Spring08: Help stamp out procrastination TODAY

I was not able to post yesterday: it is the most intensive day of my online classes - the day of the great weeding out. What happens is that on Tuesday, students had assignments due; if they did not turn all of them in on Tuesday, they had a reprieve and were given a one-time only extension until Wednesday. I did a lot of hovering over the computer on Wednesday, something I normally don't do, responding instantaneously to student questions - I didn't want any of the students who had fallen behind to have my lack of responsiveness as an excuse for their failure to complete the assignments. The results were really good: almost all of the students got caught up. Six students dropped between midnight last night and this morning, which is great - if they want a class with less work, they definitely should look elsewhere while there is still time to add a class to their schedule. I have three students who are behind - and if they are not caught up today, Thursday, I have the power to administratively drop them on Friday, which I will do without a moment's hesitation.

Does all that sound harsh? Perhaps it does. After reading a lot about high school grading policies at the LatinTeach listserv, I was amazed to see how "failure is not an option" at so many schools - not because the students are really passing their classes, but because high school teachers are not allowed to fail students for non-performance. I read about school districts where the official grading policy is that no student may receive less than 60% no matter what their actual performance is in class, and districts where students do not receive a zero for homework that they do not turn in (a blank in the gradebook is not a zero). Wow. That is completely different from my experience. As a college teacher, every semester I encounter some students who seem to think that the only requirement for passing a class is to pay their bursar bill on time. They are wrong about that. Just like the bursar bill MUST be paid (and of course they do know that!), the assignments for my class MUSt be completed, and on time - I am even more vigilant than the bursar, in fact! :-)

Anyway, what I want to post about today is my efforts not just to get students to do their work on time, but to work AHEAD. If they do the work at the last minute, they are going to get totally stressed out - and being totally stressed out is not conducive to learning. Students can work up to two weeks ahead in my classes, and I encourage them to do that. This semester, I am even bribing them with "Early Bird Extra Credit" to work at least one week ahead (that is a new experiment this semester). If they work ahead, they can set their own schedule, not stress about the absolute deadlines which I set for the assignments... and, hopefully, they can use that proactive time management strategy in this class in their other classes and in their lives at large.

So, I thought that I would post every couple of weeks here about the rates at which students are working ahead. Right now, here is the count of people working at least one full day ahead of schedule:

World Lit enrollment 20 - ahead: 15 = 75%
Myth Folklore enrollment 43 - ahead: 20 = 47%
Indian Epics enrollment 30 - ahead: 13 = 43%

You can see there is a significant difference between the World Lit class and the other two. It's easy to explain. I teach three classes, and two of them - Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics - fulfill a requirement for graduating seniors. So, every semester, those classes are full of students desperately trying to graduate that semester, usually cramming this online class on top of a heavy work load and a full class schedule. Often, they mistakenly assume that an online class is less work than a classroom-based class because there are no scheduled classroom sessions (I will save for another post details about how wrong they are in that assumption!).

The World Lit class, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish, as you can guess from the lower enrollment. Instead of desperate graduating seniors, these students are often sophomore and juniors just looking for a convenient class to round out their schedule; they sign up for this, and if they find in a day or two of class that they don't like, they just drop the class - because it is not a graduation requirement. On Monday, I had 30 students in the class; now there are 20. If all 30 students had remained in the class, the percentage of people working ahead would be comparable to the other classes. The difference is that these students are not stuck in a class for a graduation requirement, but are there out of some kind of real interest or curiosity about the online course experience.

For some other blog post, I will save the story of conversion - how even though so many students are in my classes to fulfill a graduation requirement, they nevertheless get hooked on the class and end up having a good time and learning a lot, despite the quite involuntary nature of their presence in the class.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to seeing what the rates of "working ahead" look like over the course over the semester. I have never measured that before, but it was my desire to increase the rate of working ahead that led me to introduce my "Early Bird" extra credit this time. I'll see in a couple of weeks how it is looking. I guess if I set a goal for myself, I would like to see 60% of the class working one week ahead. Probably that is too much to ask for. Anyway, we'll see! :-)

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