To see the weirdness of this story, first keep one thing in mind: I have no attendance policy. What I have is 10% of the final grade as “Contribution”. I changed it from “Participation”. That’s it. I indicated they were free to come and go, and I only occasionally take roll.
This semester, students are bringing laptops for “lab day”, when each group posts a thesis with supporting visuals at my new WordPress-based class website. They work for about half an hour together, then each group’s work is put up on the screen and they get up and talk about what they did. I use the reports to construct essay questions for tests.
Last time we had “lab”, two students emailed me they’d be missing class. I suggested they come to their group’s website workspace during class time from home, and see if they could watch what was being posted and maybe contribute a picture or two.
These workspaces are asynchronous, just a category page for each group with comments enabled. Some groups have one person write their thesis and post images in a single reply, while other students go out on the web finding images or help construct the thesis. Both students were from the same group, so I told them to post a reply saying they were there. That seemed slow. So I opened a chat room in Chatterous (I couldn’t remember Stinto, which is better). They posted in the replies to come to the chat room, and eventually both students did. That was cool.
Today was more cool. Three students couldn’t come, but only one emailed me. I opened a Stinto chat room immediately (this was an hour before class, and Stinto rooms stay open for a couple of hours if not used) and sent her the URL. I also posted it on the syllabus. The other two students, it turned out, found their way there, and before long several groups were in the chat.
But we had time to work — wouldn’t it be better to see and hear the student who had emailed? I asked how we could do that. One student said we could use Skype. I asked, “do you have Skype on her computer?” She said, “We all have Skype”. So she opened Skype and told the student in the chat room her Skype name, and the student could hear and see her group.
It was pretty thrilling to call roll (well, I did it today) and automatically call her name, not thinking, and hear a resounding “Here!” from the laptop. The other two students were fine with Stinto chat or just helping in the workspace: one provided just the picture Group 6 needed of the Pantheon and couldn’t find.
What’s all the participation about? Are we having fun building things and working together? My only goal was to make the collection, processing and reporting of resources easier, but students seem to care about being there to the point where they’ll be there, wherever they are. “Here!” indeed!