SOS or in light of the web?

I’ve been grading student Contribution Assessments in my online classes. This is an assignment, done twice during the semester and worth 10% of the grade each time, where they have to do a self-assessment of their participation in the class and the contribution they’ve made.

The emphasis is on the forums, which is where the constructivist work goes on. As I’ve said in workshops, I consider my online classes to be 50% instructivist and 50% constructivist. Since the instructivist elements (planned reading and lecture) are prepped in advance, my energy during the semester is focused on the constructivist side, guiding them through finding and posting cool primary sources, then creating increasingly complex theses that use them.

My CMS (Moodle) lets me see where each student spends their time. I graded by comparing their self-assessment to their actual work in the forums, and their stats, including whether they used the Study Guides, looked at the sample exams I posted after a test, etc. And I started to notice something.

A number of the students doing just fine in the class were not viewing the Assignments. This is where I post the pages for assigned textbook reading, and a link to my lectures. I’ve worked very, very hard on these lectures, for every class. Yet here were A and B students not bothering to read them, and passing the tests anyway.

Why? Because the exams are 60-70% multiple choice, and 30-40% essay. The MC is based on the textbook and lecture, and the essay is based on the constructivist portion. But I give them Study Guides for all the multiple-choice, with all possible questions and two chances to practice and see whether they’re right. I planned for them to use these to do strategic textbook reading. But if, out of say 14 MC questions, only a couple are from lecture, why do the lecture? Why even open the Assignment in the first place? So they aren’t.

I graded down a bit students who hadn’t done the Assignment/Lectures, because I figured that was part of participating in the class. I think most people would see that “doing the work” is part of participation. Then a student wrote me:

My first response was, “oh, great, now they won’t even do the work without my telling them! better add it to the rubric…”

My lectures can no longer be assumed to be an inherent part of the class. I see my classes based around them because they took me so much time, and define the order of events. But students see them as supplemental, while they spend much time constructing work in the forums.

But wait. If the connectivists are right, this is actually a new issue. Not because students won’t do the work (hardly new), but because the nature of the web is theorized to be creating new forms of learning. With all the “information” available, what use is a textbook? I’m even getting rid of my textbook for summer, because my lectures are sufficient for “information” purposes in a compressed 8-week class.

But this may not be a mere pedagogical choice. It’s possible that new forms of pedagogy are being forced upon us by the nature of the open web, and the habits of people who use it. It’s strategic studying combined with the ability to pick and choose your work. Yes, I could add more lecture-based multiple-choice questions to the exams, and I likely will. But that’s not the larger issue.

My lectures, which I used to see as providing an active learning opportunity (they contain visuals, audio, self-tests), have become passive when compared to constructivist opportunities in the forums, and connectivist opportunities (which they may or may not use) provided by the web. The role of my creation has shifted, and I will also have to shift, sooner rather than later, or risk the irrelevancy that so many internet pundits say is automatic now that “everything” is on the internet.