My Worst Nightmare…

One of my worst nightmares in my undergrad days was waking up and realizing that I had forgotten about a class. I’d race to my final, hoping that somehow I could figure out a way to pass the class.  I’d wake up in a cold sweat and quickly check off my classes to make sure that I didn’t miss any! As frightening as that dream was, once I woke up I of course realized that there was no way I’d ever forget about a class! Really, how could THAT happen?

In fact, until a spring semester not long ago, I really didn’t think such a thing could happen to anyone. And then I received a frantic e-mail from a student in the last few weeks of class. The student had completely forgotten about the online course!

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(image from http://myuvn.com/syllabus-week-finals-week/)

While that was an isolated incident, I have begun to wonder if other students, too, have simply forgotten about a course. Students who (despite weekly announcements, e-mail reminders from the course, etc) just seem to disappear make me wonder. Has something terrible happened to them? Were they just too busy? Or did they truly forget they had a class?

I’ve been teaching hybrid and online courses for over 13 years, and I’m continually re-working my courses and my methods to try to increase retention in my online classes. Back when I first started teaching online, I would have students drop out, but it was usually with notice. They didn’t have enough discipline, they’d say. Others overbooked their schedules or had a personal situation arise.

Over the years, though, I’ve noticed that I hear less and less from my students about what is going on in their lives. They simply disappear. Is this a symptom of another challenge I’ve noticed (that students seem less interested in their education and less likely to take personal responsibility for their own success)? Is it simply that, like all of us, students have become overwhelmed with life and their online classes are the first thing they set aside? Or is the online environment itself causing students to simply forget they even have a class? Maybe the ease of taking an online class encourages students who are less serious to take a class they aren’t really prepared to commit to. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above…or none of the above.

Over the next several weeks, I’d like to share some of the changes I’ve implemented to help my students stay engaged in my online courses. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to share some of my ideas and to learn what is working for other faculty members at YC!