Is It Just Me or Are You Struggling to Get Students to Show Up for Online Classes?

Higher Ed April 20 / April 30, 2020

– Tom Menella, Jake Habegger, Dan Jones and Peter Santoro –

This week student attendance was a big challenge. Why is one teacher getting 20 percent attendance while another just got 100 percent of his students to show up? Why are the factors that determine whether your students will show up and engage in online learning? Listen to this 12-minute  discussion or read the transcript below.

 


Panelists:

Jake Habegger is an 8th grade US History Teacher in Franklin, Tennessee. His goal in education is to invigorate student learning by meeting them where they are through the use of technology. Peter Santoro has been teaching high school mathematics for 12 years. In addition to two sections of Introductory Calculus, Peter also teaches one section of Geometry and two sections of Mathematics Research Honors. In addition, he is the coach of the Garden City High School Math Team (Mathletes). Dr. Thomas Mennella has been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), Tom is now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts. Dan Jones earned a BS in Middle Grades Education from Ashland University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Dan is an FLGI Master Teacher whose professional interests include e-learning and technology, as well as Project-Based Learning.

 

Transcript

Tom

Hey, you made it. Great. Why don’t you pull up a chair, we’re just getting started here. Grab yourself a beverage and, Jake, what was it you were saying?

Jake:

Man, this week has been crazy. We’ve been finally using Zoom to talk with kids and it’s been great. But it’s been really hard to get a lot of kids to engage. That’s been my big struggle this week, is I’m working myself to death, coming up with this great schedule and activities to do, and I ended up only having 20 out of my 100 kids show up, for each of them. So I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to hook kids more. That’s kind of my big thing this week.

Dan:

So for me, it’s today, I actually had my first class where I had 100 percent attendance. And I was so excited. I wasn’t prepared to have everybody there. But it was-

Tom:

Is it technically optional, Dan? Is it technically optional for them or is it technically required?

Dan:

It’s technically required because I take attendance every single day. And that’s one of the things that we’ve had to really look at, is, do we have kids who just aren’t participating, and if so, we need to be reaching out to those families, seeing what’s going on and what can we do to support them differently. Because some of the families that we have, there are four kids in the family sharing one computer. And the mom is working at a hospital, and we’re trying to be mindful of those things and figure out, okay maybe one of the other three children needed the computer at that moment and, how do I need to support them differently? Do we need to meet at a different time? What needs to happen.

Tom:

I’ve got a story for you. So my institution, I’m at a university, my institution got a small army of volunteers. They called every single traditional student, individually, and said, “How are you doing? What do you need? How can we support you?” One student said, “I’m drowning, I’m floundering. I don’t have my own laptop. I can’t even get online.” Within an hour, they hand-delivered a loaner laptop to her with a hotspot wifi connection and got her all hooked up. I couldn’t believe that they even had the resources to do that.

Dan:

Well, and I know within our community, one of the things, you always have the issue of, well, what if the kid doesn’t have internet access. Well, our public libraries have left their wifi on so that kids can go to the parking lot. There’s got to be something, but right now, if a kid doesn’t have internet, yeah, there are companies out there that are giving out free internet, but if that family has an outstanding bill, guess what? They’re not getting internet, even if it’s for free.

Peter:

They waived that in New York to get everybody into that company. They said even if you had an outstanding bill.they have to have the internet on.

I’ve had a text going on with my colleagues at work and it’s been really good. Dan and I were texting the other night, late, and he said something that really struck home. He said, “I miss the interaction with my colleagues.” Because the four of us, plus Maureen and Errol, we’re all texting, like all hours of the days and nights, with each other, right? We have each other. But, as Dan put it so well, what about our colleagues at work?

Tom:

And our students, right? Our students are missing their friends too. My daughter finally connected with one of her best friends on FaceTime the other night, she blew us off for dinner. She didn’t even come to the dinner table. She’s like, “No, I’ll eat by myself later, go ahead and eat without me.” And I could tell she was hungrier for that social interaction than she was for whatever was on that plate that night. That’s for sure..

Jake:

I was talking to my couple of teachers about how do we get kids to engage and part of it is, all the SEL, and just having group activities where the kids get to interact more with each other. So I struggle with the balance. I see that as a hook to get kids connecting as a group, but then, if you’re trying to teach content as well or review, where do you draw that line? That’s hard.

Tom:

That’s right. Balance the academics with the SEL. I think that might be the hardest nut to crack moving forward from this.

