Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fewer, but better....

The semester began with 240 students. I expect to give passing grades to about 190... That's a bit lower than I expected. (FYI -- I have a tutor, but no TA -- all the course work etc.. was done by me... and, I'm department chair.. hmmm....).

I wonder about the differences -- I suspect part of it is that I've started to use on-line exams. When students have chaotic lives, but mange to come to class -- taking the exam outside of class seems to become a problem. This can't be all of it -- because the course with more exams has a higher retention/pass rate.

I suspect the economy has something to do with it as well -- as a college, we're stuffed to the gills... we had more than 95% of ALL POSSIBLE seats full at the beginning of the school year. I suspect some of the students who started the class registered because they didn't have any other options that fit their schedule -- and then they figured out that philosophy is hard.... or they got a job...

I suspect the ethics class has a higher attrition rate because I had a big paper due in the middle of the class. It has three developmental assignments and the requirement that they read and digest arguments we haven't covered. It also requires a fair amount of basic research -- and citations (which were a problem... sigh).

I also think that the large classes (all but logic are 50), combined with the fact that they turn in a lot of work on-line, means that I don't know many of their names. I take attendance by passing around a sign-in sheet. I know some names, but for most I'll just recognize their faces... and, if the instructor doesn't know your name, it's easy to drift away.

I think it will be interesting to compare these completion rates with next semester -- next semester I'll have 3 sections of logic. The classes are smaller and I tend to see individual work more often -- plus hand stuff back in class. I get to know their names... My ethics class has a different schedule -- and is partially on-line, so I'll see the whole class on Monday, then half on Wednesday and half on Friday. I think seeing them in a smaller group will help.

On a good note -- I've had some really good students this semester. Overall, the class discussions have been better than in prior semesters and the students who complete the class seem to be doing better work.

I'm also not all that sure that a lower completion rate is such a bad thing. The fact of the matter is that our class sizes in those courses are unacceptable. If the college really wants to a) prepare students for four-year colleges, b) have students complete courses and c) teach students writing across the curriculum-- having sections of 50 is counter to all of those goals. Lower numbers of C/B/A students might prompt action where my own 7 years of complaints have gone unnoticed.

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