Thursday, July 31, 2008

End of Summer Teaching

My summer session of teaching finally came to an end. Although I have taught four sections of writing in previous semesters, this one was particularly hard because the number of students remained constant. A large amount of attrition usually occurs in online classes. Two of my classes this time remained large because so many of the students were either transfer students from other schools or students about to start college elsewhere. Some of the students apparently postponed taking my writing class until they approached the end of their sophomore year; it’s possible, too, that some of the students may have taken the equivalent of my course at their home institution but found that class especially challenging. My course was no less challenging. I suspect that the intensity of the class was greater than the students probably imagined would occur in a course offered during the summer.

Two problems for students this summer were documentation and the bibliographic information required for a citation in MLA Style. About a third of the students couldn’t find the editors of the anthology we use in class. The names of the editors appear on the front cover, on the spine, and on the title page. For some reason, the students preferred to ignore that information and listed the acquisition editor or the editor-in-chief at the publishing company as the editor of the textbook. Some of them thought the editors had given their names to the publishing company or that the publishing company had the same name as the place of publication. I continually reminded students of their misinformation and provided citations of an article found in an anthology in the sample student essays. The handbook included examples; the students were quizzed over this information, and the class provided links to the Writing Center at Purdue University. None of that information was sufficient. The students managed to provide parenthetical documentation when working with one to three sources. Once the students began working with more than three sources and began using sources that were not found in the textbook, some of them thought that documentation meant providing the name of the source in which the article appeared. I wish I knew why these things proved so difficult.

One consolation of this online teaching, despite the frustrations and the difficulty I faced in completing the grading in a timely fashion, is having one tankful of gas last about seven weeks. When going to the movies or shopping, we usually took my wife’s car; her Camry is more comfortable and younger than my Corolla. I would have used more gas, of course, if my car had served all of our transportation needs. Typically, I go through a tankful in a month's time.