Reflecting on an Almost Done Semester
Finals start tomorrow, and I’ve spent most of the last week grading and tying up loose ends in my hybrid and online courses. I finally feel as if I have my hybrid and online ENG102 course right where I want it to be in terms of design. It only took 7 years. I started designing the course in 2001 when I started grad school. Back then it was just a face to face course with lots of different technologies added in here and there. It grew to a hybrid that I studied and wrote my dissertation on. Now it’s a fully online Quality Matters certified course, one of the first QM certified courses in the district.
I’m proud of this course, but as I wrap up this semester and reflect on what I think went well and what I think didn’t, I can’t help but feel a bit down about the student retention rates in my courses. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much time and effort you put into a course to make it the best it can be, sometimes your students just aren’t ready for it. In the case with our students at South Mountain Community College, they’re not ready in more than one way. Many are not prepared for a rigorous college load and still others are not ready for online and hybrid courses, yet they end up in my courses.
I teach the only hybrid and online English courses on campus, two hybrid and one online. There are plenty of other sections that are face to face available all through out the day and week, but my classes fill up. When asked, most students signed up for the class because the time fit well with their schedule and not because they particularly wanted a hybrid class. And I don’t even want to start to talk about why students sign up for my online class. That’s just down right scary. Anyway, student don’t realize until it’s too late that maybe hybrid or online is not the best course format for them. Not only do they struggle with using the technology, but some struggle with the demands of a writing class. It’s almost as if they didn’t expect that they would have work to do.
My students are having trouble completing just one assignment a week. The assignment is designed to take 2-3 hours to complete. When I designed the assignments, I followed an honors students around the library while he completed the assignments. I timed him and took notes about questions he had about the directions. Most assignments he completed in under an hour. I took that research and adjusted the assignments accordingly. The assignments are designed to guide a student through the research process culminating in an extended documented argumentative research paper. Each step is crucial to completion of the final product, and each assignment builds off the previous one. Students who are prepared do really well. I get a good number of A’s, but I get even more drops and F’s.
The students who fail or just give up and drop don’t do the work. They turn in incomplete assignments. They don’t do rewrites or come for additional help. It’s like they don’t even try. They complain that the assignments are too hard and take too long to complete. Even if an assignment took 5 hours to complete, a whole week is plenty of time to complete it. I’m at a lost as to what to do about all this. I think the only solution is to force students to a study session or tutoring. I’m not sure how I could do that, but that’s where I am now with this. I’m struggling with the whole idea that I teach college, but I really can’t treat all of them like college students, expecting that they will take the initiative to get help if they need it. It’s frustrating indeed.