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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Enabling students

Lisa of Lisa's (Online) Teaching Blog has put her finger on something that has been bugging me for the last several weeks:
After years of being accommodating to students, and providing flexibility to deal with their hectic schedules, and alternative assignments to cater to learning styles, we’ve done it. We’ve helped create an entire generation of students who assume alternatives for everything, and expect us to accommodate everything. They also comfortably assume that every instruction, limitation, restriction applied to their coursework will be repeated to them many times in a variety of formats, and are, at any rate, negotiable if they didn’t get it the first four times...

Enabling, that’s what they call it. I really don’t like to be harsh, but I can’t imagine them negotiating every deadline (most don’t even bother to negotiate it — they just skip it and hand it to me later) and requiring instructions be repeated four times in the working world. I hope they grow up to be highly successful professional surfers, fashion designers or movie producers with a secretarial staff and personal assistants to take care of them, but some won’t. It sure keeps things friendly but, even setting aside my own mild annoyance at all this, I don’t think we’re doing them a service.
I highly recommend reading the whole post - Lisa's story about literally repeating something 4 times (in a row!) is depressingly familiar. I often find myself simply incredulous that after I've repeated something upteen times AND posted it on the website in multiple places, I STILL get students who email me because they missed it. And then I struggle with how to handle that - do I give them partial credit? Any credit? A lecture on how they need to pay closer attention? If I don't make accommodations, will they hate me and think I'm an unfair bitch? But if I do make accommodations, am I just encouraging them to continue being clueless? And is that fair to the students that paid attention and did everything right the first time?

This has been a particular struggle with the 500-seater because I know that with a class this size, there are going to be more students who miss stuff. On the one hand, I try harder to make information as clear and as available for students as I can so I know they have no excuses; on the other hand, they still miss stuff and then email me to ask for accommodation. I've come up with a couple ways of dealing that I think are marginally creative; I'll come back and post about them as soon as I'm done with the stack of 400 one-pagers that need to be graded...


  1. This semester, I had a student come in two days after the final, asking to take it. His reason? He didn't know when the final was given.

    1) The date was in the courseschedule on the syllabus.

    2) I had posted an announcement reminding them when (and where) the final was being given on the on-line course mabagement system.

    3) I had announced it daily in class for the last two weeks of the semester.

    I told him he had to take some responsibility for his actions, and his final exam score was a zero. I felt not one bit of an issue about doing so. But, then, I do have a reputation to maintain (grin).

  2. I try to put everything administrative on the course website. That way, whenever a student asks an administrative question, I simply say "It's on the website." My students seem to find that a reasonable response, though the questioner may be less satisfied.

    I'm usually more forthcoming with questions about understanding the content, but then I don't have 500 students.


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