Learning Critical Thinking Through Astronomy, Week 6

Note that I’m posting this one week late.

This was an interesting week in that there were both highs and lows.

I’ll start with the lows. We are now a week behind where we need to be. On Monday of this week, my expectation was that students would have completed the first three shadow activities, but those expectations were not met. I have been stymied over the years by how students justify not doing what is asked of them. On one hand, it seems simple. Not being students on a residential campus, they have off campus obligations ranging from raising money for transportation (or even not having transportation) to parental and family obligations, and I totally get that. I really do. Still, many students still rather glibly do not expect to have any (as in at all) outside encounters with course material once they leave the confines of the barrier-free environment I try so hard to provide for them. So I then find myself once again in an ethical dilemma. Do I decide on the fly to flip the class and have them do the things they were expected to do out of class in class that day or week, or do I keep going ahead with students who are lost becuase they haven’t done the on activities and will be even more lost if I keep pushing them forward into new territory. Either way, I feel guilty. If I flip the class, we get another week behind and that, in turn, induces more guilt because we’re further behind and the perception is that I’m not doing my job (as some people define it for me). If I push on, students get no benefit because they can’t understand the newer material because they didn’t understand the previous material. For better or worse, my professional conscience almost always leans toward flipping on the fly and letting students catch up. After all, the classroom is supposed to be a nearly ideal environment for doing that so it would be hypocritical for me to deny them that opportunity. I hope I’m right. Am I?

But what about motivation? I think my greatest shortcoming is that I just can’t figure out how to motivate students. My point of view, however unrealistic, is that merely registering for a course indicates a willingness to put forth whatever effort the instructor deems essential. I openly admit that I probably didn’t see it that way as an undergraduate (Why should an astronomy major spend so many hours on a western civilization course…and I honestly still wonder about that…) so yeah, I shouldn’t be surprised but it’s not like I’m asking students to do anything unreasonable. If they don’t finish something in class, it really should be finished outside of class and I don’t think that’s asking too much. I’ve tried everything I can think of to instill motivation where it seems to be lacking but apparently I’m not yet to the point where I can do that successfully. Right now, I’m at a point where I don’t think I should have to provide ALL of a student’s motivation. If there’s none there to begin with, then the student should rethink his/her reason for being in college. I understand that that’s not a politically acceptable stance, but it is indeed my stance at present.

Now the highs. I got some really good feedback on how to improve the shadow activities from the few students who did engage with them. The most drastic change is that Activity0203 needs to be completely rewritten to match the format of the previous two activities. That way, it will be more independent of the other two whereas now it relies on one or the other of them.

I’m always in favor of anything that lets students understand things they never thought they could understand before, and that happened this week so I must give a slight edge to the highs over the lows. Motivation is still an obstacle for too many students, and I just don’t know that I can fix that in any realistic way.

As always, I welcome feedback, questions, and constructive criticism.


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