Required Involvement by David Sack

Required Involvement

About every 4 or 5 years I get a model class.  The students are actively engaged, asking and answering questions, naturally curious about the world around them, hard-working, responsible, and understanding the importance of careful and critical thinking.  About every 4 or 5 years.

Usually however I am pulling my hair out.  I consider the actively engaged student one who has conquered the basic skill set necessary for entering college and is taking a step forward to be what a college student should actually be.  My problem is that many of my students don’t have the basic skill sets; in addition many are irresponsible and apathetic.  Attendance isn’t always great.  Homework isn’t always completed.  And there is little acknowledgment upon their failure that their actions must change.  I always ask my students to come and see me if they fail an exam.  Only about 10% do.

Sometimes if there are enough actively engaged students in a class, it can rub off on other students.  Sometimes students come into a classroom and they can sense there is a culture of learning, and they almost feel left out if they don’t conform.  But far too often it’s the other way around; the student who shows a true interest in statistics (a course I am currently teaching) and how it can shape how they think about the world around them, is considered a nerd by the rest of the students.

Here’s my thought:  I would love to require the basics from all students:  attendance, homework, and extra work when they fail.  Now I know you’re thinking, “Well that’s easy, just incorporate it into your syllabus, make rules and policies and assign points and grades to accommodate your desires.”  And yes, I do these things and all of us probably do as well.  But I don’t think students are motivated by a few points here or there for attendance, homework, or participation kinds of things.  Even threats of huge penalties may not motivate them because the F comes in 16 weeks and that’s not real enough for them now.

I would like the Faculty Senate and the faculty at large to consider a possible faculty policy called something like “Required Involvement”.  Here’s what I want:  I would like each faculty member to have the option to communicate a set of reasonable, required expectations for students  (attendance, homework, textbook reading, note-taking, etc.)   If students are not fulfilling these expectations and/or if students fail an evaluation (quiz, test, paper, report, lab, etc), I want the faculty member to have the authority to require these students to get extra help (math center, writing center, tutor, small group, office hours).

Again, you’re probably thinking I already have the authority to do this by the way I assign grades.  But again that final grade is so distant, I don’t think it’s a big motivator.  What I do think is a big motivator is getting dropped.  It’s a problem for many categories of students for a variety of reasons  and gets their attention immediately.  Many students have a parent paying for their class (the ones that pay their own way seem to be very hard working to me).  If a student flunks a class at the end of the semester there’s a myriad of things they can blame this on.  But if they get dropped because they’re not putting in an honest effort, that’s a lot more difficult to explain.

How would this work?  Two things:  1. I don’t want to create a policy that all faculty are required to follow, and for the faculty that do follow it, I would like it to be flexible enough that they can define their reasonable expectations and the level of involvement they require of their students.  I do think, though, that by making a policy statement about student expectations and have it be adopted by the Senate and ultimately the school, we create a culture (maybe? hopefully?) that LLCC is serious about students working hard.  2.  Whatever policy we do create, I would want students to have clear, easily achieved opportunities to turn their semester around instead of being dropped, and be able to appeal any kind of threat of being dropped.

What am I envisioning?  I am envisioning some students not doing so well in a class, being identified as at-risk students, and then being required (if so identified by their instructors)  to get extra help with the threat of being dropped if they don’t.  The extra help can be documented by signed notes from the math center, writing center, LLCC-approved tutor, LLCC-approved study group and of course if it’s attendance during an office hour, the professor would know that.

Busy work?  Yes.  Worth it?  I think so (but I could be wrong).  I truly feel that there are some students who would love to get extra help but are afraid, because they don’t know where to go, what to ask, how to get started, etc.

Imagine for a minute that this program were put into place and all students knew about it.  Imagine they knew about it before the first day of class.  Imagine they knew before they registered for classes.  Imagine that students had an expectation at LLCC that they were going to have to work hard in all their classes.  Isn’t this what we all want?  Isn’t this what the property tax-payers want?  It doesn’t cost a dime to dream.  Will you dream with me?  Help me figure out how this could work.  Thanks.


4 thoughts on “Required Involvement by David Sack

  1. Currently, I think that most of the responsibility for encouraging active involvement among students falls on the instructor’s shoulders. I think it would be helpful if the college supported our efforts with a campus wide policy. Intervention is the most effective when approached from a variety of sources. Students need to hear the message of involvement from others besides instructors. If the school could put some practices in place that would support the message, I am all for it. However, as David points out, this would need to be developed carefully. I think it is possible. Thank you, David, for posting this message. Judy Nichols

  2. I can sure appreciate your position on this, David. I have mixed feelings on all the intervention we do here at LLCC? Sometimes I think we should just let students fail. Maybe that is an important lesson for many of them. Yet, I know that many are lost in some ways – perhaps some guidance, “life lines”, firm boundaries, mandated efforts and all may prove very useful to some. Second chances can be good too. I just do not have it all figured out myself yet to say one way or another. But, your post was very thoughtful and I see where you are at with your thinking. David Reynolds

  3. Student Success and Student Retention is a strong interest area for me. I would like to work with others on this idea. Even though we have selective admissions in nursing we still have students who do not pass every course on the first try. Many times it is because of limited study skills, lack of initiative in getting prompt help or — working too many hours! David, I have sent you our Student Success Plan but that is not perfect, for sure. We still lose some students along the way.
    Suellen Funk

  4. Tina White
    David, As Suellen mentioned, The nursing program has implemented a Student Success Plan that has helped our students- it doesn’t involving dropping, but it does involve remediation on the students part and connects them early with resources. I too want to make the students more active and responsible for there learning. We would like to do more active teaching strategies in the class room but our students are never prepared to do so- they haven’t read ahead despite a lovely, up to date content outline! We really need to work on changing the culture of the community college student – not just memorizing and being told what you need to know for the test (the idea they bring from high school). Death by powerpoint!!! And faculty feeling and or expectation of putting on a dog and pony show! Respectfully, Tina White

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