In college lingo, DFW isn’t an airport in Texas. Instead, it refers to the number of students who earn a “D” or “F” in a course or who withdraw (“W”) from the class in the middle of the term. At my university, courses like College Algebra, Freshman Composition, and Elementary Spanish have high D/F/W rates. These classes are tracked carefully not only by administrators but also by faculty, because everyone wants students to move towards graduation. Not too surprisingly, many courses with D/F/W issues are online.
As an online course instructor, I have control over how many assignments I give, how much supplementary materials I provide, and how much gentle pushing I give to students. I always keep in mind the accepted definition of a college credit hour — 1 hour in class, 2 hours outside of class — which means that a course like mine, which is worth 3 credit hours, should have around 9 hours of work each week or a total of 130 hours for the semester.
Currently I ask my students to do one major project and one minor one by midterms, which happen in week 8 of the semester. Everything else can be submitted by a deadline during the first part of finals week. Time management, personal responsibility, all that good stuff, right? They can spread out the 130 hours as they see fit.
Yet if students have 100 hours of work to do in the last week of the semester, that isn’t pretty for anyone. I contact students periodically throughout the course, particularly those who haven’t logged in for several days and those who haven’t made much progress, to pester them about the work. Many start the assignments but then give up in the face of such a mountain.
How can I get more students to do the work in a timely fashion, ideally bringing down the D/F/W rate, without drastically increasing my efforts in grading, coaching, and cajoling? Here is what I have tried for my online class:
- Having hard weekly due dates for small chunks of the work. Problem: too many students missed the deadlines and got zeros.
- Having softer weekly due dates with full credit available, but late submissions accepted for partial credit. Problem: I had to check the date on 40 different tweets per student for 32 different students. Multiply this by a dozen other projects, and you might see where I started to lose sleep.
- Having “early review” deadlines, where students who submit the assignments by a specific date get my feedback and an “as-is” grade but can redo everything for a higher score. Problem: very few took advantage of the opportunity.
I haven’t gone to multiple-choice exams, which would be far easier on me but pretty useless for students learning to USE social media professionally. I could cut down on the projects, but then I’d fall short of the 130-hour mark, and I don’t think it’s right to give students just 50 hours of work for a 3-credit-hour course.
Here is my brilliant plan for the spring!
- For one project, allow students to choose 3 of 4 options rather than asking them to complete all 4. The 4th will be replaced with an intensive self-reflection survey about social media use, procrastination, and online courses. “Survey” is much less threatening than “critique” or “project.”
- Reinstate the soft review deadline for the major online portfolio. Students who submit complete projects will get a full rubric review, with comments, and the chance to revise and resubmit for a final score.
- Create two deadlines at the end of the semester. The first will be for those students who want the chance to earn an “A” or a “B” in the class. All work must be submitted by then. Everyone else will have an additional week, but the highest possible grade will be a “C” regardless of the quality and completeness of the assignments (almost all students in the class in question must make a “C” for it to count towards their degree).
I am hoping that the dual deadline system will encourage students to push for the first “A”/”B” date but allow them the fallback of an additional seven days and a passing grade.