Monday, April 16, 2012

April 17, 2012

Good Morning Online Instructors,

One of the requests from the end of the year survey I sent out before my maternity leave was for even more teaching tips and tricks in general, so for the next several weeks I will be sharing some specific expert tips with you.  And to help me with this, I have solicited the assistance of your fellow experts in the fields...the online program chairs and full-time faculty members.

The first tip I will be sharing with you comes from Sam Osterhout, a full-time faculty member in the area of General Education (primary focus is on writing courses).  Sam offers a unique and insightful look into a teaching strategy to help open the door to more student-instructor dialogue and to promote a more complete student-content/student-text relationship (I think we can all agree that getting students to read their texts thoroughly and critically can be a challenge at times...Sam's strategy strives to overcome this obstacle). 

So here is the teaching tip for the week, in Sam's words:
"Give them zeroes. This one won't be for everyone, but I've found it helpful recently, particularly for assignments that seek to reinforce a specific skill that is covered by the text. If a student completely misses the mark, I give him or her a zero and tell him or her to revise/redo the assignment after reading the chapter on that topic, and submit it to me via email. If it's done properly, I'll give points for it. Let me give you an example. In composition, there's an assignment that requires the student to write several thesis statements to match several different topics. There's a chapter in the text dedicated to thesis statements. Still, I get some pretty amazingly off-the-mark assignments. On the topic of Pets, I get "thesis statements" like, "Pets. Dogs or cats?" On the subject of higher education, I get statements like, "College - to tell about college?" Clearly, there wasn't a lot of chapter reading going on. I used to give half credit and go to great lengths to give immaculately detailed feedback about what makes a good thesis statement, and how theirs didn't fit that criteria, and suggestions for change. Then I realized I was essentially just rewriting the chapter ten times a week. Additionally, I was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for my students, and while they followed my instructions, they didn't retain much of the lesson. Subsequent thesis statements on subsequent assignments weren't any better. 

Now, for poorly written thesis statements, my feedback is simple: they receive a zero and a note: "You're on your way to a good thesis statement [I always start positive], but this isn't there yet. Reread the chapter on thesis statements, revise this assignment and send it to me, via email, with a note describing why these thesis statements aren't thesis statements. If your revision is effective, I'll give you points."

I find that the zero scares the students into taking action ("This guy's serious!"), and the revisions are usually gleaming jewels of perfection (well, almost). I also find that this opens the door to two-way discussion between me and my student. The revision email thread usually goes back and forth a few times. Imagine that - having a substantive email conversation with your student about thesis statements (or about any subject you teach). It's less work for me in grading, more work in dealing with email, but it's a more effective approach to teaching the concepts that drive my courses. And it builds on my relationships with my students. PS. when you go back into the grade book to add points, leave your original note in the comment box and add something like, "*Revision received via email." This just gives you a paper trail so down the road you won't wonder how you could have ever possibly given the submitted assignment points."

And just to add an additional thought to Sam's suggestion here, I would recommend when you go back into the grade book, that you actually upload a copy of the revised assignment using the Instructor Feedback area so that a copy is retained within CampusConnect too.

If you have any questions on this "Teaching Tip" please let me or Sam know.  And if you have any great "Teaching Tips" you'd like to share with your fellow instructors, please send them my way!

Thanks and have a great week!
Heather Thomton-Stockman
Online Instructional Specialist

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