Yes, there are a lot of survey results out there on college students today, but these are for MY college students, right now, this summer. This is according to my first day surveys.
n=37 (History 104, mostly university students) / n=39 (History 111, mostly community college students)
What my students do at least weekly:
91% / 99% text message on a cell phone
82% / 83% cruise around the internet to see what’s up
80% / 69% e-mail someone
75% / 74% watch a YouTube video
52% /39% update my status at Facebook or MySpace
32% / 23% instant message on a computer (Yahoo IM, Google Talk, etc)
23% / 16% embed an image or video
23% / 21% use Skype
9% / 14% upload a video
7% / 14% create web pages
It’s possible to interpret a break between more social and entertainment uses, and those that imply creation of content. I also note a lesser use of email and status updates among community college students.
What’s this for?
What they’ve done before for educational purposes:
77% / 54% uploaded material
63% / 54% used Facebook
57% /37% posted work on the open web instead of Blackboard
48% / 41% uploaded to YouTube
39% / 37% blogged or commented on blogs
11% / 23% used my cell phone for QR codes or other real-world uses
7% / 6% none of these
I was surprised that so many have used Facebook for work, considering the “creepy treehouse” effect. It also looks like educators have pushed them to go beyond normal habits in uploading YouTube, posting on the open web and uploading material (especially at university), and participating in blogs.
What they’re comfortable doing:
100% /99% using Word
95% / 99% watching video or listening to music
82% / 76% downloading and installing a program or app
82% / 80% getting an account at a website
75% / 74% finding a translation for something that isn’t in English
0% /0% none of these
The two groups are remarkably consistent here, and Microsoft has obviously won the day with Word.
Conclusion: Expansion of my class Facebook group to include topics wouldn’t be amiss. I should expect that they will need to be pushed to create anything of their own. They won’t have trouble getting an account at websites or downloading something, or using Word. I already provide instructions on how to embed, and now I see that’s essential. They could be perplexed by IM or Skype for office hours (though I haven’t noticed that with IM), so I might try Moodle’s chat inside the system.
I think collecting this kind of information from our students is useful. It also helps counter the idea that they’re all sitting around making videos or blogging and being active creators – rather they appear to be natural consumers for whom it’s a good educational experience to be asked to do something different.
Every semester I ask my students about my online classes. After doing this for many years, I have come to the following conclusions regarding those negative comments, the ones that may be few but that keep us up at night. So if you are dealing with some negative feedback, and blowing it out of proportion, consider:
If you use text, video and audio to explain the navigation of the class at the beginning, they complain that there is too much to do. If you don’t use media to explain the navigation of the class, they complain because they get lost.
If you use a linear form of navigation throughout the class, they complain because they don’t understand what to do. If you use a non-linear form of navigation, they complain that they’re lost.
If you use nested forums where all posts are visible, they complain because the page is too long to scroll. If you use threaded forums where each post must be clicked, they complain that they can’t follow the conversation.
If you use the default buttons in the LMS, they complain because the course is just as boring as their last class. If you don’t use the default buttons in the LMS, they complain because the class doesn’t look the same as their last class.
If you grade things slowly because you’re putting lots of comments on assignments, they complain because they aren’t getting their work back fast enough. If you grade quickly, they complain because they aren’t getting enough detailed feedback.
If you post instructions in one place, they complain that they didn’t see them and so didn’t know about the assignment. If you post them in many places, they get confused that there was so much material they couldn’t find it all.
If you require quizzes provided by the publisher, they complain because either the publisher’s system didn’t work, or they didn’t want a different password, or the wording of the questions was too difficult. If you provide custom quizzes, they complain that the questions were not asking exactly what was written in the readings.
If you are nice and give a student a break on one assignment, they assume that all assignment deadlines are negotiable. If you don’t give them a break, you’re being cruel because it wasn’t their fault.
If you have them submit all assignments privately, they complain because they weren’t given any examples. If you have them work publicly in a forum, they complain because their work is seen by others.
If you have only a few types of tasks, they complain that they weren’t given enough chances to show their knowledge. If you have many different types of tasks, they complain that there was too much to do.
If you provide a rubric, they complain that they didn’t know about it or that their circumstances don’t apply to it. If you don’t provide a rubric, they claim grading was arbitrary.
If you provide only text-based lectures and assignments, they complain because there is so much reading. If you augment with audio or video, they complain because they couldn’t get the technology to work or didn’t think those parts were assigned.
If you do not require context reading aside from lectures, they complain that the course is subjective and they needed the facts. If you provide context reading from Wikipedia, they complain that Wikipedia shouldn’t be assigned because it’s not a good source.
