Friday, April 29, 2011

On Extended Online Projects

OK, it's only my second post of the semester, so excuse the length.

The semester has been crawling along, particularly in my 102 class, the students of which seem even more reluctant to 1) come prepared with their materials (they have to go to the website and print the poems we are reading the next day) or 2) access the online calendar to see wtf is going on, and 3) work independently on their wiki projects -- this is the primary concern of this post. They had 6 weks, and as of Last Monday, only about 4 had even started, and several of those only had 1-2 sentences.

There had been a hope (which I am still trying to keep alive) that I could connect the class with Phyllis', having her students visit my students' wiki projects and use them as a resource, possibly commenting on and contributing to them, but the students were so slow to start, that I had no idea if they would produce anything at all in time. It looks like, as of the Tuesday due date, about half the class has completed Phase I of their project, and is ready to move to the next step. So, Phyllis, I'll be emailing with a list of students who have finished their projects and are ready for visitors nd their wiki terms.

In future, I simply don't think I can treat this as an extended term project. I am starting to believe that our students are simply too accustomed to procrastination and forgiveness of deadlines to be able to do long-term projects. I'm going to have to make each one of the 10 steps homework that I check on a weekly basis and give credit to on a weekly basis -- which almost makes it more like a blog than a wiki. Which in turn defeats the whole damn purpose of extended definitions and exploratory term projects, revision, reflection, web design, etc. Argh.

This semester I have had it on the calendar that, by the end of each weekend, they should have completed steps, 1-2, or 3-4, or 5-6, etc, in order to remain on track. But this has not been enough, as there are no actual penalties or rewards for them actually doing these things. I'm not sure how I will have to change the grading of the assignments/ stages/ overall project in order to keep them paced, but still look at the big picture in the end. Should completing the steps each individually by a particular date be separate homework assignments, but the finished project be then graded as the 20% of their grade I've been using? As it is, the vast majority of them risked 20% of their grade by waiting until Sunday at midnight to start working on a project due Tuesday. Their citations are then a mess, they struggle with computer/ web tool failures, and don't display anything near the quality of critical thinking or qualitative exploration I am asking for. And they have no fun, which is irksome as I've designed the project to ultimately be fun and rewarding. But in order for them to get anything out of it besides trauma and frustration and hassle, they have to do the steps in a reasonable time, and all my encouragement and voicing of concerns, and classroom clarification is of no use. Suggestions?

Ultimately, I think it is important to have students work independently on long-term projects -- things that they create and produce individually outside of the classroom. Thinking back on my own education, these sorts of projects, even when I procrastinated, were some of the more memorable and rewarding. I'd hate to give up on it, but it defeats the point if they do it all in one marathon day just before the due date. They don't have time to brainstorm, explore, reflect or, for that matter, tinker with and play around with the online tools we are using to get the most out of them.


  1. "Should completing the steps each individually by a particular date be separate homework assignments, but the finished project be then graded as the 20% of their grade I've been using?"

    If that's what it takes, yes. Student procrastination is not unique to web-based assignments, so regardless of the the class format it's a good idea to reinforce staged deadlines in a process. You don't necessarily have to review the work at each stage, just record that it's completed.

  2. Can we tasar them if they are late? LOL! Really, I am getting a bit tired of the concept that deadlines are meant to be broken, online or in class. The research paper has to be staged, and I stress this, but regardless some students think they can hand everything in at once. Maybe if I insist that they log on. I posted a proposal document that they had to download from Blackboard. As you might expect, some did, and others just said that they were searching on "Google."
    Maybe the idea is to create something online that has to be filled in before they are allowed to go on (physically) the next a javascript, perhaps?