Creating Community V: Final Touches

Some final attempts to build community into my courses before they start this week:

I scheduled a few Zoom meetings at different times so students could test their access and ask me questions. I had created a poll with the following questions as a way for them to assess their readiness (possible answers were “yes,” “no,” and “unsure”):

  1. I will have reliable and convenient internet access when the semester begins.
  2. I feel comfortable learning how to use Zoom.
  3. I am looking forward to the fall semester.
  4. I am worried about the possible effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on me or my family members.
  5. I am worried that non-academic demands on my time, such as employment or care for family members, might interfere with my studies.

I was not able to administer the poll for two reasons. First, my university-issued laptop died, and from home I could only log into my Zoom account by using the Zoom web portal rather than the desktop client. The polling tool is not available through the web portal. Second, in total only about ten percent of my undergraduate students joined the meetings. None of them voiced any anxieties — possibly a demonstration of selection or social conformity bias, but it’s not worth my time to individually hunt down students to gauge their readiness for an online course.

I decided that students are more likely to develop a sense of camaraderie if they work with the same people on two or three distinct types of collaborative exercises for the whole semester than changing to a different team every week or two. This should help dissuade free riding.

I think I’ve figured out how to grade shared notes and memo exercises: make the students do it. For the past few years, I’ve forced students to rank order the performance of themselves and their teammates. A sizable portion of students truly hate this system, possibly because it flies in the face of the “everybody gets a trophy” culture in which many of them have been raised. This time around I’m going to tell students that they each have ten points to distribute as they see fit — the same number of points can be awarded to everyone on the team, or teammates can get different amounts. I’ll tally each student’s points as a means of prorating how much they earn (full credit equates to five percent of the course grade). This method requires minimal work on my part, and those students who don’t contribute will suffer the consequences.

In my Canvas LMS course shells, I am not able to use the “Collaborations” tool to connect students to the Google Slides and Google Sheets files that their teams will be using. The Google Drive LTI/service app is still not functioning at my university. To get around this, I’ve created pages in Canvas with links out to the files that students will use to collaborate with each other. The process is a bit tedious but fairly easy to accomplish. However, I still have to collect students’ Google account usernames so that I can grant them access to their team’s files. I’ve already notified students to supply me with this information, but invariably I will have to remind students when the semester starts.