Thoughts on Teaching – 2/19/2012 – First major assignments due
It’s the joy that anybody who is a teacher knows — the joy of the first major assignment coming due. It’s the point where students who have skated by not doing much are going to have to put up or shut up. And for me, that point has been reached. In my hybrid classes, their assignments are scattered and due over about a 2 week period, so it’s not quite as bad with them, but with the online classes, they are turning in their first big one tonight. And, since I’m in online office hours tonight, I am here and witnessing it blow by blow. What that has meant is that I have been hearing and seeing all of the excuses roll by as to why something is not working or why things will not be turned in on time. Actually, I haven’t seen that many of those yet, but it’s almost 8pm now, and the assignment closes at midnight. So, as it gets closer and closer, the fear-induced excuses will grow. On the positive side, I have seen a lot of drafts so far, which is very good. Drafting means higher levels of organization and preparedness and generally leads to better grades overall. Of course, even then, the assignment has been open for 5 weeks, and I am seeing even drafts only in the last couple of days. I know it’s a joke to say an assignment is open for 5 weeks, as very, very few students will do any work on something more than a week before it is due. Most will do it a day or two before, so a good number are working furiously to finish it right now.
I’ve also thrown in a different wrench this time to their plans (lovely mixed metaphor there). They get all of the information for their assignment from the textbook website, but they actually turn it in on turnitin.com. So, they have to take the extra step of making sure they turn it in to the correct place. As of right now, I have already been contacted by two who realized they turned it in at the incorrect place, and I’m sure there will be more who will realize it at a later point. As to excuses, I’ve had two so far — a child in the hospital and a crashed computer — both are probably legitimate (the first definitely so), and those have been dealt with. The more creative excuses come as we get closer to the time when everything is due. I do take late assignments at a 10-point penalty per day, but I don’t actually say that up front, as I don’t want students abusing that option.
For now, it is the time when I start to see who is really serious about the class and who is not. It’s funny that it comes to that, but it is true as well. A good portion of my students do not make it even to the first assignment of the semester. They are already lost before they’ve even gotten any significant grades, and there is not much I can do about it. I can notify them that they have missed the assignment (we have an Early Alert system that sends them an official email and letter from the college), but that’s about all I can do. This semester, there has already seemed to be a larger number in classes overall here at my community college that are not showing up. One of my hybrid sections is already down a third in attendance. I’ll have a better idea of how the online classes sit after this weekend, so I can’t say anything there yet. I’ve talked to some colleagues and even my classes themselves, and everyone has noted a larger than normal number of students who have signed up for classes and not even made it past the third or fourth week. I don’t really know why or what would make this semester any different than the others.
And so I sit and monitor my classes for now. I have some other projects I’m working on, so I am doing those on the side while I’m here monitoring my email and my online office hours room, but most of it is just sitting here and monitoring. Not the most exciting thing, but then teaching, especially online, does devolve into a lot of waiting on the students to do their thing so that you can do your thing. By tomorrow, I’ll have a mountain of grading to do. But for now, I wait, do some other things, and keep checking to try to avert whatever crises I can.