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As a project for my graduate Sociolinguistics class this year, I organized a paper around the differences between how females and males interact with their instructors or professors in a freshman, on-campus classroom. Not surprisingly, women tended to ask more questions and interact with their instructors. However, both genders seemed to be more informal with their professors than I previously thought. This research made me curious: Is it the same with online classes? Who, exactly, makes up an online class? While I have discussed in previous posts that the popularity with online classes is on the rise with adults, I began to think about the gender differences in participants of online classes. Is there a trend amongst participants in these classes?
Doing a little research, I came across an article from U.S. News by Devon Haynie that found that not only are younger students becoming more drawn to online classes, but females seem to be the majority of these students. This statistic actually surprised me, but upon further reading, it shouldn't have. The article states that " At the undergraduate level, 70 percent of students were women. Among graduate students, 72 percent of students were female" (Haynie). While this particular article is from 2015, the numbers continue along the same trajectory. Aslanian Market Research suggests this could be because of the types of careers that women choose--namely social work, health, and medication.
One statistic, however, did not surprise me. Haynie reports that other research shows that business administration is the number one online degree, followed closely by nursing. This fact was not surprising to me for the simple fact that I witness this phenomenon every day at the university where I teach. As a Humanities teaching assistant, I am well aware of the fact that these degrees are highly sought after for their practicality and career outlook. Both of these degrees are extremely popular, and many of the students I teach go down these paths. Another statistic from the study shows that self-motivation is another problem for these online students. I know this well as it was an issue for me as I attempted a number of online classes to complete my undergraduate degree.
The questions still remain, however. Will these gender-specific trends continue? Will these online degrees remain the most popular options for industrious men and women? Only time will tell.
For more information, see Haynie's article from U. S. News entitled "Younger Students Increasingly Drawn to Online Learning..." https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2015/07/17/younger-students-increasingly-drawn-to-online-lear…
I know this is a little nerdy of me, but I love syllabi, particularly for English literature classes since I am an English grad student. However, all versions of syllabi fascinate me. Math syllabi, with their concentration on practical examples; History syllabi, with the main focus being on reading and memorizing dates and facts; or English, with their focus on book chapters and paper guidelines. The syllabus is a crucial part of the college classroom for a myriad of reasons, and every student interprets and uses their syllabus in different ways. For some instructors, the syllabus is a nightmare; just one more piece of writing to do that stands between them and the actual class material. For others, the syllabus is a way to connect with their students, to establish a personality, and to excite (ok, prepare) the students for what is to come in the semester. However, different types of classes require different types of syllabi.
Online class syllabi are another syllabi altogether. Instead of focusing on the physical interaction between the instructor and the students, online syllabi put their emphasis on the expectations for the online classroom and the students. I've come up with a few differences between an on-campus and an online syllabus. I've also included a link to an example online syllabus, which can be extremely beneficial in planning your own online class.
The tone is an important part of the online syllabus mostly because it is the only interaction between instructor and student, and must convey the seriousness of the work assigned while allowing the instructor's personality to come through.
2. Computer Requirements
This is an example of a syllabus item that works solely for online classes. This is important because many students are not aware of the types of software they might have to download or different types of media they might have to watch. Outlining these requirements on the syllabus is imperative for the organization of the student, and yet, I can say from experience that I have never seen this section on any online class I have ever taken.
The online class syllabi needs to be a place to practice the ways in which people interact online. This discourse, called netiquette, is a way for students to learn about the effective and ineffective methods of online interactions argument and discussion.
Another example of online-only syllabi design are links to specific websites and articles that will be used throughout the class. I have taken a number of online classes where the instructor gives no links to anything that they will be using to teach the class. This is frustrating, to say the least, and ensures that I take time to hunt this information down myself. Personally, I do not believe this should be the student's responsibility. Students struggling to maintain good grades in different classes need to be able to focus on the actual work, not the mechanics of where to locate it.
These are just a few examples of how online syllabi differ from that of an on-campus syllabus. There are different needs and requirements, and both instructor and student need to be aware of the differences--it will make the online learning environment an easier place to educate and be educated.
