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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Consistency is everything

One of the first lessons I learned as a teacher was the importance of setting student expectations early, making it clear from day one what students can expect from your class in terms of workload, schedule, learning outcomes, etc., and then being consistent. Students may not be happy about everything but my experience is that they will accept a lot as long as it isn't unexpected.

Unfortunately, I didn't do so well with that this semester. For various reasons, I found myself making changes mid-semester and I know that many of the emails I'm dealing with now are because of that inconsistency. There are certain changes I think are justified and I don't think there's anything wrong with making mid-semester adjustments when something I'm doing isn't working for a majority of students (like adding the online quizzes). But what's bumming me out is that some of the changes I've needed to make are things I should have anticipated. For example, at the beginning of the semester, I counted up the number of days when we would be having lectures where the students would be using clickers, coming up with a total of 31. I make each day worth 5 points so I figured I would drop the 6 lowest scores and they would have a total of 125 points from clickers. My mistake was putting it on the syllabus that I would drop 6 scores, rather than saying I would keep the top 25 scores because as you can probably guess, stuff happens and we ended up with only 29 scores, 2 fewer days than I anticipated. So I could a) still drop 6 and have clickers worth 115 points instead of 125 (which would make their performance on clickers worth slightly less in the final grade and mean a different point total than is in the syllabus), or b) drop 4 scores instead of 6. With either option, I'm going to have students who want to know why I'm doing something different than what's in the syllabus, though I suppose the former will get fewer complaints than the latter, simply because it won't be as obvious to students if/how it hurts them.

What annoys me is that I should have known to leave room in the syllabus for stuff to happen. Just as I should have known that there's no way to have 500 students on a rotating schedule for weekly posts without a huge number of students being confused about when it was their turn to post. Or that I would never have the time to give students sufficient feedback on those posts.

Fortunately, semesters do end eventually!

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