Their favorite part of the class

I had a high drop rate the first week of class in several of the online sections, so I asked those who dropped to do a quick survey for me about why they dropped:


Because overload seemed to be an issue, I wondered what part of the class I might be able to do away with.

So I polled my students in the fourth week of class, asking them “What’s your favorite part of the class so far?” The result from those who responded out of five sections of History classes:

31 – the lectures
21 – the primary source readings linked from lecture
33 –  posting my own primary sources
3 – the writing assignments
3  – the discussion forums
1  – connection with other students outside class
5  – the textbook (only two classes have a textbook – 4 of these were from the England class, which actually has only an atlas)

What’s interesting about this is that so few like discussion. Discussion is, actually, my most recent addition to the classes. I added it only because it was hard to discuss in either the primary sources boards or the writing forums, and there were some cool issues that we could do only in discussion, such as ways history connects to what’s going on today. So I set it up to be student-led, and not every week. We don’t do discussion on the six weeks we do writing. And after the first two discussions, I rarely participate. The activity level has been high, even though I have not set a specific number of responses or replies.

But they don’t like it, or at least don’t love it. I expected that they would like posting their own primary sources, but I didn’t realize they were even reading the sources linked from lecture, so that’s cool. The lectures – well, those are mine. I spent a long time constructing and revising them. They have video clips and lots of graphics and lots of, well, ME. So I’m glad they like them.

I wonder whether removing discussion would help the class seem less overwhelming?

5 comments to Their favorite part of the class

  • This is so interesting, Lisa! I am really struck by how much they like “posting their own primary sources” – of the create/contribute activities, that clearly dwarfs discussion and writing. Can you explain how that assignment works? Its popularity is very impressive, so I am curious!

    • Hi, Laura! Each week they have to post a primary source in a forum, citing with artist/author, title, date, live link to where they found it, and a comment placing it in context. About 95% post something visual, and all the sources can be seen on one page for that unit. The collection they make is then the raw material for their writing, as noted in my article here.

  • Thanks for that paper! It sounds like there is some kind of “gap” between the finding of the raw materials and the writing, at least based on the responses there in terms of how the students feel about step 1 of the process (posting primary sources) and step 2 (writing about them). I don’t know how the rest of your class is set up, but I know that two big motivators for my students are having their own blogs (I’ve used blogs instead of discussion boards so long that I can’t even remember when I made the switch), and also reading each other’s blogs (they are so social!). I don’t know how/where they do their writing, but maybe there would be a way to tinker with the context of the writing or format so that you could get more benefit from the momentum of the super-positive experience they are having with the primary source step of the process…?
    Anyway, it’s always so interesting what you find out from just asking students. For my new UnTextbook, I’m asking them to rate and comment on the readings each week and I just love getting that feedback. I’ve got a long list of improvements to make over the fall break now, ha ha. Here’s where I am sharing that with them: Weekly UnTextbook Reports.

    • Yes, I should work on the format again! It’s pretty basic at first – just pick any three sources and tie it together with a thesis. It’s posted in a forum, so everyone sees everyone’s but not anyone’s grades.

      For a couple of semesters, I used WordPress to have students post their writing. One student said in class, “I want to be able to do a ‘like’ on the best ones”. I was able to find a plugin that did that. They do like rating things!

  • Yes! That has been my experience too! And the ratings for the weekly readings really are useful to me… if only to confirm that people are just different, so the exact same reading unit can get rated all up and down the scale. And I’m not sure average is what interests me there… it’s the range that’s cool! 🙂