I am coming to the close of the first big grading session of the semester. I have the class divided up into three units, with major assignments due at the end of each unit. For me, that means that my busy time starts after each unit closes. And, the first unit hits before I get any significant number of drops, which means that I grade more in the first grading session than any that follows. This session has been no different. I have had my students complete papers, discussion forums, and essay exams, which means a lot of direct grading by me. I strongly believe that my students need to write and need to write a lot, but the curse of that is that I am then the one who has to grade them. So, I have been grading since last Monday, meaning I am just over a week into this grading session, which I hope to wrap up tomorrow.
The other feature of the first grading session is that I also get my first round of drops from the class at this point. Students can cruise along in the class for the first 4 weeks, completing some basic reading quizzes and the like. However, once a paper is due, a discussion forum closes, and an exam must be taken, that’s when the first round of students are gone. There are always a number of those, so it is part of the process.
The other thing that always comes up with first assignments in the semester is that the first technical glitches hit. Luckily, this time I actually had no glitches on the exam, which is where they usually occur. Instead, this time the paper has been the problem. The students are required to submit their paper to turnitin.com (to check for plagiarism and grade easily with a rubric), but I had about 10 students who managed to miss this part of the assignment. This is despite the fact that every place that the assignment is referred to says that it is due in to turnitin.com, as well as the fact that I sent out two announcements in the last week warning students that they needed to submit to turnitin.com. What it really shows, unfortunately, is how the students seem to run mostly on autopilot. Many just click on the next thing to do without ever looking at any instructions or materials that teachers post. This does mean that often I do not get what I am really looking for, as the autopilot mode often means that students hit a very minimal level of work.
I wonder if there is a way to combat these problems, but I have yet to come up with any yet. I modify my class every semester, working on the phrasing of instructions and reconsidering the structure and order of assignments. And yet, it really doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, as the same problems continue. Unfortunately, where it ends up is that I end up just assuming a certain level of attrition with little I can do to help them. All of my efforts end up failing for a certain number of students. Of course, if they can’t meet my standards, then they probably do not belong in the class and certainly do not deserve a decent grade from me. That does not make me feel any better about it, but it is the best I can do for now.
It seems like I am always starting blog posts off with an apology for not having written in a while. Since the birth of our daughter 15 months ago, spare time has been harder and harder to come by. However, she is settling down into a good routine, so I hope to do better this semester. I had hoped, after the post in November to be back on track, but shortly after that, we had a major family health issue come up that pushed out non-essential items. Now I think things have settled down, and I hope to be going again with my blog.
So, here we are, with a new semester (three weeks in but, hey, what can you do about that). I have, yet again, been given a double overload in classes, meaning that I am teaching 7 classes this semester for the second semester in a row. I have 4 online sections and 3 hybrid sections. My online sections are running as they always do. I am in roughly the 5th year of my current configuration of my online class, as so they can largely run without much effort on my part. That is one of the truths about online classes, that they are very involved and difficult to get going, but they can run pretty easily once you get them done. However, if you have followed my blog so far, you will see that I am rarely satisfied with how my classes are going. My online class is far overdue for a reworking, and I hope to start thinking about it this summer. I have made some changes over the last 5 years on the margins, moving assignments around and changing a few things here and there. However, I think it’s about time for an overhaul soon. And, the model that I will use for my overhaul are my hybrid classes.
I have started getting my hybrid class really going in the direction that I like. I am in the second year of working with this new hybrid format, and I am adjusting and working with the class as it moves forward. Following what I worked with last, this semester, I have moved into a model of weekly work and a long paper at the end. There are no exams, although I do have some chapter quizzing going on. The big part of the grade (about 45% overall) is discussion based, both online and in-class. Then, to keep the students on track, I have weekly, one-page response papers. I have returned to this model from what I did the first year, because I tried not having response papers last semester, and I found that students did not do the work if I did not hold them directly responsible. So, I am hoping that this semester they will do more of the work I expect them to do outside of class. I don’t have any great desire to grade weekly papers, but I want my students doing the work, and their grades will improve (hopefully).
As I have this hybrid model settled in well, I think I can use a lot of the ideas from this format in my online course. I would like to move beyond the exam model and include a lot more activities and discussions. Right now, the online class is primarily made up of reading lectures and the textbook and taking quizzes and exams. That is exactly the format that I have moved away from in my hybrid class, and I would like to move the online class beyond it as well. I hope that I get it together relatively soon.
Anyway, that’s a good start for the semester. Wish me luck.
It is grading time again. I have a set of projects due at the end of the semester, and I have essay exams as the final. So, I am doing a lot of grading. Luckily, I am a lot more on top of it at this point than I usually am at the end of the semester. I am generally caught up now and will just be grading exams as they come in from this point forward. This is all helped by the fact that I do not leave comments on any final projects/exams, so the grading does go faster. My general philosophy on this is that comments are intended to help the students improve over the course of the semester, and so putting them on at the final project does not help them a whole lot. Plus, as I well remember myself, few will ever go back to look at comments on things turned in at the end of the semester. Also, as I apparently had some students who did not realize until the end that I had been leaving comments all along, perhaps the whole commenting thing is overrated anyway. I always feel like I should leave a lot of comments to justify the grade, and I also use a grading rubric to justify the grade. However, it does appear that most students are just happy getting a number grade that is not too far off from what they were expecting and going with that. Makes you think (or not, in their cases).
This has also been my first semester at my community college to experiment with take-home tests. I was generally pleased with what I got from the students, as I was not sure what I might get at the beginning. Certainly the effort was mixed all the way around, but I certainly feel that I got a good level of effort overall from the students. I also do feel that I got a pretty decent level of actual thought from the students as well, which is better than what I see on a lot of other essays. I think the experiment went pretty well overall.
We also closed on our house last Friday, so we have that to look forward to once we get this semester done. My wife is graduating with her BA at the end of this week, and then I’ll be done with the semester, and she’ll be done with the first part of her schooling. We can then turn our attention to the new house and get going on working on it so that we can move in sometime in June. We are pleased overall with the house and ready to get going.
And, I think that’s it for my short update here.
Another grading weekend comes to a close. I entered the weekend with the goal of grading 70 exams. I had 16 in my first half of American history online class and 54 in my second half of American history online course. I hit my goal and got all of them graded. It was a two-essay exam, so I graded 140 essays over the course of the weekend. They weren’t bad overall, with the first half essays being really good. Of course, the sad thing about them is that there are 30 people signed up for the class with only 16 of them even taking the first exam. So, I lost 14 before I even got to the first major grading assignment. The second half class was more mixed in results, but I had some really good essays out of it.
It is interesting to see how this works this semester, as this is the first time that I have done an essay-only exam. Usually there are multiple-choice as well, but I have become more and more disillusioned about multiple-choice and whether it really tests much of anything. So, this semester, I decided to cut the multiple-choice cord and jump into essay only. I am pretty pleased with the results, as I don’t see anything too different in the overall results in grades. It does highlight those who do not put in any effort more, as you could hide behind the multiple-choice before this point, whereas now if you have not prepared for the essays, you will not do well. So, I think the experiment has been a success. I’ve tried so many different ones, but this is the first time I’ve really come out of an exam and felt that the people who knew the material did well and those who did not did poorly. If a test is not supposed to test that, then I don’t know what it’s worth.
I have an even bigger experiment in my last sections of grading. My hybrid class exams were take-home exams. They were also two-essay exams, but they had a week to work on them and turned them in to turnitin.com. I’ll get my first look at them when I start grading that part tomorrow. So, I’ll report back to you on that.