Last Quarter, This Quarter
You know, what with all the hunting of jobs and trying to arrange my life after getting a job and panicking about conference papers last quarter (not that I've stopped with the panicking), I was pretty sure that I had not been at my teaching best. Got my evals, and the students disagreed. Apparently, they all felt they'd learned a lot. At least, the ones who stuck it out did. My favorite negative comment was that I assigned too much reading, but that I couldn't improve, because the student just didn't like to read. Most of the comments were more along the lines of High expectations/hardest/best class they'd taken. Woohoo!
This quarter is very different. I only have two classes (my contract is slightly less than full-time -- that way, they don't have to pay union scale, which would raise my salary about $13k). One of them is too damned early. The students in TDE class are almost all young women, and all of the students seem engaged and interested. Both the classes are hybrids -- 20% of the class takes place on the online discussion boards, and we only have 4 hours of actual seat time. The online discussions this week have been fairly lively -- not everyone participating, but most. They've responded to suggestions I've made on the boards, and look like they'll start responding more to each other ... I'm happy so far.
The other class ... small -- about 10. It's that class. The Spring term class we all know and dread. We will all have at least one in our teaching lives, but I still don't know how to deal with this dynamic. Most of the students are there to fulfill a requirement. Clearly, however, they haven't yet passed their math requirement, because not only is 20% of the grade based on online discussion, but another 20% is class participation, because, well ... they are supposed to do the readings before class and be prepared to discuss the primary sources. They're not supposed to know how to do this from day one. But I have given them questions to answer for each source (same questions, folks -- the ones historians start off with about authorship, audience, kind of document, etc.). They are required to bring their answers to class. And ... if they can't answer the questions, or if they don't get something in the document, they get equal credit for bringing in their questions!.
At this point, class two have mostly each logged into the discussion board once, to introduce themselves. One student has posted answers to the two substantial discussion questions. One. The discussion guidelines I hand out on how discussion is graded are pretty specific in what the minimum requirements are. I went over them in class and did the math with the students -- it is almost impossible to fail my class if you actually do the work. A person can turn in every assignment and bomb on it, but if they've been maxing out in class and online, they will pass the class. Conversely, if they ace every assignment, but blow off class and online discussion, they will get no higher than a D.
What are they thinking, and does anybody have a suggestion for how to engage them before it's too late? Yesterday there were far too many 3 minute silences while people refused to answer questions. And they were easy questions -- who was the author of "X"? What kind of a document is it? A pamphlet? OK -- what does that mean? What was the purpose of such pamphlets? (this is the modern course). And then, after teasing (well, more like dragging, kicking and screaming) the answers out of them, I asked them to help me re-cap what we'd learned. The same questions, mind. No answers.
I have not dismissed a class for wasting my time in a long time. I may be doing it next week. But really, I'd like some constructive suggestions, if you've got 'em.