Monday, October 22, 2012

Learning outside of the classroom

As I've written about in some recent posts, I am confronting the expected student resistance to the flipped class.  I'm somewhat frustrated that nobody has come to talk to me about in person; or taken me up on the chance to post their complaints anonymously on Piazza.  This silence makes it difficult to know how seriously to take it and also suggests to me that, on some level, they know that they are complaining about the structure of the course because they don't like doing more work--and they don't quite want to take responsibility for that facet of their unhappiness.  It's also not clear how many people are all that unhappy.  On the other side of things, I've had several people email me or come to office hours to tell me how much they are enjoying the flipped class.  All of this makes it really tough for me to find a way to address the dissatisfaction that I know is out there.  I am thinking that I will address it in theoretical terms: "it is common for some students in flipped classes to feel..." and use that to try to open a discussion.  I will also let them opt out of class time in they prefer.  They still have to take the exams and are responsible for the material at the same level, but can opt out of coming to class.

One of the sources of whinging, though, is about the fact that I am expecting them to learn outside of class.  Honestly, I had no idea that this would be a source of complaint.  I assumed that they knew that it was traditional for students to learn outside of class.  Homework?  I am realizing that, in fact, many of them have found ways to minimize their out of class learning.  They don't do assigned readings, at least not until just before the exam when they might skim them.  Maybe they come to class or, more likely these days, they get someone else's notes via google docs.  What is upsetting some of these kids is that I've made it much more difficult for them to get away with not learning, and learning deeply.  It absolutely blows my mind that they are so overwhelmed by a workload of about 3-4 hours/week of outside of class assigned work (lectures + textbook readings) and 90 minutes inside of class (45 minutes x 2 with one other day of optional in class review).  The in-class part is intended to practice and apply the out of class reading and viewing.  It is absolutely shocking to me that this is considered a heavy workload.

I also wonder just how broken every part of our educational system is if we have a generation of students who have somehow been able to get college degrees without doing much out of class work.  Certainly, I am beginning to understand why everyone is talking about demonstrable learning outcomes.  It is clear that student satisfaction absolutely cannot be taken seriously.  It is also clear that we, as a society, need to get serious about how we educate out kids--and, even more, that we get them to grasp the importance of learning how to learn and think.  I worry about what kind of work ethic we are instilling in our kids if they think that doing 3-4 hours of work outside of class (+ extra work during exam weeks) is excessive.  Sure, they will someday be getting paid to work; but it is no wonder that employers are more and more unhappy with the workforce that is being produced by colleges and universities.  Still, if my own experience is any indication, it's clear that blaming teachers and professors is not the solution.  Sure, some of us could and must do a better job of helping students to learn.  But, ultimately, the students themselves have to put in the work; and the system needs to recognize that instructors who are pushing students to learn are, in effect, disturbing a wasps' nest.  There will be stings and buzzing and other signs of unhappiness.  We need to change our evaluations of courses from student satisfaction (though that can still be one element) to learning outcomes.  That is, did a course improve student knowledge?  Did the professor successfully motivate the students to master the course objectives outlined at the start of the term?


  1. I'm a fellow #Blendkit2012 participant, and I can completely empathize with what you describe here. It seems that, more & more, the biggest part of my job is teaching my students how to be college students (and by extension, I hope, how to be responsible employees and citizens on the other side of their degree). I am stunned by how many students just don't get why they should be doing work outside of class. I think your point about shifting evaluations to learning outcomes rather than student satisfaction is a good one.

    Students might complain during the process, but they will be better students due to their participation in blended classes like yours, as they will have skills that people who avoid blended/online courses cannot hope to develop without those learning experiences (online communication skills, the ability to work on a schedule without being watched over in a classroom setting).

    Perhaps all I'm saying is "keep fighting the good fight"?

  2. I think the hardest part is knowing that what I am doing is teaching them important skills but feeling like I am having to fight with them to realize that all this work I am doing is to help them, not hurt them. Someone gave me the metaphor of a doctor giving a shot and I think there's some truth to it. But I agree that not only is this helping this cohort but that it is the way that higher ed is going and we need to figure out how to do it effectively. So, yes, important to keep on fighting the good fight (and having faith that I am helping them to become better thinkers and learners and citizens of the world).