Getting Smart Ass Students to Pay Attention in Online Courses
Students have always thought they could outsmart their teachers –
Whether by splitting up the homework assignments and copying them the next day before school, gleaning the answer key from a careless instructor who waves it around during the pre-test review, or by plagiarizing entire assignments from the internet and just changing “most of the words,” students cut corners around their teachers, and the potential for the same to happen amongst students enrolled in online courses is the same if not greater. This is something I’m sure many of the designers and educators behind the new online courses and virtual classroom tools are aware of, but even the most popular online courses out there suffer from massive dropout rates ranging from 70 to 90 percent before the course finishes. The new online courses, if they are going to succeed, will not just treat students’ focus and mindfulness tangentially but will make constant customized feedback, frequent quizzing and testing, and engaging learning games and activities the absolute standard for online courses.
Catherine Groux’s article in the April 5th US News Frequest Tests May Keep Online Students Focused quotes a recent study from Harvard University that concluded the key to keeping students in online courses engaged and reducing recidivism is “testing early and often.” Students in online courses reported that their minds were wandering up to 40 percent of the time!
“Some students I’ve talked to say that it takes them as long as four hours to get through an hour-long, online lecture because they’re trying to combat all the distractions around them… If we give students an incentive to pay attention to what they’re doing, it’s going to save them time. This is one way to do that.” -Karl Szpunar, postdoctoral fellow in psychology
The issue of getting students to engage with online content is a new area for teachers and educators. We know that people are already well versed in using technology on their laptops, computers, and smart phones. How can this affinity for technology be leveraged into age appropriate engaging educational content that students will not be so easily distracted from? In other words, how can online educators create content that encourages students’ mindfulness. In this case, Wikipedia says that mindfulness is:
1. bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis
2. paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, a kind of
3. nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.
Frequent testing and quizzing are also highly important (and they don’t all have to be super hard either) to keep students on task and serve as a metric of the students performance. Analysis of the questions students are getting wrong could be compared to other areas of his or her education to see if there are any underlying patterns or areas of general weakness. Also, it goes without saying that success breeds success – students who see themselves earning good marks of quizzes and exams are motivated to keep studying and keep up with the coursework. Good grades should not be so available either – just because someone is taking an online class should not mean that it’s going to be an easy A. Once online classes start to mean something, people will begin taking them more and more seriously. Let’s be sure to keep these in mind as we move forward designing and selecting good online courses to take.
Hey what do you have to say about online courses and making mindfulness a priority in their design? What are your experiences? Share your ideas!
Image Credit: laurafreberg.com