Attendance in Online Classrooms?

Recently I was asked by my district to begin building and implementing a blended learning program for our magnet high school.  One of the first steps I took was to survey some staff about what they liked or thought we should include in our blended program and what we did not like about our own online learning experiences.  Our discussion is noted below.

What we liked, or should include:

  • Online learning must support good traditional learning
  • Forums (or blogs) should exist for collaboration of shared work
  • We must be able to measure quantifiable participation, but participation does not need to mean text only.
  • Teachers must be able to monitor work
  • Recordable, measurable formatives (perhaps not graded)
  • Record the in/out of a course (and perhaps a forum)
  • Must have flexibility between disciplines

What we did not like:

  • Lack of interaction
  • Overthinking course discussions
  • Difficult to disagree without angering others
  • Nuanced conversation is missing
  • Asynchronous group projects with unknown people
  • No interaction or nuanced conversation
  • Too time consuming to read and respond to required posts
  • Forced responses
  • Difficulties in non-verbal interactions
  • One-size fits all (this isn’t a reality)
  • Sometimes a lack of accountability
  • Impersonality of knowing the instructor

One of my biggest displeasures of online learning was being compelled to respond to discussion posts.  Sometimes being compelled was good, as it forced me to examine difficult concepts.  However, sometimes being compelled to respond was foolish.  How many times can you say what your classmates say, but in a different enough way that your instructor gives you credit?  If I were not compelled, I probably would have only done half of the work.

So, I wonder, if traditional students were not compelled, how many of them would show up?  How many would do the work?

This is not an argument about whether students should be forced to take classes.  Rather, this is a suggestion that for too long traditional teachers have used the mandatory attendance and completion of a course to teach lazily, without excitement, and without student engagement.  Such teaching, whether traditional or online, will lack results in achievement.  I suggest the discussion of online classes and engagement should spur a larger discussion of ALL classes and engagement.  How can students learn if they are not interested and engaged in a challenging activity?

I believe students should have required exposure to certain subjects in K-12 education.  I also recognize monitoring attendance in such courses is necessary for record-keeping.  However, if attendance were not mandatory, would the students show up?  If no, what are we doing wrong as teachers?  Why must our students be compelled to attend our class?  What can we do to change our teaching and the system in which we teach?


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