Well, the first week of Fall 2020 is coming to a close. It was quite a week.
So, what is #3. I was not on campus, but my department chair was. My hybrid classes were to meet on Wednesdays, and he checked to see if the same room was open on Mondays at the same time. When he found out they were, he authorized splitting my hybrids in two, with half meeting on Mondays for the semester and half meeting on Wednesdays. This is a very good thing for the purposes of getting all of my students in the class once a week, which is really pretty necessary with a hybrid class.
It began with a blur of changes. All of those options that I referred to in my previous post as to how the fall semester was going to work were thrown out the door on Monday. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, as I would have liked to have #1 as the option and really did not want #2 as the option. What I ended up with was #3, however. And since I did not even know about #3 until Monday, it required a lot of scrambling and a recreation of many parts of my hybrid classes.
The complicating factors, however, are many.
- For one, not every student can switch, as some have scheduled other classes in that time on Monday and others didn’t do classes on Monday because they were already working or had other obligations. So, even after splitting the classes, which was left completely up to me on how to do it, I then had a couple of days of exchanging announcements and emails back and forth with students to get everyone in the section where they could meet, either on Monday or Wednesday
- Second, I generally avoid Monday hybrid classes, as there is always one more Monday missed than all other days in the semester (Labor Day and MLK Day). Now, with not making this change until after Monday classes would have met this week, I have essentially lost two Monday classes in comparison with the Wednesday section. I have somewhat solved this by having the Monday class meet once in finals week and having the week of Labor Day be an online-only week.
- Third, I now have to (and am still) double all due dates on all assignments, as the Monday and Wednesday meetings will necessarily have different due dates. I had to recreate the syllabus to reflect this first, and I finished that up on Tuesday. Now, I am still in the process of doubling all assignment due dates so that there are different ones for Monday and Wednesday. This is not a hard thing, but it is both tedious and time consuming.
- Fourth, Canvas does not easily allow you to divide up students inside your classroom, and so I had to work around some things to get the students to only see the due dates that were relevant for them.
- And, on that note, McGraw-Hill Connect (which I use in my classes) does not allow you to have different due dates for a single section, meaning that everybody’s due date became the later due date
And that’s just the hybrid stuff I had to do.
We also had the very fun situation of having changed over our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) this semester. The changes have made two complications for our classes.
- About half of the classes in our system could not bring students into the Canvas classrooms. This was not solved until late on Monday. This just added to everyone’s stress level for starting the semester. There’s nothing like taking or teaching online classes and having students not be able to access anything in that time.
- This same ERP changeover affected those of us who use McGraw-Hill Connect, as both the faculty and any students who had used Connect prior to this semester had to go to McGraw-Hill’s tech support to have their logins reset. While this was not difficult, it was again one extra step.
So, all of that adds up to me being much further behind on the Thursday of the first week of classes than I would normally be. But, I am catching up and moving forward. I just hope we are done with these types of issues for a while.
How has your start of the semester been?
I write this on the near-eve of starting back to the Fall semester. There has not been a semester like this before in my lifetime, for sure.
I finished up a fully-online summer session just last week, although that was not unusual for me, as I normally teach online-only in the summer. The only two differences were that I did not have access to a testing center for my students and I did not hold any face-to-face office hours. That saved me a bit on gas, not having to commute to campus (about a 50-mile round trip), but the effect was largely the same as any other summer. So, my summer teaching in a pandemic was barely different than my normal teaching in the summer.
This coming semester, however, is going to be intense. It is going to be uncertain. As of right now, the Friday before the semester starts on Monday, there are still a number of things in the works and decisions that have not been finalized, leaving a lot of things in the air.
I am, much like in the summer, fairly well positioned already for this upcoming semester. I already teach online, which is what 3/5 of my classes are this semester. The other two classes are hybrids that have run about 70/30 online/face-to-face, meaning that they are also pretty much ready to go with only minor adjustments. The only thing giving me anxiety about them right now is the question of if I am going to have to hybridize my hybrids. Both of them are in classrooms where the full class cannot meet at one time and still maintain social distancing. There are two ways this can work out this semester:
- If bigger rooms can be found for the two hybrid sections, then they will run just as normal hybrid classes this semester.
- If not, then I have to hybridize the hybrids. That means that there will be two cohorts of students, and half will meet on one week and half on the next week, with each student ultimately meeting face-to-face for half of the normal number of sessions. For a hybrid class that would only meet 16 times a semester, that would mean each student only meets 8 times, with the rest of the class being fully online.
