I just finished reading Chapter 5: The Student’s Perspective of Educating the Net Generation, Diana Oblinger and James Oblinger. This was the piece included in the introductory mailing from the Educause Learning Initiative. Interesting read on the perspective of students–I learned from it. One thing that struck me in the section on Crafting the Online Classroom : The author notes
The professor had assumed, while crafting his course, that putting philosophy on the Web would give his students more flexibility to shape their own learning experience. We could read at our own pace. We could respond to message threads at our leisure. We could even take tests with the full support of our text, [and] our notes.
Here is a top student, one you would expect to take advantage of the learning opportunities created by this online course, and yet even she took the easy way out, where by her own admission she did minimal work, learned little but got a good grade.
The lesson here, I think, is that students respond to incentives, that when faced with the constraints of other coursework, and other demands on their time, they will act in the way economists describe as rational. If we hope students will learn but we allow them to get by without doing so, then that’s what we’ll get.
When we craft our courses, we need to create a course environment where students will have to learn the course material to succeed. If we don’t create such an environment, almost all students will take the easy way out and we will all be the worse for it. I think the author of Chapter 5 would agree.
Further Thoughts on July 10:
I’m not arguing here against undemanding classes or grade inflation. Rather, I’m suggesting we need to structure our courses in such a way that students must do serious work to complete them. Compare, for example, a traditional lecture course with multiple choice exams with a course on the same topic, but which asks students to write multiple drafts of papers (with instructor feedback)instead of multiple choice exams. I think the nature of the work students do will be fundamentally different between the two courses, even if the time spent by students was the same. I expect the type and depth of learning would be greater in the latter course.