Thursday, May 14, 2009

Under Cover of Maymesster

Starting Monday I will be teaching a blended WRT307 course for Syracuse. Blended, in this case, means that the course meets in person, on campus for the second week of Maymester for two hours each evening, Monday through Friday, before shifting to twelve weeks of online interchange and coordination via Blackboard. The course is full. Twenty students are enrolled. Count up the weeks and you get thirteen total (forgive me for flexing those underutilized math skills, but this number is alarmingly relevant, as you will see in a moment).

Syracuse offers this course in other formats: a six-week Summer I course that meets on campus, a six-week Summer 2 course that meets on campus, and a 12-week summer course that meets online. Sections following the six-week on-campus format remain open. They have seats available, that is.

I wondered, "Why on earth would students so clearly prefer the thirteen-week version, which includes a Friday evening session at the end of next week, when these other options are available to them?" I floated this question in the WP offices and heard about how great a preference many students have for actually meeting a person. Might be exactly right. This falls into what I think of as the "metaphysics of presence"-based critique of classes that meet exclusively online: they're too virtual, too dependent upon writing and only writing, too far removed from the material commonplaces of fluorescently lit bodies slumped over in badly designed deskchairs, classroom style. [I can't make up my mind about which emoticon to insert here.]

I accept that some students might be drawn to an online section where they get to meet the instructor for a few face-to-face sessions. When I logged onto MySlice this week to check the class roster, I found another reason that could explain the attraction to this section, a section with a bonus week over and above its 12-week online-only counterpart (other than the "metaphysics of presence" shtick or the named instructor):

The class is listed as meeting only during Maymester. For half of Maymester, actually: one week, instead of two. Ten hours total. I won't be able to confirm this suspicion until next week, but that crucial qualification, Maymester Blended or Maymester +12, does not show up in the online enrollment system. That's...*gulp*. Worrisome, anyway.

So I went ahead and emailed everyone enrolled to explain that most of the heavy lifting will get done in the 12-week online postlude to Maymester. A few days since the email, the class is full. I welcome the full class (capped at twenty, it's a reasonably-sized group), but I can't help but brace just a little bit for Monday evening, for that moment when we take an earnest, collective look at the schedule, when I'll have no choice but to explain the missing asterisk next to Maymester in the registration system.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 14, 2009 7:20 AM to Dry Ogre Chalking

First off, I predict you have a lot of surprised and/or unhappy campers Monday night. I'll be curious to hear about that one.

Here at EMU, we have 7.5 week spring and summer semesters, and they are always sort of mixed bags as teaching/learning experiences. From my perspective, the financial incentives for teaching during this time are pretty strong; from the students' perspectives, a lot of them are trying to get done/squeeze as much in as possible. It can be a good learning experience as long as everyone is aware of the compressed time-frame. But too often, students miss the part about how everything in the class moves twice as fast, which means that the drop rate for these classes is pretty high.

This term, I'm teaching one on campus section of first year writing and one online section of English 328. The online sections have been particularly popular for students in the spring/summer as of late, and the logic works well for me. If they are only taking one or two courses (and a "full-time load" during the spring or summer term is 2 or 3 courses), it is kind of a pain in the butt to drive to campus two or three days a week. Plus online classes allow for things like summer jobs, for travel (with laptop, of course, etc.). I have built in "optional but strongly encouraged" face to face meeting times, but so far, the attendance has been kind of slim.

I don't know; like I said, these classes can sometimes be a good match for students and for me, teaching some combination of spring/summer means I can send my kid to a private school. But if I were to give advice to an incoming faculty person (and I suppose I am, sorta!), I would tell them that if they can get used to living on the money without teaching in spring/summmer, I would suggest they do that.

Posted by: Steven D. Krause at May 16, 2009 12:35 PM