Friday, August 20, 2010

To tell or not to tell

When I was in graduate school I learned that keeping 50% of students in an online class is a success story. The attrition or drop-out rate for online classes has always been much, much higher than for f2f (face to face) classes. Keep half and you're doing great. I learned that concept as a maxim, but my experience has borne it out. Students taking classes from afar (often) or taking online versions of classes for convenience sake (or laziness, sometimes, I think) just don't finish as often as students who have to come to class and face the music a couple or three times a week.

In fact, sometimes students enroll in an online course and never do a single thing in the course. They don't enroll in the Blackboard site (online course management site), they don't submit assignments, they don't respond to email, and they don't drop the class by the drop deadline. They're like ghosts-- present in name only. Of course students who behave thus (a lack of behavior, really) have to receive a failing grade even though they could have avoided such simply by dropping the course by the 12th week.

Then there are those who complete a few assignments, but quite doing so at week 4 or 6 or 9. A few even do all the work, but fail to turn in the course portfolio or the final paper or fail to take the final exam-- thus disqualifying themselves for a "completion" or a "pass." As much as I encourage and empower (I really don't like that word-- too ambiguous) and cajole, students just don't finish-- some of them anyway. What's up with that?

I've thought some this summer about what to say (write) to students who will be in my online classes. I always send a cheery, informative, and encouraging (though realistic) email message which spells out what they'll need to do to be successful in the course. I've wondered if I should tell students that half of the class will likely disappear or stop participating before the end of the term. Would that help them see how seriously they should take the course requirements? Would it strengthen their resolve to step up and do they work? Or would it give them an easy out?

"Dr. Draney said half of us wouldn't finish. I guess I'm in that half."

What do you think? Have you taken an online class? How did it go? What motivated you to do well? What kinds of communications about expectations did you get from your instructor(s)?


Clint Carter said...

I'm not a student so I really can't "officially" comment. I can say that when I went to BYU, I had to decide whether to drop a class within the first 2 weeks and then I was stuck. Having 12 weeks to decide to drop a class is plenty of time to make up your mind if the class is for you.
My feeling is that you don't tell students that half of them will drop out because that would make me feel like the class is too hard so I would be thinking of reasons why I should drop it if half have bailed early. Tell them that hardly anyone drops the class because it is one of the easies A's they'll every earn. That should draw a crowed of lazy students in no time at all.

Patricia Murphy, a resident of said...

Hey Dude, here's another complication I've noticed: students who take an online course and can't manage the technology and get frustrated but don't drop. This is a tough one. I taught bus com async this summer (first time online for me)and whadddya know 11 of 22 never turned in a thing. Since my dad died during week two of a four week class, and I was doing the class from NJ and all, I didn't post any reminder warnings like "remember you have until midnight tonight to turn in assignment two", which I might not have done anyway. I also never checked to see if the "losers" were even logging in. In other words, I was just happy to have less grading at such a busy and emotional time. But now I'm gonna do the same class next spring, and I don't know what I'll do about the issue you bring up. I feel like it's fair warning on one hand, and could be a good wake up call for those students who linger but don't do anything to get out. Then maybe someone else who really wants to be there can add in. But I get that you don't want to start a self fulfilling prophecy/excuse for them to blame you and bail, especially since we have to put everything in writing for online classes.
I love, love, love Clint's idea about the A's. I think you should try it, but then you don't want to put that message in writing either. Good luck! Keep me updated about what you decide. Teaching is so complicated!

Patricia Murphy, a resident of said...

BTW -- Hill Cumorah was amazing.

Clark Draney said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, folks. I still haven't decided what to do. More than likely, I won't "tell" them anything other than my usual spiel about "log in daily," "do the work," "don't be a bonehead," etc. You know.

Patricia Murphy, a resident of said...

But it's nice to vent sometimes; isn't it?