I’m almost at the end of my online version of English 328— in fact, I think I finished up grading everything before revisions last night– and thus at the end of my 12 week “experiment.” As loyal readers will recall from this post and also from this post, I worked out a deal where I have taught a class that would normally last 7.5 weeks for 12 weeks instead. My reasoning for this originally was that I just didn’t see how students could possibly complete this online class in just 7.5 weeks. It’s hard enough to teach this class in a face to face setting for the short 7.5 week semester, despite the fact that we meet face-to-face six hours each week; I just didn’t see how it would work online.
Well, here at the end of this 12 week experiement, finally, and my sense is that I won’t be doing this again.
Now, the 12 week term has been kind of nice in that it has progressed at a much more leisurely pace than the 7.5 week term, obviously. I have also had a couple of students who tell me that there is no way that they could have done the class in a 7.5 week term.
But the negatives with this 12 week arrangement have been significant. First off and most important for me, the longer term did not help student retention; it might have even hurt it. I started the term the first week in May with 20 students, and it looks like 9 will finish. What makes the situation worse is that most of these students are just MIA, mainly because they didn’t drop the class in time since it’s considered a spring class (see below). I’ve had face-to-face versions of this class where I have had a lot of students drop and/or disappear, but over 50% is pretty extreme. And what’s interesting is that when I taught this class online during the regular school year, I had only a few drops or disappearances– 1 or 2 in the fall, 1 or 2 in the winter term– which to me means I can’t just blame the fact that the class was online.
Anyway, while I appreciate the fact that a couple of my current students said the 12 week term helped them, it seems unlikely to me that I would have had even more students drop/disappear if the term was 7.5 weeks long. In fact, if students knew up front that the semester was going to be short and thus they were going to really have to bust out and plan to be online a couple hours a day to keep up with the work, then maybe the retention might have actually been higher.
The second problem has been about the logistics of all this. Technincally, because “the system” at EMU is not really equipped to do something so out of the box as having a more or less customized semester (what big institution could do this, really?), my class has been a “spring term” class. This has had some kind of unexpected results. For example, the deadline to drop the class was very early in the term because the deadline was the same as for a 7.5 week class. This, I am sure, hurt some students who realized they were in way over their heads too late to get out of the class without penalty. The same deadline problems loomed for students who wanted to withdraw. Financial aid for the class was pegged to the spring term, which I think caused a few problems. The question of “load” for students was a problem because the class counted as a spring term class and not a summer term class, which screwed up students who, mostly for financial aid reasons, wanted to take a full load for the spring and the summer. The grading software/computer system can’t deal with the odd term, so I have to go through some rig-a-ma-roll to sort that out. And so forth.
Third, and maybe this is obvious, teaching for 12 weeks instead of 7.5 weeks has meant that I have had less “time off” than I would have otherwise. Like I said, the 12 week thing did make for a more leisurely pace, which has allowed me to teach and also take some family trips, play a fair amount of golf, etc. But while the 7.5 week term would have meant I would have been super-duper busy in May and June, it also would have meant that I would have been totally done a month ago.
Anyway, live and learn. Now I’ve got to go and start reading stuff about being a WPA….