This sample syllabus is from the Pasadena City College website.
Recently, I was skimming an article on the dangers of cheating services for online classes (What can I say? I like to know what my students might be doing...), and the author gave some alternatives to abusing online classes for people who tended to stress about them. That got me thinking: Are students aware that there is help available to them? Do they know that there are other options besides resorting to cheating in an online class? Many students feel as if there is no other option; they are too stressed with deadlines, life factors, and unrealistic goals to consider the options available to them in helping them succeed throughout their college career. As a TA, observing college freshmen has become a full-time hobby for me, and the reason is not just professional.
As I watch these younger students struggle with their new-found freedom and coursework, I'm reminded of all the practical information that they should receive during their first year in higher education. I've never been one for abstract thinking; to me, there needs to be a practical purpose behind everything we do in college. When students begin to advance in their educational journey, online classes become an increasingly popular way to continue college classwork while seemingly taking the "easy" road. While you don't have to be in a physical classroom, online classes, however, can still be stressful. The simple lack of teacher-student interaction can put certain students at a disadvantage, especially if the student does better in a physical classroom. Cheating in an online class can seem like a gigantic help if the student sees no other way of being successful in the class. Being the practical person that I am, I've compiled a list of things students might do instead of resorting to the act that will haunt them for the rest of their college career.
1. Ask a professor/instructor for advice.
Students are painfully unaware at times of just how much they should ask for help/advice when it comes to the online college classroom. Most are afraid of looking incompetent and risk getting the help they need. Here's a secret, however: Professors are here to help you. The majority of them want you to ask questions and to feel comfortable seeking help. Don't understand a discussion group? Ask for help. Can't figure out where to post an assignment? Ask for help. Not 100% sure what the professor is wanting from a certain paper? Ask for help. Nine times out of ten, they'll be incredibly glad that you asked. An effort is extremely appreciated in higher education.
2. Make sure you absolutely have to have this particular online course.
Many students make the mistake of taking an online class so it'll be "easier" on them. In a way, it's completely understandable. I've done that myself. However, I've never backed myself into a corner when it comes to the assignments. I know my limit and I don't exceed it. Too many students sign up for an online class and are blown away by the sheer amount of reading or writing. This makes them stressed, puts them behind, and can ultimately lead to cheating in some form or fashion. If you don't need this particular class, don't sign up for it. Know your limits and what you are capable of at this point in your education.
3. Don't be afraid to drop the class.
This particular piece of advice could scare some students away. Drop a class? I would never! Hear me out: Instead of struggling and stressing and cheating to stay afloat, just drop the class. Recognize that this isn't the best situation for you. So many students struggle with when to finish college; they are so worried about a specific timeline for their life that they can resort to things that hurt them in the long run. Personally, it took me 14 years to complete my undergraduate degree. I had a kid, worked in the real world for a bit, and then was able to finish. One great thing I learning from the experience? There's no need to rush. I'd rather give 100% and do my very best work than rush myself through the biggest undertaking of my life.
While there are other ways to help students navigate the online education waters, these tips are just a few of the ways that students can take a deep breath and hopefully put some thought into their educational decisions.
If you are interested in the previously mentioned article on the dangers of cheating in online classes, see https://www.usnews.com/education/online-learning-lessons/articles/2017-01-27/4-dangers-of-cheating-services-for-online-c…
For me, there have always been pros and cons to online classes. The pro category is mostly the flexibility aspect. It's hard to compete with. But honestly, there are many cons, and I see them as a college instructor AND as a student. There's something to be said for interactions between the teacher and their class, and online classes lose that authenticity. However, one of the biggest issues surrounding online education is who benefits from it. It would be naive to assume that every student would benefit from an online class, because, well.....no two students are alike. While teachers must do the best they can for the largest number of students, students who struggle in college end up on the losing side. They aren't challenged, there is no personal interaction with the teacher, and the class structure can cause problems.