Dan:

And the other major challenge I’ve had, it’s just dealing with the amount of paperwork, of trying to keep track of assignments, track them down, get kids to actually turn stuff in. And I will say, my students have actually worked really hard during this time and they’re turning things in. But I’m going through 400 emails trying to figure out who turned in what, when, how, what am I missing. Reaching out to parents and saying, “Hey, your kid hasn’t done any work in the past three weeks, would you mind checking in on them?” Or they’ve done the work, they just haven’t turned it in. And we have to develop a routine of getting kids to take pictures of the assignments, get them uploaded, and it’s a real process. I think a lot of times we forget that the students are so used to using tech, but they’re not used to doing some of the main processes, that we are used to, like how to attach a file to an email. Those are brand new for a lot of them.

Tom:

I have a confession, where’s the bouncer in this place, because I don’t want you guys get me thrown out, but I have a confession for you all. I think I like this. I think I’m really learning to like this.

Jake:

Okay. Why? What’s so good for you?

Tom:

So the number one thing that I’m hearing from my students, and the number one thing that’s really appealing to me is 100 percent engagement. Right? So I’m teaching flipped, but in a traditional college classroom. So even in the group space, the overachievers, the more extroverted students, they’re the ones who are shooting up their hands and they’re the ones that are engaging more in the class. With everything being discussion-based in my LMS, every single student has an equal voice, and the shyest student in the class is right in there, in the thick of things, just like the most outgoing student. And I’m really getting a big kick out of seeing everyone shine and everyone participate. It’s been overwhelming from a management point of view, Dan, I agree completely, but man has it been so rewarding just to see all of these students flourish.

Peter:

I put out a Flip grid, and the kids are participating in a Flipgrid. Quiet kids are uploading videos in Flipgrid. And some of the kids, that are so quiet, when they’re uploading a video for a message or a reply to something I put out, and I realized how funny they are, but you can’t tell how funny they are. In class per se, they’ll raise their hand and give you the answer you’re looking for or maybe ask a quick question, but you don’t see much of the rest come out until you have that one on one time with the kids, and even then, it’s hard to tell exactly how funny they can be.

Tom:

Jake, you’ve been doing a lot of engagement stuff too, right?

Jake:

I’ve been trying. What’s tough for me is, none of this is required. Currently what we’re doing, is we made packets for the students and they’re optional to do, so we really don’t have any strings to pull on anything, and then all the online stuff has to be completely optional because not everybody has access to the internet. So when students hear, you can go to these sessions if you want to, and you have five or six teachers having sessions kind of randomly throughout the day, it’s tough to get them to engage. And I’m doing two sessions a day and saying, come to whichever one you want. We’re going to do the same thing in both of them, and it’s the same 15 or so that keep engaging.

Tom:

Yeah.

Dan:

Well Jake, one of the things that I did to help build my engagement was, I reached out. I mean, and I think obviously, our groups of students are different because all of my students have access to the internet, and for me, it was more of an issue of, this kid just didn’t show up. And so, one of the things I did was, I finally called parents and I was like, “Hey, is there a reason why your child’s not been coming to class?” Because I wanted to give them that opportunity to say, well, things have been real stressful here and we’ve been moving, or whatever the issue may have been. But I had parents that were like, “What do you mean they’re not coming to class? They’ve been on a computer. What do you mean they’re not in class?” So after those phone calls, all of a sudden, my golly, everybody showed up. So I was really impressed with the parents and the fact that they want to do well with their kid. They don’t know what they’re doing, when it comes to the educational side, but they want to support their kid. They desperately want their kids to do well. And so they are frustrated when their kids are taking advantage of a situation. And so they tried desperately to remedy that. And I’ve had great success with that.

Peter:

I did have some kids that, well, hitting this didn’t do much, but as soon as I’ve reached out to the parents, all of a sudden it was the onslaught of work. I have closed a day and a half later. So I’m mixed or anything like that. I had contacted the parents and they think that the kids are doing what they have to do, and when they realize they haven’t, all of a sudden now I’m getting, like Dan had been, near 100 percent participation.

Tom:

So we’ve got students completely engaged, we’ve got small percentages of students engaged, we have IT challenges and IT success stories, and we’ve even had a few confessions. Whatever it is that we’ll be talking about next week, you know it’ll be interesting, you know it’ll have a few beverages with it and you know, there’s a seat waiting for you at the RTOL Grill. So until next week, thanks for listening.






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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