Missteps?

I think there was somewhat of a miscommunication today, the last day of class before the second midterm exam. [Note that this posting was drafted roughly a month ago.] I reminded students of the format for the exam and the topics it would cover. I asked students for any questions they had about the exam or the material on it. In the first section there were many questions asked, so many in fact that I worried whether or not I would have enough time to review the meta activities. In the second section there were relatively few questions asked. I told students that I would be around tomorrow (a day when I don’t teach and don’t usually hold office hours) pretty much all afternoon to take any questions they come up with.

Next I dismissed those students who hadn’t turned in any of the metas. I told those who had not done meta 6 but had done subsequent metas that they could come back when we discussed those. I expected those students to hang around in the hall, but none did. It was uncomfortable for me to discuss the last three metas with only a handful of students in each class. But I had clearly communicated well before the first exam that students who didn’t turn in the metas wouldn’t be privy to discussing them. Such students wouldn’t be prepared to contribute to the discussion and additionally they would be free-riders, which didn’t seem fair to those students who had prepared. The important thing to me was that all students knew the rules well in advance.

Later in the day, an administrator called me to let me know that “a group of concerned students� had visited to express their displeasure with being excluded from the discussion. They felt that they could have benefited from listening to the discussion of the metas and that missing that discussion could adversely affect their exam grade. The administrator indicated that these were serious students who wanted to attend class. The administrator also said I was on shaky ground to ask students to leave the class just before the exam, given that the meta assignments were optional.

I did feel during the meta discussion that the students attending would likely do better on the exam than those who did not. And I also felt uncomfortable how few those students were. But it also seemed to me that the students who failed to do the metas made a choice and they knew what the consequences would be in terms of missing the subsequent discussion. I think that asking them to leave was similar to asking students who were unprepared for class to leave.

What I should have done differently was better manage the meta deadlines. I essentially allowed students to turn any of the last 3 metas in up to the day we discussed them. It would have been better to discuss at least the first two earlier than the day before the exam, so that students wouldn’t feel so excluded on that last day. Still, I don’t believe students would have gotten much more out of that last class since I had already answered all the questions they had.

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