As midterm approaches, I reach a frustration point with online teaching and learning; yes, this seems to happen every semester. Online math is tough. If a student is not a strong reader, writer, or independent thinker, they are going to struggle with online learning; the phobia many students feel with mathematics compounds the issue. Yet many of our students (even developmental) register for online classes. Why you may ask? Because it feels easier.
In our September math department meeting, a colleague from the Teaching and Learning Committee presented us with some data: I am sad to report we had a roughly 50% pass rate in online classes in the math department. We are slightly better college wide (I don’t have the exact stats) and slightly worse in online developmental math courses. So, as a department we wanted to do something -ANYTHING!!- about this and came up with some ideas to improve our online classes.
Flash forward to today – midterm and around the FTSE day. I had 100% of my face to face college algebra (that’s 19/19 for you keeping stats) take the first exam; they are all passing the course as of right now. For my online course, there are 3 I’ve dropped already for lack of participation and 10 who didn’t even take the exam. For those keeping track, that is 33/46 or 71% take the first exam and I am unhappy to report not all that took the exam are passing. As we struggle with success rates and completion rates across the college, I feel my hands are tied. I do not know how to reach these students.
Which brings me to my next point; I have several students who have no idea how to navigate my Canvas or MyMathLab+ site. I met with an online student on Friday to help her prepare for her first exam and she had no idea where to access my lecture notes. NO IDEA. And I can tell you they are in multiple places and clearly labelled. She also didn’t realize that the learning center had free tutoring. I recieved three emails in the past couple of weeks with more students who did not realize the resources available for the class, including but not limited to lecture notes, learning center resources, and office hours.
Before I point a finger at myself or have anyone point it at me, I want to state this is the course I am submitting for QM certification – here are the locations they can access all these pieces of information-
Weekly announcements (both emailed and posted)
Canvas calendar notifications.
Syllabus quiz question (which 90% of my students answered correctly in the first week of class)
Note: I email students prior to the class, state in the syllabus, and ask in a different syllabus quiz question about checking email frequently (3-4 times a week).
Do I sound frustrated? Do I have good reason?
A suggestion from our math department meeting in September was online orientation; we should test student time management and computer skills BEFORE they are allowed to take an online class. Even if it drops enrollment, we have to be able to show a higher success rate. And maybe these students would do as 66% in a study of a college with online orientation do, and that is sign up for face to face classes if they can’t pass the online orientation. And as far as my job satisfaction (yes Tels, that was my survey with the job satisfaction comment), I am someone who demands higher standards and my students aren’t meeting them and making me feel I’m not meeting mine. Which makes me not want to teach online, and I am not alone. This is not a good cycle to start. Please join with me and support online preparation courses. There are a few ways we can approach this – we offer computer skills courses as part of orientation or an FYE course that is mandatory for students in their first year. The other option is to offer this as a stand alone online course that students must pass before they can register for online classes. My vision is 3-4 modules with pre and post tests that students can take on their own and for free.
Some of you may ask: an online orientation to online classes? How can they learn to be online if they don’t know how to get or be online? We can help them figure it out through video orientation or even a face to face opportunity where someone shows them the ropes.
Right now we offer an optional “mini-course” through the tels department (that I didn’t know about until talking to Thatcher last week) that is optional. It is really good! My students this semester had no orientation to online, and I know now this was a mistake. I currently have a start here page with a link to “resources for online learners”, some orientation videos that I don’t test them over, which I’m sure they don’t watch, and a course design that I think makes sense but probably doesn’t look like many of the other courses they are currently in. I am set up in pages; some instructors use modules and the two systems look different. So another idea is to develop consistency in our online courses; our math department is working toward this in developmental courses and I believe Lindsey sent out a template last week that would meet many QM standards.
This post is a request, a plea, and a bit of a soapbox. If you have any suggestions, things to add, ways to help, or if you think I am full of it, please comment and let’s get some conversation going:)