I call this hybridizing the hybrid because all face-to-face classes are already being hybridized at my community college. The classes are being divided in half if they are not in a room large enough for everyone to fit, and then half meet on the first day of the week and half on the second.
And, just as a side note, I will not know if I get option 1 or 2 above until sometime early in the coming week. And, when it is known, there is not a clear indication of how I am going to get every student to know what changes there might be, especially if some of them are not to show up on the first day we meet (Wednesday).
If this all sounds really complicated, it is. It is stretching all of our imaginations, our resources, and our capabilities across the college. But we are managing so far. It is nobody’s fault that things are this way, but it certainly makes everything difficult.
I will return soon to talk more about what this semester looks like, but that’s where we stand at this point.
OK. I know. I have not posted in a while. Shortly after the last post, I started my big grading session. I had about 90 essays, 90 essay exams, and about 150 discussion forum grades to determine. All of that took me a good part of two weeks, leaving me worn out afterwards. I did not post during that time, and, as I did not post then, I keep putting off posting again, because I think I need to go back and catch up on that period. However, I have finally just given up on that and am going to just move forward with the blog here and not worry about trying to catch up or recount. There are a few things that I will go back and talk about, so you will see some of that over the next couple of blogs here. However, today I’m going to write about that terrible point in the fall semester — the drop deadline.
The drop deadline in the fall semester at a community college is a very meaningful deadline. So many of our students are not necessarily meant for college, as we are an institution that allows people to try out college for cheap and see if it works for them. It is not unusual for me to lose a lot of students by the drop deadline, and I am not out of line from the norms in our department or among the various standard, introductory courses that our students take. As to who drops, there is no direct profile, as they come from all types. However, the most common drops are those who have simply stopped coming to class. This can be a large number of students overall, as I often have 50% or less attendance in any of my face-to-face classes by this point in the semester.
What is sad, though, is how many students have stopped coming by this point and do not drop. So, while I do sign a number of drop slips by students, a larger number of students will just take their failing grade by this point in the semester rather than drop. Some of this may be because of the relatively new restrictions on the number of withdrawals you can have in a college career, which is either 5 or 6, if I remember correctly. After that, you cannot drop a class, leaving you taking the F anyway. So, some students may figure that it is not worth it at this point to waste a W. However, I don’t think that is the big reason, as most of the students that I see are first-semester college students who are not thinking at all about their long-term college career. They are just starting and not thinking about their college career and not worried about the number of withdrawals.
I think the bigger reason why drops are so common is that they are seen as so easy. The students can drop all the way up until mid-November, over two-thirds of the way through the semester. They can mess around in a class and see a lot of their progress before having to make any decision about dropping. So, they are able to keep putting off their decision until what is, in reality, the last minute. This should be an advantage for students, as they have many opportunities to succeed and should only have to drop when they have exhausted every possibility of getting a good grade in class. The reality is different, however. What I hear over and over from students is that they drop the classes when they get hard. They drop them when they get too busy with other things. They drop because they just don’t feel like going to class anymore. In fact, for a lot of the students that I see, the reasons for dropping are anything but the fact that they have tried their hardest and just come up short at the very end. I’m not denying that some students are like that, but it really does seem that the majority of what I see are students who get out when the going gets tough. The problem with that, as I see it, is that college is going to be hard. And, if students learn that they can get out when it gets hard, then they are learning a lesson that will not serve them well in their continuing education. As well, it is what leads to longer and longer periods in school. If students drop and drop and drop, they take that much longer to get a degree. The two-year degree we offer at my community college usually takes longer than two years, as students take 12 hours or less in a semester and drop classes regularly. Then, if they transfer, it takes longer there as well. All of that means larger college fees and larger student loan bills.
I guess my real objection is philosophical to the lenient drop policies. Again, I understand why they are this way, and I’m not going to get on a moral high horse and say that, back in my day, we did not consider dropping classes. But I do think that students are not given the incentive or reason to power through their classes and force themselves to succeed over time. I think it is too easy to drop and too easy to say that things are just a bit too hard, and to try again at a later point. I think it contributes to the rising student loan bills and the growing number of people who start but never complete college.
What do you think? Am I being fair, or is this just my perspective as a professor that does not take into account other realities out there. Let me know in the comments.