If you do not allow outside readings as a source for writing, they complain because they were limited to only what was provided. If you allow outside readings, they complain because they didn’t know how to choose them or weren’t allowed to use them instead of the assigned readings.
If you create similar interactive activities for each unit, they complain because they’re doing the same thing every week. If you create varied activities for each unit, they complain that it isn’t consistent so they don’t know what to do.
If you do not ask them to complete an anonymous survey, they complain because they weren’t allowed to give feedback about the class. If you do ask them to complete an anonymous survey, they complain about things they would not mention in front of other students.
No, I won’t stop asking them for feedback, and I’ll bet you can tell it’s that grading / marking / begging / exceptions time of year, and many of my students would consider this list a mischaracterization because they love my class, and how it was constructed, and they tell me so, and they are right. But when it comes to considering that negative feedback….pass the grains of salt, please.
This semester I did a bad thing – I took something that was working perfectly well (ok, maybe it had one little weakness) and tried to improve it.
By “improve”, I mean I changed it to make it more detailed instead of leaving it broad.
It’s that Contrbution Assessment, the one I’ve been so happy with. I revised it because there were one or two things being misconstrued. The criteria all seemed roughly equivalent, so some thought they could not do any context readings, or not help others. I thought I could fix that.
So I changed it to make the assignment more specific, by asking the students to comment on each of the 12 criteria in the new rubric I made:
Forum Posts, Essays and Final Exams
Use of class materials and activities is expected.
Essays have made full use (A), good use (B), some use (C), little use (D), or no use (F) of class materials and activities.
Essay theses must be interpretive.
Essay theses are highly interpretive (A), solidly interpretive (B), primarily factual with some interpretation (C), factual (D) or not a thesis (F).
Essays must use the required number of primary sources from the forums.
The required number of sources used in the essay are all primary (A or B), mostly primary (C), mostly secondary (D), all secondary or not used(F).
Sources must be fully cited.
Sources in the essay are fully cited (B), almost all fully cited (B), mostly cited (C), not all cited (D) or not cited (F).
Writing must be at the college level.
Writing in the essay is at the college level or higher (A), at the college freshman English 100 level (B), at the high school level (C), below the high school level (D or F).
Contribution to the Class
Students should log in at least three times a week.
Logs in more than three times a week (A), 2-3 times a week (B), once a week (C), less than weekly (D or F).
Students should post/reply at least three times a week in the forums.
Posts in forums three times a week (A), 2-3 times a week (B or C), once a week (C or D), less than weekly (F).
Students should respond to guidance from instructor, learn from group (rather than individual) feedback, and get help from the FAQ and college resources as needed.
Responds to instructor guidance as provided through examples, replies, and messages – always (A), almost always (B), mostly (C), occasionally (D), never (F).
Students should be helpful to others through commenting, suggesting, or providing good examples in the forums.
Is helpful to other students weekly (A), regularly (B), occasionally (C), rarely (D), not at all (F)
Work in the forum should be connected to class lectures and readings.
Work in the forum is clearly connected to class lectures and readings in every post (A), in many posts (B), in some posts (C), in few posts (D), in no posts (F).Lectures and readings should be completed weekly.
Lectures and readings have been completed every week on schedule (A), weekly (B), most weeks (C), few weeks (D), rarely (F).
Student work should reflect the student’s own interests.
Writing for theses and essays has been obviously related to the student’s own interests every week (A), most of the time (B), occasionally (C), rarely (D), never (F).
A couple of things happened, and I noticed it first on the mid-term assessment. Some students copied the whole criteria list, and I couldn’t tell which level they were indicating as the one they achieved (text formatting got lost, I suspect, between their writing program and Moodle). Some just listed them (1,2,3) and just put a grade for each (1.A, 2.B, 3. B+) and I kept having to reference the list to tell what they were assessing. Some ignored it completely and just told me what their grade should be.
Now typically, the grades they tell me are really close to what they’ve contributed in terms of their writing and forum posts, and helping each other. Their evaluations of their own contribution have been honest, and the assignment interesting to grade. I’ve been able to check what they say against a downloaded list of their total posts, and their activity as tracked by the LMS.
But I noticed on the mid-term assessment that the grades were a little more off. More students (not a lot) were saying they should get a higher grade than was indicated. They would even discuss all 12 items, tell me they were earning C’s in three or four of them, then say they should get an A anyway.
And now I’m seeing it again, only more marked, on the end-of-term assessments. Some students didn’t read the comments on the first assessment, so didn’t improve, but listed the same grades and said they should get the same as last time. Many more are asking for higher grades than indicated by the criteria. I’m feeling like a meanie, instead of affirming their view. Ugh.