In Susan Dynarski's New York Times article, "Online Courses are Harming the Students who Need Help the Most," the author takes a brief glance at the reality behind online education for those students who do not excel in college. While backing up her story with recent data, Dynarski tells us that the main issue for these students who are less academically proficient is the lack of teacher-student interaction. These students need encouragement, and face-to-face classes are exceptionally better at providing this for them.
While proficient students who excel in college tend to do better in online classrooms, it is hard for teachers to balance out the needs of both. Dynarski suggests that the research behind "blended" classes (a hybrid of both online and in-person classes) is something that needs to be looked at. These classes could bring positives to both groups of students, and that is something we should be focusing on---giving a fair shot to every student.
For more information on this subject, see Susan Dynarski's article: Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help - The New York Times
Learning different avenues to make the most out of an online class isn't limited to young adults. While many typical-aged college students are adept at using these classes, the same can't always be said for adult learners. Adult learners are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the college experience, and consideration must be given to the unique circumstances that surround that experience. Adults have full-time jobs, husbands, wives, kids, religious activities, social causes, etc, that must be taken into account when designing online classes for the adult student.
This subject is, once again, one that I have experience with handling. I have taken many online courses over my college careers, and one thing seems to be present in all of them: the inflexible times and activities that comprise each class. Personally, this always made me extremely upset. Especially when I was taking split level classes as a Masters students with undergraduates, I always wondered, "Why are my assignments due at the same time?" or "What if I can't post my discussion responses at that same every day?" As a Masters student, getting lumped in with the 20-year-olds can start to take a toll on you.
Katy Herbold writes about these same issues in her article "Giving Students Choice in Online Learning Environments: Addressing Adult Learners Needs." In the article, 69 graduate students are questioned as to the types of things that help them succeed in online courses. These adult students overwhelmingly said that if they were given more opportunities for flexibility and designing their own content, they not only were more happy with their results, but also felt as if their individual needs were being taken into consideration.
I know what many instructors are saying, however. How do I plan a class for adults who each have individual needs? The answer, in Herbold's opinion, is the class syllabus. By allowing students more freedom, adults use that flexibility to excel in a class that might have been too much to handle. Herbold writes, "In addition, to address the adult learning characteristics of being autonomous, self-directing and self-responsible, students were given the latitude to select the activities they preferred and that would best meet their individual needs" (122). By doing this, Herbold states that "student responses regarding the course structure were more than 90% positive" (124).
These numbers are very promising, especially for a working mother and wife such as myself. I long for the day when adult students are able to design their course around what fits their educational needs, and also their time schedule.
I have been penalized far too often for having a sick kid or being sick myself.
Wouldn't it be nice if....oh....say.....we were treated like adults?
As a Masters student in an English department, I have taken my fair share of discussion-based classes on campus. In fact, my university refuses to give a Masters degree in Literature to a student who hasn't taken a required number of these classes. Most of them are night classes, and as a full-time student, TA, and mother, taking these at night can be rather stressful. I found myself longing for the freedom of an online class. As an undergraduate, I had taken many online classes---mostly so I didn't have to be on campus.
Ah, the thinking process of a twenty-year-old.
However, as a 32-year-old wife and mother, being able to take an online class or two is important to be able to accomplish the large amount of work that I am tasked with every semester. My first one in graduate school will be "Language and Gender," taught in the Fall of 2018. It is being taught by a male professor whom I've never had before at this university, and I must say, I'm a little nervous. Online classes are a tricky business. Some professors have a very laid-back attitude, while others couldn't care less if you signed in or not. One-on-one interaction and group discussion is a crucial part of a degree in Literature, and I can't help but wonder how this class is going to be. Will there be males in the class? How will the professor handle the sensitive topics? How will we do class discussions? As I think about these things, I'm reminded of one of the most informative classes I've ever taken as a graduate student: Instruction of Composition. This campus class was taught by a female expert in composition pedagogy, and although the class met in an actual classroom, the professor found interesting ways to incorporate online elements into the daily activities. My favorite of these activities was what I called "Skype Speakers." Every few weeks, a different expert in the field of composition would Skype into our classroom and give an interesting lecture and answer questions. It was an amazing learning experience, and the entire class was engaged and focused on the material. This is, however, not the case with many classes, including those taught online. But how can we get there? How can we take an online forum and make it informative, interesting, engaging, and memorable? The answer might lie in feminist pedagogy.
