a paper at least 500 words long, or about 2 pages or more. Then, they have to contribute to a discussion forum over the topic.
So, on Friday, I got an email saying she had just spent hours going through the material, was completely lost, had no idea what was going on, and was throwing her hands up in the air and giving up on the class. Note, she did not ask for help, she just threw the assignment in my face. She said I was unreasonable and incredibly difficult. She said she had talked with another person she knew who had had me in the past (and dropped me, she was sure to note), who had said I was also difficult and unreasonable. She lambasted me for the structure of the course, for my unrealistic expectations, and for tricking her into giving up her time and money to take a summer course from me. I tried to give her a reasoned response, but by this point, my patience is running thin. I told her that she was apparently overthinking all parts of the course, since everything was taking her about five times longer than it should. I also noted that the layout of the course and the assignments were actually fairly straightforward, as I pride myself on explaining what needs to be done pretty well, although I do err sometimes on the exhaustively long explanation. I ran the email by my wife before sending it, as I was trying not to be offensive while also trying to defend myself (which is not an easy balance to draw).
The response I got back was basically, I’m dropping the class, good riddance, and I’m sorry I wasted my time and effort.
My main problem with all of it was that I feel like I never had a chance to actually help her. It seems like she had already given up by the time I talked to her, and I was left with the feeling that I had failed the student. The sad thing, and, of course the thing I can’t say to a student, is that I already feel like I have dumbed down the class a lot more than I would like. I already feel guilty that I am not asking enough of the students and that my class should be a lot more demanding than it is. I feel like the level of effort that the majority of students put in is very low, and I have to keep my expectations lower than I would like just to get students through my course. So, while I do hate students like this, they also make me laugh, because if they can’t do my course, then I don’t know where they will have success. The comment I get more often than not from students who successfully complete my course was that it was relatively easy, that you just had to sit down and do the work and put in effort and you will do reasonably well. That doesn’t make me proud necessarily, but it is the opposite of what this student said. And, or course, it’s this student that will stick around under my skin and grate at me over and over. I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does.