A couple of possibilities:
The 12 points were overwhelming rather than encouraging of reflection.
The 12 points made it appear overly formulaic, so they felt they didn’t have as much flexibility in determing their grade. It came off like a game to trap them, rather than an iterative process designed to engender self-analysis. People respond to games by deciding not to play – or, if the game seems deceptive, they cheat.
Either way, I constructed this and now need to deconstruct it for the summer, or certainly for the fall, and go back to the way I had it before – reference the rubric, then say what you’ve earned and why, and that’s it. In this case, flexibility was better than precision.
Instructor presence, though it can be defined more technically, is a perception that the instructor is there and available to the student during a class. Lately, in addition to my weekly summaries and guidance in the discussion forums, plus announcements and messages with individual students, I’ve also been using two other elements: an introductory video at the beginning of class, and a Voki introduction to each week.
Here’s the introductory video for this coming summer:
Here’s video on how I create my weekly Voki:
While both are clearly presentations rather than interactivity, I think the spontaneity is important in encouraging students to see me as a real person at the “other end” of the class. That’s why I prefer cheap and easy methods like these (webcam and iMovie for the video, free Voki for the animation) rather than more “professional” means.
Here, let me help you. Photo by iapsii via Flickr.
There is some limited agreement about “what’s wrong” with higher education. It is currently trendy to denigrate the lecture format, the high price of a college education, the usefulness of the curriculum, and the lack of focus on individual growth. The solution, depending on your view, might be MOOCs (free huge online classes), an acceptance of non-college-educated workers (no one wants to talk about that), or a focus on “student success”. For those inside the current college system, this last is becoming most popular.
We admit that many of our students are underprepared, overly dependent, and unmotivated. A “student success” focus is designed to deal with these failings and enable students to graduate, presumably by somehow making them more prepared, less dependent and more motivated. Student services are ramped up, early alert systems enabled to provide counseling for those failing their classes. Even professional development for everyone from janitors to administrators is designed to promote “student success”.
However, the system as it exists is not set up to provide the type of personal attention that “student success” advocates say is needed. College is designed for the prepared, independent, motivated student – that’s what makes it “higher” education. Grades are assigned to those students to determine the level of their work compared to a discipline standard, and assessment assumes that the work they do is the result of their learning. At the undergraduate level, college is designed for general rather than deep learning, in a process that forces the student to do lots of reading and pay attention.
I commit heresy now when I say that this traditional design might be a good thing.
Certainly the patching we’re trying to do to fix it is counterproductive. If we accept and condone the underpreparedness, the dependency, and the lack of motivation, we increase the tendency of these students to come to college and expect high levels of deeply personal support. We refuse to say that a student is simply not ready for college, since this could both undermine their “self esteem” and hold them back for remedial work when they need to get their degree soon. So instead it falls on professors to desperately try to hold to a standard of college-level work, while both students and administrators exert pressure on them to ensure “student success”. Part-time college profs in particular know that if they don’t have a certain level of “success”, they’ll lose their jobs.
The view that profs should be deeply attentive to individual students is also leaking into the current arguments about online education. The recent New York Times article The Trouble with Online College has caused great consternation in the ranks, but what jumped out at me is the claim that online classes do not allow for “getting to know” ones students. (In response, some commenters insist that online classes have just as much or more personal interactions between profs and students as on-site classes. That’s true but it’s beside the point.)
I am increasingly having trouble with the argument that “getting to know your students” is the hallmark of class quality. Instead, quality education should create an environment for the students to get to know the ideas and the discipline. The energy for learning should originate with the student, who needs to study and work hard to figure out both the system and the content. Professors are experts in their discipline, not in engendering character development. Their role is to model their scholarly engagement with their discipline, not their personal engagement with their students. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be good teachers, but it doesn’t define a good teacher as someone who really knows their individual students well. I will “know” a certain percentage of students, in person or online, as it happens naturally. And not knowing every student “well” doesn’t mean not contacting or following up with students who are doing poorly – that’s always appropriate. It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be nice – I’m an advocate of nice .
But over the past decade, I have watched my own students become increasingly unwilling to analyze collective feedback in terms of their own work. Instead they want individual feedback only, preferably in a one-on-one environment with me. At 40 students per class section, I cannot meet that expectation. But it’s a symptom of the individualized attention their sub-standard work has been given thus far. They know that the current system is focused on their “success”, and I’m supposed to make that possible rather than them. Instead of overcoming their own limitations (economic class, learning disability, living situation), they are taught that I will take those hurdles into consideration and lower my expectations. Some have internalized the learning problems and even learning styles they’ve been told they possess as individuals, and they see them as justification for lowered standards. I have students who tell me they can’t do the reading because they are visual learners. (I sometimes find myself mumbling “I’ll read it for you”, a line from Monty Python’s bookshop sketch.)
