Do All Students Deserve Your Full Time and Attention?

Let’s face it, teaching adult students takes a great deal of time and energy. When you are assigned a large class size, the number of students and associated responsibilities that are vying for your attention increases and this can create a time crunch. If you teach courses in a traditional college classroom Spectrum Email you know how much time it takes to develop lectures and grade papers or exams. Online instructors, especially in the for-profit online school industry, may not have to develop course materials – but they usually have weekly discussions and feedback expectations that demands a significant investment of time. For example, one online school expects their instructors to be involved in class discussions during five out of seven days, provide feedback for assignments within a week, and write weekly feedback reports. You can probably estimate the amount of time that instructor spends on class facilitation. Add to that the fact that most instructors are hired as adjuncts and likely working full time as well.

What does all of this mean for your students? When I was an online student, I was very independent, yet it mattered to me to “see” my instructor actively engaged in the class and interested in how I was performing. As a faculty development specialist, what I have observed is that those students who are performing poorly are the ones who receive the most attention. This is not necessarily because they are interacting with their instructors one-on-one, but instead it was due to the intensive effort required to provide feedback. This means that a student who is doing well will often fly under an instructor’s radar as they seemingly have no need for additional assistance. I’ve seen many well-written papers returned to students with only a few short comments provided, if any comments at all, and little attempt on the instructor’s part to engage them in the subject matter.

I admit that I used to feel that same way when I first began teaching online. I mapped out tasks that needed to be completed for the upcoming week, calculated the amount of time it would likely take to fully finish those tasks, and then breathed a sigh of relief when I began working on feedback and read a well-developed paper. It seemingly made my job easier, and took less time, to have perfect papers. However, I learned early on that this approach can actually work against an instructor, especially if students believe they are working on their own and no one seems to care. I quickly discovered that when students feel left alone, especially in an online class, they can easily disengage. It didn’t take long for me to realize that every student deserves my full time and attention, regardless of how well or poorly they perform, and that all students have developmental needs to consider and address – even the very best of them.

Analyzing a Spectrum of Students and Duties

Every class presents an endless possible combination of student backgrounds, experiences, points of view, and developmental needs. However, it is possible to provide a general statement that summarizes the typical spectrum of students that can be found in a college undergraduate class. I am utilizing my experience in online teaching and online faculty development within the for-profit online school industry as my point of view, as that is where the majority of my experience in higher education has been. For a typical class, ten percent of the students could be rated as above average, thirty percent rated as average, and sixty percent of students would be rated as below average. Again, these are averages that are based upon undergraduate or less experienced students.

Consider now the spectrum of duties that a typical adjunct online instructor would be required to perform each week of the class. Classroom management would take approximately ten percent of the instructor’s time, and include duties such as responding to questions, posting announcements, etc. Posting participation messages would take a minimum of thirty percent of an instructor’s weekly allocated time, and sixty percent of the time spent each week would be devoted to providing feedback. This is making an assumption that an instructor will download student papers and provide feedback within those papers. There is a reason for comparing the types of students to the time an instructor spends while facilitating a class, and it is related to the amount of time and attention that is provided for every student.

First, an instructor will spend a majority of their week concerned with providing feedback and meeting all contractual deadlines. The type and quality of feedback provided usually is in direct correlation to the type of student and the quality of the papers they have submitted. For an above average student, the quality of the paper will generally be on par with the expected response for the assignment, along with meeting the mandatory academic writing standards. For an average student, the content will likely be on target (or what would be minimally acceptable for an average grade) and any developmental issues would be related to academic writing. That is where the focus of many instructors will be when reviewing an average paper – addressing the writing issues.

Finally, a below average student will require the most time as the content of the paper and the academic writing will likely both have areas of needed development. It is easy to understand why, as a paper that is poorly written and not completely on target is going to be difficulty to read, comprehend, and assess. I remember when I was new to online teaching and I reviewed papers similar to what I have described. There was an initial sense of dread because I knew that there were many issues that needed to be addressed and that would slow down the process of providing feedback, while also taking more of my time. More importantly, if I focused on every negative element I would have little positive comments to make. Through my work with online faculty, I know there is also a tendency to focus on the writing issues first, and the content is often left unaddressed. I used to take that same approach as a new online instructor.

What this presents is an instructional approach that focuses on problematic, academically under-prepared, and below average students first – leaving a majority of the above average students (and even some of the average students) having a lesser amount of the instructor’s time. This is similar in nature to the squeaky wheel analogy, where the students with the greatest needs, and those who speak up the most, are the ones who have received the most time and attention from their instructor. While this is certainly understandable, from an instructor’s perspective, it can create an environment that is not optimal for learning. It is likely that some students will not speak up or ask for assistance out of fear, feelings of intimidation, negative perceptions about their instructor’s disposition, or simply not being conditioned to ask questions. For online courses, the distance factor also creates additional barriers for students.

Providing Time and Attention to Every Student

There is no question that every student is deserving of an instructor’s time and attention. Even during the busiest of class weeks, and a time when the list of papers to review never seems to end, it is possible to demonstrate to students that their instructor has time for them and is concerned about their progress – regardless of how well-developed or under-developed their academic skills may be. From my own experience, I believe there are four key areas within an instructor’s teaching practice that can be leveraged to demonstrated availability for their students.

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