‘Final’ Projects & “I’ll finish up…really”

“Oh, and I need (deserve?) an A.”

In most of my classes, I’ve learned the hard way to not give students too many points before they get to a final exam or final project. Yep, in one of my first semesters, I did just that. Students who turned in all the weekly assignments had enough points to get a B in the class. Yikes! Needless to say, most of the student taking the final exam were those who didn’t complete all the weekly assignments. So how do I get students to complete all the assignments and think ‘completion’?

In the “Pathways to Prosperity” study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011, it states that only 29 percent of those who start two-year degrees finish them within three years, and just 56 percent of college students complete four-year degrees within six years.

The United States has the highest dropout rate in the industrialized world, according to a Harvard analysis of data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Oh, there are high-profile cases of dropouts-made-good like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, but the majority who don’t finish are not so fortunate.

I’ve tried a lot of things- incentives, including food, prizes, free assignments…it seems if they aren’t going to finish, they aren’t going to finish. So, what to do?

Here’s what I’ve tried this semester:

  • $1 Million Bill (fake) – for being engaged in class and contributing to the discussion (my call). If they get $10 Mil, they get a prize. The prize can be a drink at the snack bar, homemade cookies, YC logo cups – it can even be a kazoo.
  • Late assignment coupons (not new, but Mark Shelley is on the right path). I just want to see the assignments; even if they are late. Yep, some points may be taken off if they are really late, but I’m getting at least something.
  • Early Alert system – this has really helped for students who have seemed to fall of the surface of the earth. One student missed 2 weeks of class, did not respond to any of my emails, or calls. She just had some family stuff and ‘forgot’ to call or email me (!!)
  • Personal notes – One student was quite surprised that I mailed her a note that I was concerned about her. She said it was the first note ever from any teacher (!!). Yep, I felt good about that one.
  • Have fun in class! For one class we went outside. For another class we had it in the snack bar. For another class we took a short walk during class and had our discussions that way.

I’m happy to say that out of 20 students, I’m finishing with 18, and they are all passing at this point. I’m going to stay positive and believe that they will all complete successfully.  I can’t guarantee the “A”, but most will be pleased with their grade.  Did what I do in class help?  Perhaps.

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Quiet Zones

Ok, with many of the posts last week on being connected (and some overwhelm), I thought this story on NPR, Enter the Quiet Zone:  Where Cell Service, Wi-Fi are Banned, was quite interesting.

It seems that there are no physical signs you’ve entered the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area that covers the eastern half of West Virginia, but somewhere around the Virginia-West Virginia state line, smartphone services and Wi-Fi stop.

There’s zero service except for one small radio station, which broadcasts at a low enough frequency to avoid being banned.  So, why is everything else banned?  Because they sit within a zone designed to protect the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope, a sophisticated radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).  The telescope is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, protected from interference by federal and state laws, located in sparsely populated area to avoid electromagnetic interference.

(NOTE – the link above will not work because of Government Shutdown, but you can find information on the Telescope here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Bank_Telescope)

Green Bank telescopeWe still have communications. I mean, it’s just … older. Dial-up telephones. We still have phone booths,” says an engineer for the NRAO and a volunteer at Allegheny Mountain Radio.   Seems that for most of the area, life is at a slower pace. Instant messaging and texting are something to see on television or out of state, but folks seem content to stay disconnected.  At least for now.

I smiled. This story made an impression because while I like being connected with technology and students, being on Facebook with family, texting my granddaughter, and enjoying my Netflix, I also want to just run away sometimes.   I suspect students do too!  We throw both content and technology at them at once.  Are they ready?  Sometimes, I just cross my fingers and hope so. (Oh, a good reminder to look back once in a while to make sure.)

I remember dial-up phones.  I remember writing a note to someone (still do), or sending a real birthday card (still do).  I like holding and reading an actual book (I still do!)  What I really remember is the human, face-to-face and listening communication.  I could see how someone was reacting to conversations.  I heard happiness or sadness in their voice.  It was more important to be tactful and watch words, or to soften a tone of voice.  I could tell when a student was stressed – both by body language and voice. I think it’s harder to tell this online – well, until a student attacks another student in the discussion board, or acts out in class.

So (as Mark Shelley blogged), is being connected 24/7 a good thing, or a bad thing?  Maybe we need to make sure that we not only show and interact with technology with students, but also to find and share Quiet Zones; places to disconnect and slow down.   In my 60’s language, it’s “dropping out” for a while.  I know I need it, and I can’t help think that students do too.  Maybe we just need to model good behavior and give students tools to find their own personal Quiet Zones.  Are there Quiet Zones on campus?

  • The Library  (one of my favorite places)VC Library
  • The Learning Center?
  • The Sculpture Garden
  • The Art Gallery
  • Outside!  (Especially this time of year)
  • Mingus Mountain
  • Anywhere but here (?!)
     Sculpture gardenFall Trees

We all have something to share – just ask the right questions!

doggy-questions2.jpgYou’ll notice by my picture that I like doggies!   They have so much to share – and they do ask questions of you, but the best part is the unconditional love they always give you – even if you are too busy to take them for that walk.

To me teaching is sharing – sharing is teaching.  We all have something to share – with our families – with students – with colleagues – with our communities.  The sharing becomes part of scholarly teaching.  Most of us are scholarly instructors.  We read, plan, teach, reflect, change and read some more.  It’s when you share those plans (be public) with peer review, discussion, evidence, and evaluation that builds and develops our teaching.

I remember attending a conference on teaching and learning in the late 1990s that talked about a concept, the “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” (evolving into SoTL).  It was an interesting concept to me because I thought that’s what we all did as a matter of course – sharing – questioning – building – reflecting- and sharing some more.   Teaching is public.  But it’s our sharing, questioning, criticism, and evaluation in a public way that actually creates the scholarship.  So, is there SoTL at Yavapai College?  Yes, I can think of several things:

  • Summer & Winter Institutes – review (and some friendly criticism) and evaluation from peers from which we develop further
  • TeLS and the way we are sharing here – I’m sure there will be some review and (kind) criticism too!
  • Faculty Committees
  • Our Gen Ed process over the past year or so – a great scholarly exercise
  • Free classes we take at YC
  • Our Quality Initiative Project – comparing delivery methods in our courses
  • Sharing in our division meetings
  • Sharing in scholarly journals or at a conference

Some of the best SoTL, for me, begins in conversations in the hallway – questions on a particular assignment, quiz, or project spark conversation and, perhaps, action by both parties.   So, what’s the right question?  It’s the one you really want to know – How did you do that?  What did you use?  What are the resources?  Where can I find more information?  Who else can I speak with?  Once the question is asked I research what I don’t know (and want to know more about), follow up and build my knowledge base and, hopefully, I’m the one that shares next time when someone asks me a question.

We all have experiences – from our education – from our careers – and from life – that gives us gifts to share when others ask – our SoTL so to speak.  So, remember to ask the right questions – share your gifts they are important, and they contribute to the tapestry of life!

-Chris     Chris - Scholar