This was a transition week as wrapped up Topic 1 and moved on to Topic 2. The last step for Topic 1 was that I divided the class into groups of three students, and each group had the responsibility of cleaning up one part of our online discussion. Four of the five groups turned in their submissions on time, with the fifth a day late. Several groups expressed problems connecting up all their members. I intentionally didn’t circulate contact information, hoping that students would use the tools they had (for example, twitter with the class hashtag) to connect with each other. Some students apparently aren’t checking twitter or the emails daily. One very engaged student lost her internet access for four key days. She lives in Richmond, VA so that was kind of unexpected.
I reviewed each group’s submission and gave suggestions for revision. I could have done this more effectively synchronously, but I didn’t have that option or think to use skype for that purpose. Next time! Some of the rewrites were less than perfect, but this is only an introductory level course, so perhaps I was expecting too much. I decided to declare victory, edit the submissions to make the main points clear, as I would have done in a lecture. Then I posted them on the course website as “Class Notes for Topic 1.”
The class seems to have sorted themselves into three groups: a small number of students who jump on each assignment and got it done before the deadline, a large number of students who turn in most of the assignments mostly on time, and a small tail who may or may not still be taking the course.
This week I began one-on-one appointments with each student using skype just to check in and see how they were faring and to ask them they needed help in any way. The scheduling has proven more complicated than the appointments themselves, with the latter lasting only a couple minutes each. A few students ran into fairly minor problems with the technology, but we got it worked out, so next time should be easier. One student’s webcam “didn’t work” so we did the appointment by voice only. The excuse was ironic since usually that’s my problem.
I had a revealing conversation with one student who told me ““I’m not used to all this technology. I’ve never used twitter or skype before.” I know that the Digital Native myth is overblown, but I’m still surprised to find young people who aren’t digitally savvy. I asked her how the class was going for her and she replied, “Not so well; I’m not used to teaching myself!” Fail, I thought to myself about my course design. She clearly didn’t understand the way the online discussions are supposed to replace the lectures. I guess no matter how much you try to explain in advance, sometimes a student won’t get it. Then she told me something more startling: “We don’t have internet access at our house (which is more than an hour away from school). I have to go to my dad’s office to use the internet, like today.” While initially I thought that the course designer was at fault, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why a student would choose an online course when they lack internet access?
One final point: Three students in the course have revealed themselves as history majors, and there may be more in the class. That’s nearly 20% of my students. Our History & American Studies department offers the most digitally-inflected courses of any department at our school. Are their majors more likely then, to take online courses?
On to Week 4.