Profs of MeFi, do you get student pushback about amount of coursework?
September 26, 2018 12:01 PM   Subscribe

If you teach in a college or university setting, how common is the following student behaviour: students publicly and privately push back on the workload involved in the course (eg length and number of assignments), insisting that it is too much for a course at this level. I'm trying to determine if this is common elsewhere, or if it's unusual in other places and it's our students who are outliers. So, do you experience this, and if so, how do you handle it?

It's happening in one class of mine this semester, but I have never experienced it to this degree before, in the 15 years I've been teaching. My colleagues assign similar levels of work and have also started getting this behaviour.

We have taken a good look at our coursework requirements and determined that they are what will best prepare students for the subject and progression to the next level, and have shared that rationale with the students, talking transparently about the pedagogical reasons for the assignments, so this isn't a "because I said so" situation. However, the students haven't been satisfied with the response and have raised the issue again. I don't think it's the whole class, but I do think the two who have spoken up (who are currently getting good grades) are speaking for a few others.

Ideally in putting a stop to the pushback, I'd like to be firm but preserve the students' dignity; I believe what I'm doing is sound, but I don't need to "put them in their place" in a harsh way. I am well supported by my dean, have a reputation as a good instructor, and have union protection. I'm not at all worried about this affecting my employment, but I'd like to not have a miserable class atmosphere, either.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl to Education (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are these undergraduate or graduate students? What type of assignments are they -- writing? Math exercises? Something that requires being in a specific location like a lab?

I'm asking mostly to see how relevant my experiences are. I got more pushback this semester than ever before on the amount of homework in a graduate course, but it was from a student who had some outside issues and we were able to work out a solution specific to them.

Of course students will tell me how hard they are working, or how much time they are spending, but before this year I'm not sure anyone has ever flat-out said "this is too much" to me before. In fact last year one of my course evaluations actually said "more homework please". Same course as the one I describe above, by the way.

My instinct is that these comments probably don't reflect any truth to the claim that you're assigning too much work. But it's entirely possible that your students have more responsibilities outside of class than usual, and that's what's driving the change.
posted by dbx at 12:15 PM on September 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

We have taken a good look at our coursework requirements and determined that they are what will best prepare students for the subject and progression to the next level

This may be true - but how many other classes are these students taking? How much time in total are they expected to spend on coursework outside of class? Is your class an outlier in terms of the time required? It's entirely possible that the amount of work you're asssigning is fine, but you should consider all these questions as part of your course planning.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:26 PM on September 26, 2018 [12 favorites]

But it's entirely possible that your students have more responsibilities outside of class than usual, and that's what's driving the change.

Seconding this. Also, bits of your post suggest that this pushback may be partly inspired by (this is too harsh a word for it, but) groupthink on the part of some students who talk about your class a lot. Contrast with those courses, which I'm sure you've had, where students just don't seem to talk to each other, in or out of class; I'd guess this doesn't happen?

I'd also add (with the obvious caveat that this is an obvious overgeneralization) that high schools seem to be doing a steadily worse job of preparing students for what to expect from college-level work/workload, so some of what you're hearing could simply be shock due to that.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:31 PM on September 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

A lot of my friends have to take two jobs or a job and an internship to pay mounting bills on top of struggling mental health with the pressures (because greedy privatized schools), and so I know of professors at my school who are confused until they hear about the external struggles my classmates have faced and adjusted their deadline schedules a bit so they could have more flexibility.
posted by yueliang at 12:33 PM on September 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

I know at my institution the current homework model (which, as I understand it, comes from the Higher Learning Commission,) is 2 hours of homework/1 credit hour. So, a 3 credit hour class that runs for 15 weeks, would have 6 hours of homework/week. If a 1 credit-hour class ran as 3 contact hours per week for 5 weeks, the students would have to be doing 6 hours of homework a week for those 5 weeks. It works out as a per semester number, then averaged per week - so, a 3 credit hour class is 45 contact hours for the semester, and 90 homework hours per semester, divided up by number of weeks.

Are you assigning more homework than this? If not, just point them to this number being the mandated expected number of homework hours.
posted by MythMaker at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

To directly answer your question: No, I've never seen that, but I've been teaching less than ten years so who knows what will happen next. Early on in my career I actually really overworked some of my students, but I was teaching at a college with a certain culture of intellectual machismo and TBH my students should have been complaining about it more than they did.

