18 October 2016

Modern teaching frustrations

I'm still educated the old-fashioned way: with overhead slides and books, and copying journal articles from the library. Grades were written or printed on a piece of paper and stuck to a notice board. A lot has changed.

Do I need to point out everything goes online these days? There is this programme, Blackboard, which probably every university uses; it provides secure web space for lecturers and students. If you want your students to do an assignment you upload it, and any files they may need for it, to Blackboard. If you give a lecture you put your slides on Blackboard too (and perhaps a recording of the whole shebang). Or an instruction video, if you think it's needed. Students upload their work to it, and you release the grades and their feedback to them via the same route.

One thing this allows you to do is check who has accessed what and when; I put "statistics tracking" on all my recsources, so I know who has accessed the assignment before the introductory lecture, I know who has accessed the files needed for my assignment before the drop-in session, and I will know who hasn't even accessed the files shortly before the deadline.

It is useful to know these things, but on the same hand it's frustrating to see what's going on. You can tell all students repeatedly they need to look at the assignment before you give an explanatory lecture, but they ignore you completely. I have organised a drop-in session for MATLAB, and the students have been told both by me and the module organiser that they HAVE to have tried to do the assignment before then as otherwise they will miss the opportunity to ask for help. Two workdays before, only 60% had even accessed the files. Sigh.

I will make sure I know exactly who has accessed the files when the drop-in session starts. I expect there to be students who will only start the assignment then, but moan the drop-in session wasn't long enough as they didn't end up having all their problems solved. This modern technology is only a tool; it does not make students behave differently, it just tells you more about their behaviour. I intend to have the frustration of knowing there are students who leave stuff to the last minute to be offset by giving me ammunition to defend myself if they try to make their procrastination my problem!

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