PowerPoint Video Made by My Students

In response to an assignment that asked my first-year-writing students to tackle a powerful term from our society, my students worked in groups to develop PowerPoint movies that incorporated images, text, and sound. Multimodal composition, yeah! This is one example. Enjoy!

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Traditional Classrooms Still Preferable to Online Ones

I teach in face-to-face (f2f) and online environments (I taught my first fully online class in 2001), and I cannot say I am surprised by the recent Study: Millennials Prefer Traditional Classrooms Over Online Ones. As strong as my online courses and methods for teaching those courses has become, there is a measurable gap in

  • completion rates (students who do not drop or disappear),
  • success rates (average final grade for completers),
  • course evaluations (from student evaluation system),
  • and teacher evaluations (from student evaluations),

but I also have a sense of a different (and I believe lesser) relationship typically with my online students.

So, let’s start with the quantitative data (WARNING: I have simplified and estimated a bit, but as I get more data from other sections, I may be able to perform more reliable statistics work). I offer four courses regularly in both online and f2f environments (Comp & Rhet I, Comp & Rhet II, Intro to Lit, and Tech Writing). Looking at the data I have for those courses for completion and final grades, I end up with these discrepancies:

Face-to-Face

Online

Completion %

Avg. Final Grade

Completion %

Avg. Final Grade

Comp & Rhet I

92

84 (B)

72

82 (B-)

Comp & Rhet II

94

86 (B)

75

82 (B-)

Intro to Lit

88

81 (B-)

65

77 (C)

Tech Writing

88

78 (C+)

53

77 (C)

Clearly, the rates of completion are significantly lower in online sections, though grades of the completers are only slightly lower.

There are similar discrepancies in the results of anonymous student evaluations. Students are asked questions specific to the class and the teacher separately, and I have summarized the results crudely here (note that I teach many more sections of first-year writing f2f than other courses, so comparison is not statistically reliable with my limited numbers):

Face-to-Face

Online

Course (1-5)

Instructor (1-5)

Course (1-5)

Instructor (1-5)

Comp & Rhet I

4.84

4.88

4.74

4.74

Comp & Rhet II

4.76

4.86

4.78

4.64

Intro to Lit

4.47

4.72

4.36

4.50

Tech Writing

4.62

4.88

4.20

4.33

Clearly, students enjoy my f2f classes more than the online ones, but the big dip is in the evaluation of me as an instructor, which seems to mirror the evaluations of the course more so that the f2f (though, once again, these are not “good” stats). Perhaps the instructor and the course evaluations are more synonymous due to the nature of my online courses (which are wholly asynchronous)? Even though there is a dip for the online courses, it is important to note that my evaluations are in the high-upper range for my department and university, but clearly I am not giving the same version of me and the course (or a comparable one) to those students.

So, what do I make of these discrepancies? First, the completion rates and evaluation numbers, even for the online sections, are on the high-side for the university in these courses taught by other faculty (except the high drop rate for online tech writing, which is below average drop rates for all sections of that course). Any developed study would have to address this issue from a wider perspective than one professor’s numbers, but it is clear that not only are students more successful in f2f classes but they are also happier. While a more detailed analysis might yield the statistical significance of particular issues, I believe that it comes down to the relationships I am able to build with ALL students in f2f settings (where I have regular access to all who attend) versus the limits to my direct contact with online students, who may choose to log in or not, read emails and discussion posts or not, watch video lectures or not, and contact me via phone, email, Skype, etc. or not. When I have had regular contact with online students, I have been able to develop strong relationships with students, but I cannot force that interaction as I might in a f2f class.

Perhaps, though, comparing online and f2f courses is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, they’re both fruits (or classes), but they really are not the same. While all of my classes are developed around discussion, group projects, and individual projects, I have more direct impact on more students in a f2f class because they are physically with me for at least three hours a week (and they can come to f2f office hours and call or email). As my online courses are asynchronous, I am separated from them both in time and distance, and our contact is mediated by technology, as well. Individual meetings on Skype of 10-15 minutes per student help, but they are very hard to manage for large classes or multiple online classes in the same semester. The solution seems to be more synchronous meetings, but the reality is that setting up meeting times for online students (who enroll in online courses because they have busy schedules and are often living far, far away) is impractical. One semester I mandated weekly online meetings and was unable to accommodate some students for some meetings–the resulting evaluations were MUCH worse! Students felt excluded because I could not work around all of their schedules all of the time. Alas, I am not perfect … but I actually understand this feeling, and so I make myself available for phone and Skype but no longer require synchronous contact.

These are early thoughts, and I need to enlist my stats colleagues across campus in designing a real study, but I think there is something here that might explain student reactions to online learning when compared with f2f. I continue to work to improve my teaching in both contexts!


George Packer: Is Amazon Bad for Books? : The New Yorker

In the era of the Kindle, a book costs the same price as a sandwich. Dennis Johnson, an independent publisher, says that “Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value—it’s a widget.”

via George Packer: Is Amazon Bad for Books? : The New Yorker.

I have mixed feelings about this. It is likely that there are more readers than ever who can afford more books than ever, but does a mega-store like Amazon reduce the value of books by selling them based on solely economic value (ignoring literary value)?


Using YouTube: Public Service Announcements, the Beats, and Historical Context

This semester I am teaching an Intro to Literature course focused on the Beat Generation.The writing has power outside of its context, but it means so much more when we understand the post-WWII American ideals. Most of my students, however, have very little awareness of this period of American history. So … we opened the class with a series of clips from Public Service Announcements (PSA) of the late 1940s and early 1950s that are available through YouTube (there is nothing new about using YouTube for teaching, of course, see “YouTube to the Rescue,” for instance).

So here are some of the PSAs that make evident the mainstream ideals of post-WWII America and Americans:


Thanks for looking in!

Thanks for looking in! I am excited to be teaching Computers & Composition this semester, so be sure to check in on some of those people following me, as well. They probably have fresher voices and cooler ideas, especially if they embrace blogging.

I am attempting to embrace what Ernesto Priego calls the “power of we, not me” in academic blogging: Blogging – or the power of we, not me | Higher Education Network | Guardian Professional. That means, of course, resisting the urge to hide my best ideas until they are publishable. We’ll see … the pressures of being a tenure-track Assistant Professor have me a bit worried.

Thomas


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