The MacGyver Mindset or Learned Helplessness?

Something of a response to Simon’s last post on recognizing a situation for what it is and using the tools at hand to improve it . . .

It’s commonly acknowledged in online course design that no two people will navigate a website in exactly the same manner. Placing the same information in multiple locations on a course website increases the probability that students will find it.

But, like horses, leading a student to water does not mean he or she will necessarily drink it.

This past week I received numerous emailed queries about the quality of failure assignment that I’ve made a part of all my courses this semester. Students were essentially asking, “What is this assignment and how do I do it?”Sign

I’ve written before about my reluctance to return to testing students on the syllabus at the beginning of every semester. In an attempt to avoid this unpleasant task this time around, when creating each of my course websites I pasted the directions from the syllabus into the description for each assignment. I also included a rubric that appears at the bottom of each assignment’s webpage.

From a discussion with a colleague, I accidentally discovered that students, at least on this campus, don’t bother to read rubrics. At all. So now I’m inserting “Read the rubric below” at the top of each webpage — it will be the first thing they see when they go through the process of uploading and submitting an assignment.

Whether this will motivate students to read directions and evaluate their own work in relation to a rubric before submitting it to me, I don’t know, but I’m starting to wonder if the proliferation of instructions, encouragements, and good wishes only serves to reinforce the learned helplessness that my students already possess in abundance.

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