Last night I asked a question on Twitter, had some discussions (yay, thanks!) and then promptly went to dinner with a friend. The discussion continued, then veered to something else, and I ended up being @-replied to but not participating in the conversation (because I ate a lot of food, then came home and went to sleep, because I am just that much fun).
But the questions and discussions were good ones, so I wanted to take a moment to wrap them up here, in longer form.
First, the original question I asked had to do with fairness regarding final exam questions and students who have not been to class for weeks. Here’s a brief rundown of events/background information:
- In the 4th-year c19 American Fiction class at UVic, before the mid-term exam and as part of regular in-class work I had students take a shot at writing exam questions. We then talked about the ones they wrote (really really really broad, typically), how those could be turned into good questions that enabled them to make arguments in a response, and so on. I ended up using part of one on the mid-term exam.
- For the mid-term, there were going to be three questions from which they could select one to write their essay. On the course blog, a week ahead of time, I put five possible questions up. Of those five, I would put up three, they would write on one.
- For the final exam, I always intended the last day of class to be review/discussion/make questions day, and that’s what we did. Or, they did, actually. I just facilitated the discussion. Got a lot of good, useful questions, and many really close to good questions. I planned to select six, on which they would write on two.
- Here’s the kicker: unlike any class I’ve ever taught, this class had at least half the class not show up more than half the time. In a class of 26, I never had more than 10-13 students on any given day, after about the third week of class. The students who came to class were great, but one thing we decided to change early on was the transcription of in-class notes & group work that then went on the class blog as a sort of crowdsourced study guide—the students and I recognized that the other half of the class was freeloading and using their notes instead of coming class, as opposed to enhancing their own work in class.
The question I posed to the twitters, then, was to help me square with posting all the possible essay questions to the course blog, knowing that half the class will reap the benefits of what was meant to be a reward for good work throughout the semester?
Now, I know that I have to, because I said I would. It wouldn’t be fair to change the rules and do something like only send the questions to students with more than 70% participation, or to post eight questions and only use six on the exam, and so on. So, I guess I really am square with it—the students in class didn’t seem to care that 12 of their peers would get the same access to questions as they would, but then again these students aren’t the type to respond in a situation like that (I’ve learned a lot about Canada in these last six months). And yes, I know that I could have structured things a lot differently so as to reward the better performers and not-reward (I don’t like “punish”) the ones who haven’t done what they should, but didn’t think I’d have such extraordinary student attendance and participation (because I hadn’t in the past, when I’ve done this same sort of thing).
So yeah, there’s that. Feel free to weigh in more if you’d like. I’m just going to make up the questions and post them all on the course blog, as I said I would.
The second thing that came up on the twitters is a lot shorter but I wanted to mention it, and that has to do with course blogging. For the last five courses I’ve taught, I’ve used hub-and-spoke blogging: I have a course blog, each of the students has their own blog, and those student blogs are listed in the sidebar of the course blog. The students use their blogs to respond to prompts each week and to help circulate ideas that we then bring back into the classroom. Typically each week I leave some sort of comment on students’ blogs, after they do, and then I write a brief wrap-up post. But primarily I use the course blog to disseminate information about the course in general, and about what we did each day in that course.
As I said above regarding things we changed mid-stream in this semester’s class at UVic, the post-class notes shifted quite a bit from something like crowdsourced notes to something much less informative for the people who were freeriding off the post-class notes.
I really like the post-class notes for myself, because I usually wrote them the same day as the class and they made a sort of teaching journal for myself—I write down things that didn’t work, things that did, and so on, even knowing the students would read them (and sheesh, they were there, so it’s not like me saying “and this didn’t work very well because…” would be some sort of surprise to them).