Feminist pedagogy is an all-encompassing way of teaching material to a class. It is more learning-centered, more democratic in execution, and redefines the power dynamics that are usually present in most online classes. In Nancy Chick and Holly Hassel's article "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual": Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom," the authors attempt to clear up the misconceptions of feminist pedagogy and argue that this specific type of teaching can help students in every class they take throughout their college careers. Chick and Hassel point out that "This framing of [these] questions also puts the emphasis on how to use the technology, but we don’t want the technology to dictate our pedagogy" (197). Unlike a regular classroom, technology can hinder the teacher-student dynamics and can create a sterile, name-less environment. So how can we use feminist pedagogy to create a more welcoming, informative learning environment? Well, for starters, teachers must reevaluate the power dynamics in the virtual classroom. The learning process must be more democratic in nature; the professor should not assume that he/she is all-knowing and the students are the subjects of that knowledge. A discussion must be a two-sided entity, and both parties must teach and receive. Chick and Hassel also suggest smaller group size when doing online discussions. This makes the discussion more personal and relatable. They even suggest that the class use teamwork to build a wiki page together, something that would enable students to work together and to maintain an open dialogue with their peers.
Overall, feminist pedagogy attempts to restructure not only campus classes, but online ones as well. By adopting these characteristics, online classes can begin to have a more engaging and informative learning experience. I, for one, would love to think that feminist pedagogy could become the norm for online classes. Imagine the discussions! Imagine the freedom!
I hope my Language and Gender professor knows about this.......
For more information on online feminist pedagogy, see Chick and Hassel's article, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Virtual: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom."
Over my course of being a TA, I've learned a number of things about college coursework. One of the biggest areas of debate at the moment is online class pedagogy and for good reason. Online classes or discussions tend to viewed by many people the same as a trip to the dentist: you either love them, or they're the bane of your existence. The logic behind this is pretty simple. As a student, you've either had a good experience or you've had a bad one. To be honest, teaching an online class or discussion can be the same way.
Online coursework provides a number of advantages to today's college student, but the work goes both ways. The instructor must make sure to provide a well-rounded online discussion that facilitates learning and fosters involvement with the class material. Sure, the students need to do the work and post their findings, but the instructor's role in an online class discussion is equally as important. By facilitating the discussion around specific lessons, the instructor has the power to be able to serve as a model for how they want the class to engage in the activity.
In David Baker's article, "Improving Pedagogy for Online Discussions," Baker gives practical, detailed tips for instructors in how to set up these discussions and the parameters they need to follow. He is also very blunt about the role of the instructor in these discussions when he observes, "Organizing instructor-facilitated online discussions is fundamental and demanding...teachers are expected to serve as a planner, role model, coach, facilitator, and communicator" (26) To state the obvious, these are big shoes to fill. Instructors can get bogged down in the amount of work to teach and can forget the details concerning their online discussions. It is no longer fine for the students to just talk--there must be a reason behind it, a learning objective to follow. Teachers need to be participatory as well.
Baker goes on to explain that small groups in an online setting can reduce "social loafing," which "refers to the tendency to minimize one's group involvement" (27). This idea helps solve the problem of student's who use online discussions as a way to avoid the weight of the assignment. Smaller groups and assignments promote more participation. It is up to the instructor, however, to assure that these assignments and discussions are well-organized and well-prepared.
Online discussions can flourish or flounder, but the responsibility lies not only with the student but with the instructor. From syllabus design to facilitating specific learning-centered discussions, instructors must be role models and should design the course around what benefits the student.
For more information on online pedagogy, see David Baker's article, "Improving Pedagogy for Online Discussions."
