Friday, February 22, 2008

An Observation Worth Mentioning

All of my classes are going exceptionally well this semester.

I seriously hands-down have the BEST face-to-face class ever in my whole teaching experience.

Also, I'm subbing for a class that's shy but sweet and smart.

And the online class is going along smoothly. Except for one complainer.

It doesn't matter the essay assignment, online in-class task, or homework assignment, the complainer complains every chance he gets. And get this: he's one of my my non-trad students, which is rare. Most of my non-trad students are over-achievers who are eager to push their limits and do their best. They might have more questions than a first-year student, but they're also a lot less shy and bit more focused.

The point of this post is not to turn into a complainer myself. (I LOATHE when teachers complain about their students!) My point is to share what I think is the root of the complaining in order to reflect on how to road-block complaining in the future and to honestly share my experience with fellow online instructors.

I'm wondering if the root of the complaining is this: perhaps this student is resisting assignments, particularly ones that involve new technologies because he's not of the generation that is embracing these new technologies. If this is the case how do I bridge different generations of students with different views on/abilities with technology? And are online students who have been distance learning students for the past decade at a disadvantage b/c online classes are changing so rapidly and becoming more interactive with Web 2.0 apps? In other words, past distance learners got the assignments and did the assignments, now they are being asked to interact with classmates through discussion boards, wikis, Twitter, etc.; they're being asked to write blog posts and respond to peer blog posts. They're listening to podcast lectures for the material, not just simply reading it. Are these more interactive tasks a possible cause of resistance? First-year students are used to these technologies and whole-heartedly embrace them. Perhaps the generation gap is making a few non-trad students feel a little "left out in the cold."

Another possibility is that some non-trad students don't realize that online class coursework has to be equal with the course work of a face-to-face class. In other words, my face-to-face students listen to lectures, do group work, do brainstorming, do in-class writing, do material reflections, and much more during the 3 hours they are in class with me. (Ask any of my face-to-face students; we always go the full time and the full time we are WORKING!) On top of their in-class time, they have about 2 hours of homework or more per class meet. It's ENG 112, for crying out loud. They have tons of reading to do to prep for class discussions and essay writing. They have out-of-class writing to reflect on lessons and begin drafting for essays. ENG 112 is an academically rigorous course to prep students for the rigors of higher-level academic writing. This is NO sail-on-through course. I'm wondering if the complainer and a few other online students don't understand that online classes (in order to defend their credibility and worthiness) have become just as rigorous as face-to-face classes or even more so. Online classes must produce and replicate the EXACT same work as face-to-face classes, and that's exactly what my online classes do. Perhaps some distance learners who are used to the "old way" of online learning are having a difficult time understanding the "new way" or the "way it should have always been" (at least in my book).

Finally, I wonder if the complaining has to do with the gender difference. I had hoped those days were long gone when older male students discriminated against younger, smart, spunky women instructors. Perhaps those days are still with us. If so, it truly saddens and frustrates me.

Regardless of the causes of the complainer, I do want to make one thing clear. I only have ONE complainer in my online class this semester, and last semester I had none. Every now and then I do have online students email me that they have a concern with a certain assignment or they're worried about finishing the work on time because of work-related or family-related emergencies. That's life. I always try to help those students by working with them and supporting them. But those circumstances only come up once a semester per student. To have a student complain at least once every week or more is a new experience to me.

What the complainer has given me is a new appreciation for first-year students. They bust their butts and don't question it. At least my batch of students don't. And I think that's because I tell them what every assignment means and how it plays into what they are learning and working towards in our class. Also, full-time students balance so much. Maybe even more than those who are distance learners. I understand we all have our busy schedules and families and work, but full-time students do it ALL ALL of the TIME. I have students taking online classes and face-to-face classes with 19 credit hours who work part-time or full-time AND have families, a strong campus community presence and rich social lives. They're balancing a LOT, and sometimes I don't think students get the credit they deserve. I think all instructors feel their classes are the most important of all. I think we as instructors need to see that students have lots of other classes and obligations that may have kept them from doing that one assignment or participating that actively in one class discussion. I'm not excusing "obviously-I-don't-care" behavior. I'm just arguing that more students do care than we sometimes give them credit for. And we don't need to be lenient in our expectations or grades, but I think we could be a little more understanding and not so quick to complain about them.

In terms of how to revise my online classes to avoid complaining, I think in my intro screen caption lecture I could clarify that the work load is the same as face-to-face classes and explain how each assignment builds on the next to work towards a final, spectacular BIG Researched Paper. And I could more clearly state the the Web 2.0 apps help us interact with one another to create a writing community. As for the gender difference possible issue, I don't know. I just have to keep being myself and demanding the same expectations from ALL of my students. And I just need to forgive and forget negative comments so I can keep on doing my job.

As Rob and Big say, "Do Work! Do Work!"

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