Making Lemonade

Last week I was feeling a little sour about the results of the anonymous mid-semester survey about how class was going, so I used a chunk of class time to respond, to talk about changes I’d be willing to make, to tell them where I thought they needed to step up.

Then we moved into problem-solving mode. I told them I’d heard them loud and clear:  between the reading load and the time they were spending on the Ning, students felt overwhelmed. Some had started to feel resentful. Between student teaching, part-time jobs,  and full course loads, I thought they were all starting to look exhausted.

I sought specific information during our discussion:  Did they think they were spending at least an hour a week on the Ning?

Definitely, they told me; at least an hour.

Then why, I wondered, did we need to meet face to face for the entire four-hour class period?

The students looked confused.

I tried a different explanation. Why were we holding class in two places– our physical classroom and our virtual one, the Ning?

Many students looked even more confused. But a couple were starting to look excited. When I asked if the class would be interested in seeing what happened if we lopped an hour off of our physical class, they were the first to say “Yes!”

It took a little while for the concept to sink in with some students. Some thought if we left the physical class an hour early we’d have to arrange to meet on the Ning at a specific, agreed-upon time and day.

Others imagined they would have to keep a time card to prove they were spending the correct amount of time on the Ning– until fellow students pointed out that everything posted to the Ning carries a time stamp, so they’d be proving their presence by chiming in on the discussions.

I still don’t think some students believed me until 8:00 p.m., when I said class was ended. Then they looked elated.

As students entered the room yesterday, I heard snatches of comments.  “…going to let us go at 8:00 again?”  “…so many papers to grade…leave early?” How little faith they had in our arrangement!

“How many of you felt the Ning was beneficial to your learning this past week?” I asked.  Every hand went up.

Why?

First, a bit of a qualification. Along with spending more time in the virtual world, we also  decided to abandon the requirement that at least one blog post be related to the reading, as well as the requirement to respond to a blog partner, so it’s hard to tell whether students felt positively because of the amount of time they invested in class meetings (virtual & otherwise) or because of the changes in what they were expected to be doing.

Students found the Ning beneficial to their learning this past week because…

  • there was a much broader range of topics than in prior weeks
  • we used the Forum feature of Ning more extensively
  • they felt more freedom and flexibility, and felt more relaxed
  • they felt they had more time to devote to reading and discussing each other’s ideas.
  • they wrote more

Should we continue? Absolutely.

And, yes, I ended class right at  8:00.

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