WHAT MY STUDENTS CAN LEARN FROM JACK
I teach classes in the humanities at DeVry. Wanting to be on the cutting edge of teaching at the university level, DeVry has for years combined onsite with online learning. The online learning involves weekly threaded discussions in addition to the regular classroom. This combination allows for a multifaceted learning approach in both the humanities and the technical curriculum. Generally, the threaded discussion account for about 25% of the students’ course grade.
I am convinced that DeVry is correct, and I have done my best to get all my students to do well at both locations…onsite and online. It bothers me that some of my students don’t take the threads seriously. I don’t get it; I tell them about how they will get a course grade: threaded discussions, term paper, tests, and other assignments. What perplexes me is that a student can ace all the other grading-criteria but do a mediocre job on the threads. That will ruin a good grade for the course.
Anne Perry, my dean, and I have had running dialogue over my inability to get all my students on the ball educationally and especially about how to engage them in the threads. I have tried everything to motivate my students to excel in every aspect of their learning experience—including the threads discussions. Dean Perry tells me that I won’t get through to all students all the time. Why can’t I be all things to all my students? Okay, that sounds funny or perhaps dumb, but I’m operating like that. Why?
My educational background in different from most professors. I went to an average elementary school and did well there until my dad was transferred to Pittsburgh. He was in WWII, and I was born before he went off to the Pacific. When the war was over, he wasn’t able simultaneously to work, go to school, and raise a child and another soon to be on the way. Therefore, he didn’t get a chance to go to college. Nevertheless, but he make every effort to assure that his children had the opportunity that he didn’t have. I appreciate that drive.
However, when he transferred to Pittsburgh, he bought a house in the 19th best school system in the country…and it was an equally wealthy community called Mt. Lebanon just south of Pittsburgh. I found myself, when compared to my friends, no longer to be above average but now average student. In addition, we did not have the money that my friends’ families had, and I felt like the poorest kid in that educationally and financially rich community. Interview
That experience at Mt. Lebanon was a life-changing experience…in a negative way. I gave up being better than average and settled for average. It took me half my life to realize that I had put 2 + 2 together and got 17. Halfway through life, I realized that I was not average.
I do not want other students to make the same educational mistakes that I had. Talk about drives--that desire really drives me. There are loads of professors smarter than I, but few have awakened midway through their journey through life to my realization.
Essentially, I want my students to get my lesson of life now and not have to wait half their lives as I did. Dean Perry encourages me in my academic pursuits but cautions me to ratchet down my unrealistic hopes of getting to all students all the time.
Okay, in my head, the dean is correct. I know that it is a very unrealistic desire on my part to be all things to all my students. I just have a program understanding that truth in my gut. Moreover, I know why…my life experiences going from above average in an average American school to average in a totally superior school. I know that I have to have my second major educational wake-up soon at this end of my life.
So what can I do to make the best effort possible to empower all my students to reach their educational goals and be successful outside the classroom in their lives? Here is what I have learned so far:
1. Dean Perry has helped with the threaded discussions by telling me to divide the week into two sections and use each half of the week to deal solely with one of the threaded discussions. The advantage is to concentrate on one of the threaded discussion at a time. By focusing in upon just one question, I have found a vast improvement generated in the weekly discussions.
2. I will have all my students read this article. I hope that my humor mixed with educational seriousness might cause some sleepers to awake from their education doldrums and daydreaming. I assure you that all my students will get a link to this very article.
3. Finally, I have decided to start with younger students so that they do not start any educational doldrums early in life. My wife and I have a new grandchild, Jack. We drive to Indy every Tuesday to babysit for him. He is now just over six months old. I’ve taught him a lot so far in his short life. He now knows that, when he is sitting on my lap, and I say, "One, two, three…," he will stand up and smile at his educational accomplishment. His smile of satisfaction is so very sweet. Trust me; he learned that lesson very quickly. In fact, he will often stand without even my counting. The kid is bright.
4. Still perplexed by the educational dilemma facing me at DeVry and my losing debate with my dean, I decided to prepare Jack for when he soon goes to DeVry for his collegiate experience. I kid you not; he is fascinated about the various classes that I am teaching this term. Here is a picture of him looking at the threaded discussions in my ethics class.
I told him about my dilemma. He is determined not to waste any of his life getting on the educational bandwagon. Look at his shock and determination. I want all my students to have that same drive and determination at DeVry and in their lives after graduation.