twitterfied discussion of pedagogy & stuff

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).

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2 Comments on “twitterfied discussion of pedagogy & stuff

  1. Professor Meloni,

    I felt inclined to comment, because I’ve been creeping your blog, twitter, website, and even stumbled upon your LibraryThing by coincidence. I wanted to offer some insight into the other side – at least, into my own personal reasoning behind my absences, or why I didn’t provide any great contributions (especially compared with the rest of the class) to in-class discussions.

    Why is it that often, only ten or so students would show up to our ENGL428A class? I’d venture to say that the majority of University students are so worried about their grades, their careers, families, and life in general, that they often fail to show up to an 8:30 class.

    Personally, I would often stay up all night trying to understand why I’m in post-secondary. I consistently fail to connect what I’m learning with how it shapes me as a human being. I understand that’s not what it’s about… it’s about literature. An appreciation for literature and the ability to critically analyze said literature. However, I have no intent on an academic career – I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m majoring in English because I love reading and writing and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make writing my career.

    I got into university, took a class in nearly every faculty out of personal interest, and then in third year – realized that it wasn’t where I should be and wanted to leave. But due to various pressures (societal, parental, financial), I wasn’t comfortable with leaving without a degree. So I trudge onwards, class after class. I understand the need to ‘earn’ a degree, to earn one’s grades – to leave one’s issues at home, come to class, focus on the material, do the work, and actually /learn/; but I couldn’t make the connection between taking notes and living life anymore. At some point, I stopped caring about grades and started getting into substances to pass the time.

    All this, of course, was compounded by mental illness which often prevented me from attending classes. Some days were darker than others, and those were the days I opted to stay home and stare at walls. Or, more likely, endlessly surf the net trying to find something or someone to identify with – reaching out for a hand to save me. I wasn’t finding this hand in literature anymore.

    I don’t apply for disability status or preferential treatment because I don’t like being separated from the rest of the class – call it pride if you wish, but I don’t need to look in the mirror and need another reason why I’m different from everyone else. As such, the post-class notes allowed me to keep up with the class. I’m truly sorry that I didn’t always attend, that I couldn’t contribute to the overall class discussion very often.

    The thing is – it’s still not fair to only give out information to a class that is present, or to offer them perks for showing up to 70% of the classes. It’s not fair that the friends of those who are awarded the perks get that same information and the students who did not attend the +70% of classes and do not socialize with the rest of the class, fall through the cracks.

    You were an absolutely amazing teacher. Your love of the material shone through the entire semester, and through your wit and passion, you made the material accessible. If half of the professors I have had (including tenured ones) in the past would have had half the amount of your pedagogical skill, I might have found myself a motivated student.

    I wish I had the opportunity to pass the following link to all of my professors, which is why I’m taking a moment to post it here. This explains what I wish I was being taught, in a sense:

    The truth is, I took you for granted. At times, your American persona has come off quite snappy in this modest North – though I don’t like being called petulant is ever professional. I judged your character by your actions. Then, when I read your blog posts, when I saw the ‘other side’ of you – I realized how wrong I was. For my ignorance, I apologize.

    Lastly, I also apologize for this long winded comment that is will possibly be seen as a rant about my own life, or my unhappiness in present circumstances. I promise you that it isn’t. I merely tried to provide some flesh behind the grades. While not all students may have the same reasoning for not showing up to class, I don’t think we can assume they’re lazy or stereotype all students who miss classes.

    In the end, we’re all lost and looking for a guiding hand – but students especially so.

    I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours, wherever they may take you. Thank you for your teaching and providing an increased interest and understanding of a period in literature that, to be honest, I previously despised. Your wit will be dearly missed.

    Anonymous Student (who hopefully isn’t given away by his lack of a working proxy…)

  2. i don’t know if anyone’s going to read this, but what the hell. *person who commented before me i will try to be sensitive about your mental health problems. you sound like you have legitimate reasons for not coming in, and i sincerely hope everything works out for you.
    but i am severely lacking sympathy for those who chose not to show up. I work full time and am taking 5 novel classes. I also have a long term/long distance relationship. so on my days off from work or school i commute for 5 hours to see them and do my homework on ferry/bus/ or read in the company vehicle on the way to work. i have also recently been diagnosed with cancer. i still manage to get out of bed on time and get my shit done. i don’t want to guilt trip you guys, but come on, it’s a bunch of books, it’s not that hard.

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