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NSSE, Peer-Driven Learning, and Getting Your Money’s Worth
November 22, 2011 - 9:46pm

We no longer have classes the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We used to, but I imagine that so many students weren’t bothering to show up, they just decided to shut down campus a day early. And now, it’s almost impossible to get students to come to class on Tuesday. I see a time in the not-so-distant future that Thanksgiving becomes a full week off, and then we’ll be trying to convince students to show up to class on the Friday before, just like we do in March.

Our campus also has a bit of a scheduling quirk, where our classes meet MW or T-TH and every other Friday; in other words the classes meet three times a week, every other week. The Friday 1 and Friday 2 weeks are supposed to alternate, but also balance out for holidays, which this semester seem to always fall on Friday 2 weeks. But they aren’t, and there are significantly less T-Th-F2 classes. When I pointed that to my class, they lamented that they hadn’t known that when making their schedule, in order to take all of their classes on T-Th-F2.

One of my husband’s former profs used to point out that education is the only thing the “consumer” (or person paying for it) is happy about when they get less of it. Imagine paying for 10 personal training sessions and then only getting seven.  But how many students think of it that way when a class is canceled? Before you rake me over the coals for even daring to allude to the consumer model of higher education, be aware that I do so because it seems to be the only analogy that my students understand when I try to explain to them that it is to their detriment that they get less, particularly less class time.

But is it? In my peer-driven classes, I allowed my students the freedom to come to class or not while they prepared their presentations. As long as they had their presentations ready for their assigned date, I didn’t care when and where they worked on it. But, I was always available to help, consult, coach, or trouble-shoot during class time, in our classroom. Some came to class regularly, others I didn’t see again until the presentations started. We just wrapped the presentations up in one class, and I have to say that I was very impressed with the results. The presentations, while largely lo-tech, were thoughtful, engaging, and stimulating. And, I didn’t have any problems with attendance once the presentations had started; the students showed up, with their readings done, ready to participate in whatever activity or discussion the group had planned. Did these students get less for their money because they weren’t in class, listening to me lecture, for a not-insignificant portion of the semester?

What does this lesson tell us that NSSE does not about our students’ attitude towards their education?  I know that my students were excited about doing their work for my class, as well as supportive of the work their peers were doing, more so than I had ever seen in my students when I taught the same course in a more traditional format. At the same time, I struggle with allowing my basic writers this kind of freedom, knowing that they need lots of practice, and practice that takes place when I can intervene or assist as needed. For them, fewer classes mean fewer opportunities to practice their writing in a nurturing environment. Then again, once they see how beneficial the process is to their writing, it becomes easier to get them to come to class and take their work seriously.

And still others disappear completely (but that will be for another day).

Our students are paying for the opportunity to learn. Sometimes it’s in the classroom, sometimes it isn’t. I just wish that my student (and NSSE and administrators and governments and, and, and) were interested in some of the intangibles that can’t be measured by credit hours, seat time, and study hours. 

 

 

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