I closed out the winter semester last week, submitted my marks, and took a breather. During the next week, I will be prepping my next semester and updating the course shell in anticipation of the start of the new semester. During the interim, I’ve been reflecting on how the last semester went, and what I can do to improve the student experience in my online course. My failure rate was higher than usual, and I want to make sure that I’m doing what I can to address those elements I can control.
Were I to give some advice to my students, this is what I would say:
It is the start of a new semester, and I welcome you to the course. If this is your first general education elective or philosophy course, I hope it meets your expectations. Gen Eds tend to be a special kind of course. This is one of the few courses you get a chance to choose, but it’s also one of the courses you’ll take that is a departure from your core major courses. While you need the Gen Ed credit for graduating, you will feel the conflict over prioritizing the rest of the semester’s courses that will lead directly to your career. It is very easy to let my course slip to the back-burner. I recognize this and can understand your predicament.
In light of that, I want to give you some advice on how to do well on my assignments. If there is one piece of advice I can give that will maximize your chances of passing my course, it’s that you have to do the work and submit your assignments. As obvious as it might be that in order for me to give you a grade, you have to give me something to mark, I know that you will look at the assignment weightings and judge that the assignment is not worth your time to complete when you have other “more important” assignments to turn in. Unfortunately, each submission you don’t turn in is essentially free marks that you will miss. A good grade in this course is not won through stellar big assignments. It’s about showing up consistently and slogging through the little assignment. All those little assignments add up.
It can be intimidating to do philosophy. If you are used to coming up with the right answers easily, you can face down a philosophy paper and become paralyzed by the weight of the work. However, I want you to remember one important fact: doing good work in philosophy is not about thinking big ideas. To do good work in philosophy, you must be good at communicating ideas. I don’t expect you to have the “right” answer. I don’t expect you to fully understand the concepts you are encountering. Instead, I expect you to give an honest attempt to grapple with the ideas, and for you to use what you are learning in the module to play around with the ideas. The more connections you can make between the ideas, the better. Also, the more simply you can communicate those ideas, the better. Don’t try to wow me with big vocabularies and vague writing.
I am generally not a hard marker. I value progress and earnest intellectual work over feeding me the “right” answer. Don’t give me what you think I want to read, and don’t give me your unsupported opinions. Learn to play around with the ideas and explore topics you’ve never thought about before. Make sure to attribute your ideas, and make sure you keep your reader in mind when you write your papers; explain the concepts to me as if I am a your grandmother. If you do that every week, and put in an honest effort, I won’t let you fail my course.