Two incidents this week prompt a post that explores the concepts of teaching and time in an undergraduate and graduate environment. First, I received an interesting comment from fellow blogger Sterling Fluharty. He wondered what needed to happen to ensure that students have read prior to attending seminar. The second issues was that the second papers in my graduate historiography seminar are due today. I received the typical barrage of requests for extensions. The thing is, this paper was originally due on October 30th and had already been pushed back twice for various reasons. So, I was not particularly sympathetic toward students who needed extensions, but it did get me thinking about how students manage time and how that fits into the expectations that I can have as an instructor.
Responding to Sterling, I can only speculate really. My class is a seminar made up mainly of majors and depends on the students completing daily and weekly reading assignments without many of the standard checks that keep students on the ball (e.g. tests, weekly quizzes et c.). Some weeks the reading rate in this small class is abysmal (2 or 3 out of 10). I think that such low reading rates reveal some fairly complex issues regarding how students manage time. In general, I suspect that students prioritize other work above readings for a seminar style class. This is particular acute among students who take too many credits (17+!). This means that they are always being compelled to prioritize the most pressing obligation. In general, students intelligently prioritize those obligations that involve a clear link between the performance of a task and a grade. So, papers, test-preparation and other problem-based assignments take priority over reading for discussion. This is fair.
The second issue is less noble. Students don't study enough. The University of North Dakota is notorious for this. In fact, the 2009 Princeton Review ranking of colleges and universities rated the University of North Dakota #7 on its list of Universities where students study the least. It seems likely that the perception (or maybe even the reality) that students don't need to study much for classes here has probably leads some undergraduates to take too many credits. A class like my seminar consequently suffers since I don't usually build in a consequence for a student not doing the reading (aside from a boring class).
So, there are two potential solutions. One is that I could require some kind of assignment with the readings -- say a response paper. I don't do this because one of my goals of the class (and I state this) is to make the students more responsible for their own education. By assigning grades I feel like my evaluation goes too far toward establishing how much the students should learn in a particular environment (i.e. if they earned an "A" then that's all there was to learn.) What I try to do is to convince them that they should want to read and have good discussions in a class that is central to their major. It would undermine this goal if I required them through some assignment to do the reading. Another potential solution is to cut back on the amount of reading so that the prospect of a boring class is a greater inconvenience than 30 minute reading assignment.
As for time management among our M.A. level graduate students, I think that some of the same decision making processes apply. The top priority is always the most pressing issue rather than say their area of interest or the issue that would benefit them the most in the long run. Again, this is quite reasonable. In most cases, this process ensures that papers arrive on time and in fairly decent shape. In cases where students consistently miss deadlines, however, there is reason to suspect other issues are at play. This week, I have suggested to one good student that he keep more close track of his time by keeping a daily research log. I suspect that some students who are always rushing around trying to fight the most pressing fire, begin to lose track of how long it takes them to perform basic tasks (read a book, write a 5, 10, 20 page paper, prepare for seminar, et c.) My hope is to encourage repeat offenders to develop more thorough and conscious awareness of how long it takes them do perform particular tasks, it will be easier for them to manage their time. So, when I granted a couple of extensions, I made it contingent on the recidivists ("not a pretty name, is it...?") keeping a time diary for the final paper (due on December 10th).
More Teaching Thursdays:
Teaching Thursday: Classroom Modernism (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday: Teaching the Election
Teaching Thursday: Making Room for Experiments
Teaching Thursday: More on Writing
Teaching Thursday: Making the Test
Teaching Thursday: Red pens, Reading, and Assessment
Teaching Thursday: The Structure of Seminar
Teaching Thursday: Jennifer Ball's Teaching Thursday (K. Kourelis and J. Ball)
Teaching Thursday: The Changing Meaning of the Large Lecture
Teaching Thursday: The Modern Graduate Student
Teaching Thursday: Reading the Digital Palimpsest for Traces of an Analog World
Teaching Thursday: Who Are My Students? (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday: Another View on High Tech Teaching
Teaching Thursday: Transmedia Teaching
Teaching Thursday (K. Kourelis)