Thoughts on Teaching – A Depressing Class – 9/19/2013

I know I missed last week, so I will try to double up this week on posts.  This first one concerns last week’s class, which was quite depressing.  That is one reason that I did not have the motivation or energy to write about it last week.  Yet, I want to make sure to write about my class weekly, and so, I am not going to leave last week out.  I just needed some cool down time before I set anything down on “paper.”

So, here’s what happened:

For my hybrid class, I have the last assignments close on Sunday night at midnight.  That means that I spend Monday going through and entering grades from the previous week.  So, we were essentially heading into Week 3 of my class at that point, and I had a chance to see, before I met them that week, how the previous assignments had gone.  In addition to the normal weekly assignments, however, I also had a set of assignments that I call the Initial Assignments and Orientations, which is a basic set of things like reading the syllabus, signing up for the textbook site, taking a few introductory surveys, and the like.  To get credit, you simply have to complete these things, at which point I will give you a 100.  If you do not do them, you get a 0.  It counts for 5% of the overall grade.  Largely, I see it as an assignment to get the students going and get them comfortable in the classroom.  So, I was entering both the grades for that assignment and for the weekly assignments due just before.  What I found was a completely dismal set of grades.  This has nothing to do with my online class but is unique to my hybrid class this semester.  When the only grade on the orientation assignment is either a 100 or 0, then a class average of 50 means that only half of the people did the assignment.  And, I had between a 45 and 55 average with the hybrid sections, meaning that roughly half of the class did not do them.  The assignment had been open for the first 12 days of the semester, and only half of the students had bothered to complete it.  Then, as I was entering the weekly grades, I noted that not only had a significant minority not done the chapter assignments they had in the textbook website, but that about a quarter of my students had not even signed up yet, even though we were already two chapters into the assignments at that point.

That made me rather depressed right there.  The assignments that I have set out as graded assignments, and, not to mention, the first graded assignments of the semester, are not being completed by my students.  Then, I took a dangerous turn for the worst.  I had set up the students for the coming week to do three things — to access my online lectures, complete two chapters in the textbook, and view some video lectures on an external site.  What the students don’t know is that I can directly track who does what in my LMS (Learning Management System), as the LMS allows me to see how many “clicks” there have been on each thing that I have given the students to do.  That is always a depressing thing to look at, because it puts directly in your face as a teacher how few students are bothering to access the material you are requiring them to do.  What I found confirmed my suspicions, as a dismally small number of students had accessed anything at all in preparation for that week’s activities.  They had not read my online lectures.  They had not completed the textbook material.  They had not looked at the external link to the video lectures.  When I say they had not, I mean that the number of clicks in the classroom equalled about 1/4 of the students in the class.  That is even optimistic, as it assumes that each click is a distinct student, which is not necessarily true.

The problem with this is probably obvious.  I assigned something, and the students did not do it.  Beyond that, however, I am currently employing the flipped model of classroom, which means that the students access the central “lecture” material for the course outside of the classroom, and then we apply the material in classroom activities.  So, if the students are not prepared, we cannot work.

So, all of that is depressing enough, but what made it a depressing class is that I then had to address this in class.  I have to have a talk with students every semester that I teach.  It is the nature, especially, of a community college that the students are not ready for college.  They do not know what it means to be in college, and most approach it as just an extension of high school.  We have a large DFW rate each semester (a D (which does not transfer), and F, or a withdrawal.  It usually runs between 40-50% of students in the freshman core classes, like mine.  We have done everything we can to try and fix this, and one of the things I have to do is have that heart-to-heart talk every semester about what they are doing here in college.  I ask them directly to think about why they are there.  I ask them to consider what is making them come to college and whether they are putting out the effort necessary to succeed.  I also talk about what it means to be successful in college.  And, honestly, I ask them to consider if this is something they value at all.  I point out that nobody is making them show up to class, do the work, and so forth.  I can do everything on my end to try and get them to succeed, but if they can’t meet me at least halfway, then it will be a failure.  This is not high school, and nobody is going to get a C for showing up.  I can and will fail them, which is something that most have not heard before.  I ask them to consider what it is they are wasting by being in college and wasting the opportunity they have — whether its money, their time, my time, another student’s chance to be in the class, or whatever.  I am blunt.  I am direct.  And, I am not particularly nice about it.  I don’t like doing this, which makes for a depressing week, as I then had to do the same thing in all of the other classes that week, which meant that day-by-day I had to drag myself to class to deliver one depressing talk after another.  And, sadly, I don’t know if it does any good.  I can’t know, really, and that is also depressing.

A week of depressing talk later, and I, as you can probably imagine, really didn’t have much interest in blogging about it.  Now, I am a couple of days out of it, and things are a bit further in my mind, leaving me able to talk about it without getting all worked up again.

And, in case you were wondering, after having that talk, no, the rest of the class that day did not go particularly well either.


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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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