Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 3 Course Correcting

Last week I wrote about student input, and responding to students, so this week seems a natural outgrowth from that.
I've written before about the success I've had with moving my syllabus to a video, hitting the highlights, then pointing students to the hyperlinked Google Doc. I admit to bragging that I've not answered "it's in the syllabus" questions since making that move.

That trend has ended.

My online Shakespeare class the last few weeks has been a lot of syllabus questions, and I'm not sure why. So I put a Google Form poll into the course to try and figure out what the disconnect was so I could fix it.
  • There were some really good suggestions, which I've implemented
    • put the weekly "To Do" at the top of announcements so they're easy to see
    • create a resource page with technology how tos and suggestions for programs they can use for presentations and projects
    • one asked for specific dates on modules rather than just the start date, so I've done that
  • One comment was to have a FAQs section with common questions from past students. This is a good idea, but this is the first time I created this course, so not practical, but I will for the next time I teach them. 
    • I do have a Help Forum in the course, that I sort of saw working this way, but I'll have to watch it this semester and see if it does. Students are using it, so we'll see.
  • Some comments were unclear, and since the students all put their names on responses, I emailed them for clarification so I could address the issue.
    • I got some good responses
    • For many, I didn't get any response
  • There were a couple of comments that confused me. One said due dates weren't clear, even though they're on the syllabus and I reiterate in announcements each week, so I don't know what the disconnect is here. They were also posted at the top of the course. I did redesign the graphic at the top of the course of due dates so maybe it's more eye catching. But I still don't know what the source of the misunderstanding was, so I'm concerned I haven't addressed the issue.
    • It could just be that it's the first couple of weeks and there's a lot of information.

  • In general, there were a lot of syllabus questions, despite the same video approach. I think part of this is that with online courses, there IS a lot to acclimate to the first couple of weeks- not just content but how to navigate, post to discussion boards, submit assignments. And that's in addition to the content. And it's easier to ask the professor sometimes than look it up. So, while we've moved past this point in this class, I've added (as an addition to the FAQs idea) a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt board game with the common questions I've received, for next time to see if this helps.
    • Plus, this was just fun to make. While this is an image, the actual assignment was created in Word. Students can download it and type answers on it and submit, or print out, draw/write answers, then scan or take picture and submit.
  • A lot of the comments are one offs, and while I try to address these by emailing the students, because I want students to feel like they're heard, I also have to balance basing large course decisions on a single comment.
    • There are currently 66 students in the class, and I've received 29 responses, so there's that to consider as well.
  • I ask for student input a lot, and for the most part I am happy with how it functions. I think it creates a better class culture, I think it improves the course, and practically, I think it improves the end of course evaluations. A lot of times you don't know what needs tweaking in a course until you release it to students, so them pointing out the misunderstandings to correct are helpful. But there can be a downside. Some comments can be personal, or mean. This is one of the reasons I don't do anonymous surveys- I want to be able to follow up with students, but I also think it mitigates some of the vitriol. Some comments I just don't understand.
    • One complaint was that I post too many announcements. And that's true- the first couple weeks of class, there are probably 3 or 4 versus the single weekly announcement. I do this because if I'm getting a lot of the same questions, I assume it's a general misunderstanding or if I have a general note, announcements in Learn are the easiest way to get clarifications/information out. I don't see a better way.
    • One was that I have the play presentations due the day before we start the play. My thought was that this was a way to introduce discussion. The comment said it was unfair to have them due before we studied the play.
      • For this, I'm sticking to my original design, but I'll be watching to see how this works this semester. 
      • Several students didn't post the first presentation in time and I didn't fail them, I emailed them, asked them to check in, and once they did, graded their late work. Because it was a misunderstanding.
      • The syllabus also says that I don't take late work, but if there's an issue, or they're in the weeds, they should check in with me, and we can usually work something out.
    • Those first two, I see why they're a complaint/concern, but as you can see, I have reasons for those approaches, so they inspire reflection, but they're helpful. However, this class has also already generated a negative comment on Rate My Professor. And I admit to not knowing what to do about this. 
      • On one hand, I hate that in the third week of class, a student is not happy. On the other hand, because of the nature of RMP, I can't address any of this. I don't know what assignment this applies to, or what I did that was seen as "exacting." 
      • It's true that I don't like students to work too far ahead. It's a common misconception in online courses to want to treat it as a correspondence course, just working through. I stress that each bit builds on the previous and feedback is important to improving. I don't deduct points or anything if they DO work ahead, but I do warn them that students who race ahead without feedback usually don't do as well. But I don't think that's a negative.
      • The announcements I wrote about above, I don't know a better way, but I have put in this week's announcement my reasoning, and that now that we're getting into the routine, we should just have our single weekly announcement.
      • I don't know what the parameters are for "tough" or what the lower grade was, does this mean a 90 when the student wanted a 100? Or a B when they wanted an A? I have no context. 
        • I do provide extra credit to replace low grades, and they can revise any big assignment for a higher grade so...again, I don't know what to do about this.
      • Realize too- that this is a single comment, and it has been the focus of my whole morning.
  • There is one thing that I wish I COULD get feedback on. The class started the first week with 77 students. Now in week 3 we're down to 66 (but this seems to now be a stable number). A lot who have dropped stated on their initial skills information sheet that they were really excited for the class, so I wish I knew why the drop.
    • English classes do always have a lot of flux the first couple of weeks.
    • I understand that there's a lot that goes into this- deciding not to take so many credits, or not taking too many literature classes. A lot of things that have nothing to do with me or the class.
    • BUT if it was something about the class, I wish I had a way of knowing- an exit survey of some type so I could address/improve. 
      • This may be something I try and put in the Getting Started Module next year, an "If You Drop..." survey
In general the students as a whole seem to like the class, and the assignments. I've had a lot of positive email interactions. Our associate chair of graduate studies also came in the course to write a recommendation letter that addressed my online teaching, and she loved the course. While it's easy for me to get lost in the negative, it is important to step back for some perspective.

Next week is our fourth week of class, when I normally do my first check in survey (I usually do them every four weeks).
Again, I like how these surveys function. I like the chance to address potential issues, or the chance to address/clarify things that can't be changed, to explain reasoning. It's also really important to me that students feel like they have a voice. I like the ability to course correct as soon as there's an issue.
But I also stress about them. In such a large class, I will spent days obsessing over 3 or 4 negative one off comments.

So what about you? How do you course correct? Do you have a formal reflection process or does it depend?


  1. Just a quick note to say how much I enjoy your blog posts! It's so much fun learning about other people's approaches to online. It seems like you and I use a lot of similar strategies! The way I do the announcements is that I actually have daily announcements; I use the announcements as the landing page in D2L (our LMS), so I like that there is something new every day. At the same time, I know that not all students read the announcements every day, so I repeat the important stuff on recurring days as needed, and I also have this fun extra credit assignment where I ask them to look back on the past week's announcements to see what they might have missed (since it can be useful for the future too; my weeks are very modulars, assignments and deadlines repeat), and also so I can learn what things they enjoy most in the announcements. I actually love doing the daily announcements because there is always tons of stuff I want to share. Links:

    Daily Class Announcements (same announcements work for both my classes since the only difference between the two classes is the reading

    Backup and Review (extra credit, but very useful in all kinds of ways for the students and also for me as feedback; I also really value the announcements they share for me to include)

    screenshot of D2L (D2L uses horrible frame design, but I can have it load the blog in the lower frame as the homepage for the course)

  2. My announcements are the landing page as well, and usually just weekly. Thanks for sharing!