And I thought students had lots of opinions?

I’m mired in the middle of my weekly grading for the tech class I teach at University of Phoenix Online and I’m amazed that the easiest part of their grade is declining, week by week. Here’s the deal: in a given seven day period, students are required to post in the main discussion group five of seven days, 2-3 postings per day. They should be at least a paragraph of new material and it’s all on-topic for the class. It’s also 20% of their grade.

So you’d think “gosh, that sounds like the easiest part of the grade: just natter on in the group and 1/5th of my grade is guaranteed?” but, surprisingly, students don’t actually post very much.

I realize that students have lives and other things that take their time, but surely a one-paragraph posting even just once per day would take no more than 5-10 minutes total, right? That’s ‘waiting for your coffee to cool’ time. But the grades tell the story…

Week one: 90%, 100%, 60%, 100%, 100%, 100%

Week two: 40%, 100%, 75%, 100%, 100%, 60%

Week three: 80%, 100%, 60%, 80%, 100%, 60%

A strange trend. And one that astonishes me because, of all people, I have always assumed that students have plenty to say…

8 comments on “And I thought students had lots of opinions?

  1. are you not pinging weblogs? That’s why you’re still at the bottom of my links it will only move up if you ping. It’s all about the ping babee 🙂

  2. Kids DO have plenty to say. When they think the old geezers aren’t looking . But a “school” setting is a whole other thing.
    One of my kids did a lot of online ed (college courses long distance during high school), and his profs usually had class forums fairly highly structured. Kids didn’t have to guess/wonder what kind of dialog the teacher wanted to stimulate. The prof would goose it along with examples and quips and they began to get the drift. He’d also give them a little applause for posts well done (kids love applause – don’t we all?) and that would also get some rivalry going.
    In short, it isn’t a function of “build it and they will come.” Especially not if they think they are being observed. You have to show them how to pitch before they go up to bat on their own.
    Of course that is just my own observation and I could always be wrong ;->

  3. I couldn’t agree more, but when you’re teaching a course and each and every student has already had at least a dozen previous online courses, all of which have the same participation requirements, it’s certainly curious, don’t you think?

  4. >> when you’re teaching a course and each and every student has already had at least a dozen previous online courses, all of which have the same participation requirements, it’s certainly curious, don’t you think? ..
    Well, three possibilities occur to me. You decide which is more likely …
    a) They don’t know how to comment meaningfully on YOUR content, despite the prior experience or..
    b) It’s just performance anxiety relating to a new prof in a new class in a situation that will ease out once they get a better sense of you, or..
    c) We’re finally getting the first good rays of the season and a real tan is much nicer than the pallor you get from too much time in front of a CRT [only a half-joke ]

  5. Hi Dave, if the trend over there is anything like the trend here in Germany, maybe you should find a link for SMS messages from Mobile Phones direct to your discussion forum!

  6. I’ve taken 4 course with UoP (3 online, 1 ground, working on a BSIT after programming for 20 years) and I have some observations on the ‘substantive discussion’ requirement:
    A lot of discussion depends upon the discussion seeds. Many of the seed questions I’ve seen were basically asking the students to parrot the official answer for a question, and then explain its relevance in their workplace. After seeing 10-15 students all try to regurgitate the lecture (and half of them with ungramatical English), trying to say something original becomes depressing. On the other hand, one of my instructors would post 4-5 questions each week, with a requirement to discuss half of them; this worked well for me because I could pick something that was meaningful/relevant to me, and actually discuss it in depth.
    Another problem is the quality of responses. When I post 6 paragraphs discussing a topic, and someone responds with ‘me too’ or ‘I disagree’, it’s a little hard to for me to make a substantive response. And of course, if I give a 6 paragraph response to a 6 word reply, I’m either ‘talking down’ to the other students (whatever that’s supposed to mean) or I’m destroying their self-confidence by demonstrating my experience.
    The largest problem, I think, is that most of these students aren’t prepared to do college-level work, and the University is letting them float through classes and taking their money, instead of getting them into the appropriate prep courses first. I’ve seen too many people that can’t read or write at college-level attempting to write papers on development methodologies when they don’t even know how to congugate verbs or spell-check their papers.

  7. One significant problem you highlight, Craig, is that all colleges are facing the problem of insufficiently prepared incoming students. It’s great to say that they need more prep time, but it’s important to realize that it’s a problem that must be faced in each class. To UP’s credit, I am not aware of any backlash for giving lower grades…

  8. Craig — what exactly is congugating a verb, sir?
    Dave — perhaps you’re not aware of a backlash because it just doesn’t happen that often…
    Anbody see that they just settled around 13 million dollars worth of issues with the feds. Craig hit it on the dot — all ’bout the benjamins.
    Yes, I went to skool their.

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