While I love technology in the classroom, I try to not assume that technology can address many issues students encounter as students of the class (and other classes). I love the idea of grammar help through programs designed by textbook publishers (sold to faculty as a way to remove the need to address grammar in composition classrooms) but what drives students to want to use those – and to internalize the learning so it can be accessed as base knowledge in other situations (transfer)? This is a really complicated consideration.
With that always bubbling in my subconscious, and 2 sections of freshmen comp topic proposals to grade, I read Challenging Superficial Solutions here on Inside Higher Ed. To address a high failing course, instead of relying on just early alert systems to tell the high percentage of failing students they were failing, Ben-Naim describes how a course redesigned with threshold concept tutorials.
I’m exploring Teaching for Transfer (TFT) and Writing About Writing (WAW) and transfer theory to address similar issues in freshmen composition courses. I am redesigning to explore the threshold concept idea – inspired heavily by Writing Across Contexts. my bubbling subconscious loved this portion of the Challenging Superficial Solutions post.
Where I struggled is toward the end – Ben-Naim breaks down failing course options to only early alert systems OR fixing the course.
1) this assumes the course is broken (yes there is still bad teaching built on bad (or no) pedagogy). Is this an assumption I’m comfortable making, no. I’ve taught so many students through the years who want to achieve, and I’ve taught so many who scrape by. Is it the fault of my course if a student shows up to every single class period, participates in discussion, but submits no assignments (i’ve had this happen more than once). This example is not uncommon, as is the student who disappears halfway through the system. Neither of these are indicative of a broken course, but they factor into the failure percentages when looking at the course as a whole. We can’t choose who to exclude from data sets, so the set discussion should include the variable of the student.
2) this assumes there are only 2 ways to address the situation – early alert OR predictive analysis addressing of threshold concepts to increase learning. This sounds fantastic – sign me up for a situation in which I can teach threshold concepts and pass an entire course. Oh, wait, there are students involved, students with their own agendas that cool digital modules (which is amazing and should be used whenever possible to address the majority of learners needs) can’t touch. I agree early alert systems puts the responsibility back on the student, and a study skills counselor (a position I just invented right here!) would be immensely beneficial in helping the student address the real problems. Early alert is more indicative of a student who possibly doesn’t have the maturity to attend school, or doesn’t understand how to adjust their learning for the new situation. These systems can be beneficial, but they don’t necessarily address the needs of students. Similarly, if the course is difficult, new approaches to teaching are necessary and strong digital content can help faculty address those concerns.
However, we can’t leave the student out of these discussions. What drives students to college? These questions need to be considered by those in higher education, and by students and their families. How can university/college resources then help students meet academic, educational, and professional goals to help students graduate? To improve graduation numbers?
When we have these discussions, and complicate the systems that universities embrace to improve retention and graduation rates, we can’t forget the students. When I worked as a functional analyst my job was to break the system I was testing, even if the sequence of clicks was highly unlikely. Users will always make their own decisions and design needs to account for that. Students are the same – students will do what they please no matter how thoughtful our systems – so how do we return the humanity to these discussions.
On a PS side note I just finished reading Rogue Archives which has an amazing discussion of how the 1990s and early 2000’s ushered in an age of women’s interaction with technology framed by the goal of saving humanity – so humanity in relation to technology has also been an ongoing discussion that obviously influenced this post.