Friday, February 24, 2012

Motivating Students and Other Online Challenges

Danger of failing letter sent home to failing students

I spent today contacting many of my students who have fallen behind or have failed to start my class. It is the 6th week of the semester but I still have a number of students who have yet to complete any assignments or attend class. How is this possible? One of the biggest challenges of teaching online is motivating reluctant learners. Unlike a traditional classroom where students can be motivated to work by looking their teacher in the eye every day, my students can hide from me. I contact these students through email, phone calls, and most recently letters in the mail. I sent a “danger of failing” letter out to all my students who had not started working about a week ago and since then, many have begun to complete work. However, I still have some stragglers. It is a myth that art teachers do not need to motivate their students to do work because it is a “fun subject”. There will always be students who don’t enjoy my class, but in an online setting students seem more likely to disengage in their learning entirely. I’ve already talked before about how online learning requires more self-motivation from the student than traditional learning, and this fact is extremely clear when looking at reluctant learners. I continue to find new ways to engage these students and I feel it is something I’ll always struggle with.
My mom reminded me of another challenge I face in my online classroom with her question: How can you make sure the work students turn in they actually did themselves since you don't always see them working?
This question is an issue that has inspired a policy at my particular online school. I am required to proctor students about their completed work once every 9 weeks. When I call students about their work, I ask them about their ideas and how they created their artwork. I embrace these moments as a time to really measure and learn what students are retaining and putting into practice. It is also a time where it is easy to tell if a student did not actually make this artwork. Many students who turn in plagiarized work in my classroom are easily caught. With tools like Google Image Search, I can upload the image a student submitted and search for others like it online. I also look for similarities in style between different projects done by the same student. It is easy to see if a student who was struggling is suddenly creating work far beyond their previous skills. Though authenticity will continue to be a challenge, I feel comfortable that my students are being held accountable for what they submit.

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