I realize I sound like a 19th century conservative here, and I am no proponent of Samuel Smiles or social Darwinism. But the dependency of students is expanding within a system increasingly dedicated to enabling their helplessness. Equal opportunity and equal access are the hallmarks of democracy and public education, and I strongly believe in them. But that does not mean equal “success”, especially at the price of academic standards, massive instructor workload, increased student dependency, and an environment that caters to the underprepared and unmotivated.
So I question the current focus on the success of the underprepared, dependent, unmotivated college student. I’m getting concerned that the prepared, independent, motivated learner is being subjected to a restrictive and limited education instead of college or university learning. I have very little time to spend with the high-B student who could be an A, because I spend so much time re-explaining directions and answering individual questions that I’ve already answered collectively, or tracking down poor-performing students to recommend they get tutorial help. This focus on their ‘success” may help them do a little bit better, but at the sacrifice of leaving the better students at the same level as when they came in. I don’t have time to help them make their very good work excellent.
Perhaps “success” should be defined as self-development into an independent learner who can learn something valuable from any professor in any class. It should mean succeeding within various environments and with various teaching styles, and being able to learn something regardless – success as a learner, as someone becoming more educated. (I cringe now when people go off on the track that education reform should be based on people following their own path for learning their own way, studying only those subjects they really care about. College is for finding out the value of subjects you don’t care about, but I guess that’s another post.) I certainly want student success to mean that they come in at a certain level of understanding and increase it in my class. Instead it’s coming to mean a passing grade after lots of detailed and personal help. Thus the cranky post.
Two things have happened that have caused me to think again about professor-student communications and attitudes, and how they may impact learning.
A couple of weeks ago in the POT Facebook group, I posted this in total frustration, as a response to the student attitudes I mentioned in my last post.
Just an idea…..
Subject: Response failure
Your email could not be answered because it did not contain one or more of the following:
1. a subject in the subject line
2. a greeting (such as Hi Professor)
3. your class name and section number
4. a full explanation
5. a sign-off or signature of your name as registered
As a result, we were unable to fulfill the usual response time.
Please resubmit your email or Message for a speedier response.
History 111 Online
I was only half-serious. Yet several teachers began to use it as a template for making actual reponses to students, thanking me for the idea and reporting results.
This is because teachers are frustrated. Obviously I understand that.
Then this week Donna Marques posted this video in the POT Facebook group.
I have watched this a couple of times. My gut reaction to the voice of the professor is negative – he sounds pompous to say the least. The student sounds stupid. I try to imagine a student watching this. The “A” student says “duh”. The “C” student says, “That teacher is mean. This video is mean. It’s making fun of me.” But the gut reaction of teachers is, “Yes! This teaches the student about responsibility!”
I have concerns about the affective domain and its impact on teaching. The video enforces the power relationship between prof and student in the discussion of rules and grades. The underlying assumption is that strict rules, and sticking to them, provides an equitable environment for student learning.
I have three problems with this:
1. Students do not respond the same way to this attitude and message. In fact, the type of student for whom this needs to be said is the exact type of student who will resent the message and learn nothing from it.
2. The attitude perpetuates the dependence of the student (and professor!) at a very basic level of rules and obedience. The prof is now playing the low-level game of carrots and sticks, as if we were training dogs instead of educating citizens. At no point can we engage the larger issues of why one should follow deadlines and be responsible. This level of discussion is great for training hamburger flippers at McDonald’s, but not an educated citizenry.
3. It implies that a student will pass the class if they follow instructions. This isn’t true – some students will be cognitively unable to do the level of work required. And we can’t talk about that because of 1 and 2 above have already caused levels of emotion that make such a conversation impossible.
This doesn’t mean I’m recommending being a pushover. And keep in mind that I’m writing this while I’m experiencing my own crisis about students not following instructions. I have basic requirements for primary source posts – post an image, the author/artist, its title, date and a link. About half of my students refuse to follow the basic instructions, even to the point where I had another student message me this morning offering to help them do it right.
I can repeat the instructions, and I do, in multiple places. I can grade them down, and eventually I will. And sure, I could create a video or use the one above, thinking it’s designed to teach them responsibility.
But all it will do is cause resentment. And if they’re resentful, we won’t be able to get past their badly cited posts, and into historical analysis. I need the students who are cognitively able to do the work to follow me into doing real history - that’s my real job. And they won’t follow me if they think I’m mean.