Beyond the Formula: Encouraging College Freshmen to Think Outside the Box
As college instructors, we’ve all seen it. The look of dread on student’s faces when we approach the research paper, the argumentative essay, or the exploratory paper. For the most part, this can’t be helped. As college freshmen, their job is to learn the foundational skills that will not only help them succeed in their college career, but hopefully into their professional one as well. However, most students enter college having learned certain “rules of thumb” that helped them survive the writing process in high school. What do I mean by “rules of thumb?” Certain tried and true tactics such as the five-paragraph essay, the thesis-at-the-beginning-rule, or revising the paper the night before the due date. Students used these methods successfully in high school and assume it works for college as well.
As a TA, I have a unique perspective into the freshman composition class, and let me tell you, I’ve seen a lot of students who are blindsided by the fact that these “rules of thumb” must evolve in college. Since I am closer to their age than their professors, I have had students confide in me their fears about these new types of writing that college expects of them. In “Rediscovering the Kernels of Truth in the Urban Legends of the Freshman Composition Classroom” Thomas Lovoy examines some of these “rules of thumb” and what we as college instructors must do to encourage our students to adventure beyond the formulaic writing steps that these students have come to know and trust.
Admittedly, some of the blame is on ourselves. Lovoy writes, “As we teach the same key concepts, year after year, it can be too easy to allow our lessons to fall into a lethargic routine of tips, almost like advertising slogans” (Lavoy 11). Freshmen composition teachers can fall prey to rehashing the same material from high school without thinking of new ways to engage the students in the writing process. So what kinds of help can we give? We can encourage students to write beyond the standard five paragraphs, and instead, we can show them how to adventure into writing without putting a set limit on the ways to get their information across in an interesting, relevant way. We can also give them ways in which they can revise their paper by being more invested in the process. These ideas are just a few of the ways that we, as composition teachers, need to revitalize our teaching methods and truly engage with what the student needs to learn. That is our job, after all.
What do we have to lose? We might just teach them something.
For more information on encouraging students and specific tips on writing, see Thomas Lovoy’s article “Rediscovering the Kernels of Truth in the Urban Legends of the Freshman Composition Classroom.”
As you begin a new semester, if you have any unanswered questions, you can:
Have a great 2018--and be sure to let us know if you need anything!
And for those of you who missed the email, here are some quick links that you might find useful at the start of the semester:
We know that about 79% of all LaunchPad submissions are LearningCurve. We also know that LearningCurve has a 90% satisfaction rating with students. And I just got this tremendous quotation from a professor today: "In the 10+ years that I've been teaching, I've never experienced students come to lecture so prepared and knowledgeable before; this is due to the Learning Curve assignments".
You can learn more on our LearningCurve catalog page, or check out LearningCurve in your LaunchPad (or SaplingPlus) course.
We know that for people new to LaunchPad, they just want to learn the key functionality to get started--not all the pieces that the product offers. To that end, we just added a series of Interactive Guides to LaunchPad to get you up and running when you first log in. For instance, when you first go in to create a course, you will see the guide for how to create a course.
You can follow this step-by-step walkthrough to actually create a course. At the end of the tutorial, you will have a fully functional course to explore. All in all, we added seven interactive guides to LaunchPad, including ones on Course Creation, Dashboard Navigation, Course Activation, Instructor Resources, Gradebook Tour, Instructor Console, and Zero Out Past Due Assignments.
You can open them up by clicking on “Guides” on the right, or close them out with the x. We are testing these guides out this semester to see if you find them useful. Please let us know what you think by responding to this post (or by using the guides themselves)--and let us know if you have other topics that you think would benefit from a guide.
As of today, the LaunchPads for Gunn’s Speech Craft, O’Hair’s A Speaker’s Guidebook 7e, and O’Hair’s Real Communication 4e have a new video assessment program. We know that the best way for students to improve their public speaking skills is to give a speech and then watch themselves giving the speech with accompanying feedback--and this new assessment program makes that process so much easier!
So why did we do this and what do you and your students gain with this change?
The new assessment option will allow you to do the following:
The program is simple to use with superior commenting, recording, and rubric assessment features. Features include:
We will be adding this to new LaunchPads as they release, going forward. If you have any questions about this exciting new part of LaunchPad, let us know! (And check out all the instructor directions here, to get started today!)