How I Built a More Flexible Course for My Students
Tanya Mosley is an Information Technology instructor at Chattahoochee Technical College
It has been a challenging two years since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of everyone, including students and the education industry. While provisions were made for most of the 2020 school year allowing students a lot of flexibility for completing coursework, 2021 saw a shift towards pre-pandemic expectations. Instructors were less keen on granting incomplete and hardship withdrawal grades. Knowing that some of our students would still have a difficult time getting back on track, I pondered the following questions as I thought about meeting our students’ needs by designing a more flexible course.
What are my primary goals when I teach a class?
As I transitioned back to holding classes in person, I realized that it did not matter how I did it. I just needed to motivate students to push through, continue their education, and put in the effort to come out of my courses with applicable knowledge in that subject area. I could still provide students with flexibility in assessments and hold them accountable.
How can I decrease the quantity but still maintain the quality of my lab assignments to assess learning?
I used the learning outcomes for the courses to develop lab assignments that condensed topics into fewer tasks. Though it decreased the number of assignments students had to submit for grading, students were still being assessed for all the material covered up to that point. Students became less stressed about having weekly lab assignments due while navigating their new normal (being masked, having families working from home, losing jobs, and kids learning digitally—to name a few). I also provided makeup work to help students improve their low grades, especially if they earned a zero for missing labs, and to motivate them to continue learning.
I had learned that if work isn’t graded, students tend to care less about learning the lessons associated with the work. Flexible grading practices gave students who missed a lab submission the chance to make it up and earn up to 75% of the grade. It encouraged them to still attempt to apply the concepts and be ready for the upcoming concepts that build upon earlier lessons.
How can I leverage the course quizzes to reinforce students’ learning of course concepts?
Quizzes are useful for assessing how much a student understands what they have learned. Once graded, students seldom review the incorrect answers to learn from their mistakes. I wanted to change that behavior. So, I built in flexibility in grading here as well by allowing quizzes to be taken multiple times up to a certain date. I encouraged students to at least attempt the quiz once right after we covered the concepts, and if they did not perform well, redo them as their understanding improved. The first half of the material had quiz dates with a weekly soft deadline, and the midpoint of the semester as the hard deadline. Students seemed more inclined to review the material as much as necessary and commit concepts to memory as they attempted to earn higher scores on their quizzes.
What could I do to make exams feel like a game to be mastered?
Exams can seem daunting to students because they typically cover multiple chapters or lessons. To make exams feel exciting, I created activities like mock tests to help students prep for the actual exams using Kahoot. I did not provide the identical questions, but the activities were helpful in getting students to identify areas where they needed to devote more time to studying. Kahoot also helped students gain more confidence in their ability to successfully complete their exams.
Will it be worth the effort?
I must say, it has been worth every bit of the effort I put into building a flexible course. I still retain about 90% or more of my students after the withdrawal deadline. That is pretty good considering it would have been about 85% before the pandemic. Students are still submitting their work on time and only a few need to take advantage of the makeup labs and quiz retakes. I also see better performance rates in the exams. I think it is safe to say, I have designed my courses to be more student friendly while maintaining the quality of my course grading and assessments.
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