Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Snow Days. From Dr. Amelia.

As much of the East Coast is looking at either literally too much or uncommon snow and ice, the prayers to the storm gods are going up fast.

I'm a proffie, of course, and I drive a far piece to get to the campus, so I don't mind not having to risk my neck, to a point. Last year, we had so many snow days that I missed a week and a half of classes and my students definitely got the short end of that weather-covered stick.

I created online lessons for them, which they in turn ignored and resented. Our adminiflakes encouraged us to use online tools to maintain high learning expectations, so I did my best.

So this year, maybe I will not do so much.


  1. Boy, do I miss snow days. Not the shoveling or the clambering over piles at curbs, and certainly not the icy windshields or gritty puddles in the hall or the endless smell of damp wool.

    But I sure do miss the gift of a quiet midnight snowfall and its promise to shut everything down tomorrow. And I miss waking up to silence, and knowing I don't even need to turn on the radio to hear if school's been canceled.

    Do I miss it enough to give up my navel orange tree and year-round herb garden? No fucking way.


    That is all.

  2. Oh, and Amelia, just tell the Little Dears that they're still responsible for the reading as scheduled on the syllabus. Then have some hot cocoa.

  3. The Whether Goddess, or perhaps someone in her office, has it out for my labs. Its really that simple.

    Snow days around here invariably land on one of my (important! hard to make up!) laboratory days instead of on those days where I just have a collection of (easy to reorganize) lectures.

    I don't even try with the on-line business. The student that care will do the assigned reading (right there is the Master Schedule they're had from day 1), the other won't.

  4. Does anyone want to talk about online courses? I find that do-it-yourself activities breed resentment but forums seem to be the glue that holds it all together. Forums or comments, at least. There is something about the youth of college and the chance to talk that gets them going. When I neglect to add a forum, I find my online stuff tends to get neglected.

    1. I've only ever taught on-line once, using another instructors materials, for our "big" gen-ed service course.

      The material called for weekly interactions in the course forums, and these interaction were graded. Detailed instructions were included for each week, which usually called for a post introducing a particular case of that week's topic and two substantive comments criticizing or supporting the facts and arguments made by one of their peers.

      Two things drove me crazy:

      1. These students couldn't write their way out of a wet paper bag. I mean, most of the post were less literate than a typical Facebook comment. They made YouTube comment threads look well written.

      2. "That's very cool, I'm glad you told us." seems to be what passes for substantive criticism these days.

      About 10% of the students brought anything even approaching a college level of intellectual achievement to this work.

      I begged my department head to let me off on-line duties for a while.

    2. So miserable!!

      Every time a student posts a variation on "good post" or "great job" I reply publicly with an explanation that "I'm glad you enjoyed this post but remember you must be substantive in order to receive credit! Nothing kills a conversation faster than a pure compliment. Can you tell us something more?"

      It doesn't always work, but it works enough. Your fingers will burn by typing this same message 15 times in the first week.

  5. I tried online teaching for a few years; in fact I was a beta tester for our online course development and certification procedures. Can you name a Best Practice? My course had it.

    The forum had the problems noted by Pissed Pumpkin, with the added charm of creationists who enrolled in order to troll.* Most of the students were way overcommitted and didn't believe my orientation spiel that it takes MORE time to succeed in an online class than in a regular one. Most of them also had incredibly poor reading comprehension -- typical at my JuCo, but fatal in a class where 100% of the information and feedback required reading. Meanwhile, monitoring the forum, checking in with students individually (best practice), responding to emails, and grading frequent and awful assignments was taking ME much more time than my regular classes. Retention and grades sucked, as did attendance at the mandatory monthly meetings, despite their serving as review sessions for each exam, which students could take immediately afterwards at the testing center.

    After numerous tweaks of the syllabus and orientation materials, and gradually changing it from entirely online to a hybrid with monthly meetings, I broke my ankle and asked Professor Movies 'n' Donuts to sub for a couple of the meetings. When that prof noticed how little the Little Dears had learned, I knew we had to stop offering the class in that format. It's just not appropriate for our population.

    My only regret is that it took me so long to give up.

    * My adventures with creationist students warrant a post of their own
    I may get around to it some day. My favorite signature included a prayer that "the Lord your God" would have mercy on me.

  6. A lot of the iterations of the main class I teach are hybrid, some are entirely online, and some are face to face (usually in computer-equipped classrooms). Because I keep switching back and forth (and because there are several disciplinary variations of the class), I use the LMS (especially the Discussion Boards) a good deal anyway, and I've got LMS-based variations on pretty much all my class activities. In this context, a switch to the LMS when the weather turns inclement tends to work pretty well, and to get pretty good participation (assuming we don't also have widespread power outages). But I can see why such switches wouldn't work as well in classes with different in-person routines (and in fact thought exactly that when I saw that a recent forecast of snow had precipitated the appearance of a "quick tips for moving your class online" video on our LMS landing page).

    That said, I only rarely hold "discussion" on the Discussion Board. Instead, I set up activities that more closely resemble in-class group work (usually either workshops of paper ideas, sources, and/or partial or full drafts, or individual and group tasks aimed toward producing a group written and/or oral report). That works, I think, because students have to produce a product. Even then, a real sense of group identity emerges in some groups, but not in others. As long as they seem to be learning (and both kinds of groups can, I think), I don't worry too much about it.

    At least in my experience, students are increasingly bad at building productive discussions in the face to face environment as well. As with pretty much everything else, they need a lot of guidance/"scaffolding," whether that's preparatory small-group work in class, or very, very careful and thorough instructions (plus the sort of correction that Monkey mentions) online.

    Any way you look at it, this teaching stuff is labor-intensive, at least if you (even try to) do it well.


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