Have you asked the students how much time they're spending on the assignments? There are federal regulations that basically say that for each credit-hour a student earns, they should be working in & out of class for at least three hours per week. A full-semester course where I teach is four credits, so each class should take at least 12 hours/week including class time; and a full-time student should be spending at least 48 hours/week on their courses.

Note that there's nothing in there about "course level". The idea is that students who are less advanced spend longer doing simpler tasks, while the more advanced students work more efficiently, and so classes at all levels take the roughly the same amount of time. It may be that the students you have this year had a less effective learning experience in the classes leading up to yours, and so it's taking them longer to do the same amount of work.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:35 PM on September 26, 2018

Another way to look at it is that if a student is a full-time student, then being that full time student is equivalent to a full time job.

At 15 credit-hours/semester (a normal load), that represents 15 contact hours a week, plus 30 homework hours a week, or 45 hours of classwork a week. That's a normal full time job, more or less (and full time is 12-16 credit hours a semester, anyway, so it's always somewhat variable).
posted by MythMaker at 12:37 PM on September 26, 2018

My colleagues and I have discussed this and related issues this semester as well. It's happening in both my undergrad and grad classes. I think that it's very hard to be a person in the world right now. Students are taking on so much debt, and they probably will never get out from under it. And they know it, and it leaks out in unexpected ways. I think the vast majority of them are simply cracking under the pressure of the weight of the world.

I have greatly shifted my pedagogical style and go very easy on them in the hopes that taking off the pressure helps them learn. I know I can't reach them all. I bring food to every class now - did you know that 30% of students are food insecure? They are under tremendous pressure. I also do what I can to make as much of the learning and its assessment take place in class as possible. I do a lot of in class activities and exercises. Sometimes I print out the most important paragraph from their reading and we do a critical reading exercise together. We play games related to the concepts I'm trying to teach them. I bring in news articles that are relevant and relate them to the concepts from class. And sometimes we watch videos and talk about what we liked and didn't like about them and make large lists of those things and then try to relate them to the class concepts. I make a lot of worksheets, which sounds really silly for a college class, but I think it's useful. I have no idea, but making the class environment dynamic, and not relying so much on them to do work outside of class, does seem to help. But I know that I can't reach them all. Again, we are all under a lot of pressure in this current environment.

Best of luck. It is a very difficult time to be a college professor.
posted by sockermom at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2018 [44 favorites]

I have been teaching at the U level for 6 years, just received tenure last year. Our is top-50, so pretty competitive, and students do seem to have a decent work ethic already.

I have gotten a direct comment exactly once, in my first year. It came from a student about whom a colleague had warned me would push boundaries. The comment was something along the lines of "So you expect us to do this, and this ... and THIS?" I just said, levelly, "Yes".

I do overhear (basically) some comments about workload from one of my regular classes, but that's it.

The class I have more problem with is a upper-level lab class that is 2 credits. I routinely get comments about workload exceeding expectations in my teaching evals. I try to address the issue head-on in the first day of class, to set expectations. I think the students' expectations coming in are anchored on the low end by lower-level labs in which they can finish the work and the report in the 3-hour session, and thus don't have to work outside of class. I am actually thinking about reducing the scope of this class next spring, partially due to these complaints.
posted by Dashy at 12:45 PM on September 26, 2018

MeFi Mailed you - I wonder if one of the idiosyncrasies of Canadian non-universities is to blame.
posted by blerghamot at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Current undergrad in the US, have only seen this happen once, in a class that was truly unstructured. The problem sets were already longer than most of us had encountered, plus the fact that many concepts in the homework were taught tangentially meant that the assigned PSETs were challenging for a 3-unit class. There is not a lot of confidence in the job market, so we are taking a lot of jobs (for $ or resume-building) and difficult classes. The uni that I go to is known for its stressed-out students, though.
posted by typify at 12:57 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's possible that your students are less prepared for your course than previous cohorts and are spending more time or effort on your course to compensate. Reasons could include changes in their secondary school curriculum, admissions policies of your university, a change in teaching style in a prerequisite for your course, or just luck of the draw.
posted by harmonia at 1:02 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is the course you're teaching an upper-level requirement of the major, or in any way a requirement of the major? If so, do you know how it fits in with the rest of the courses that are required by the major and the availability of those courses in the academic year?

If your course is a non-negotiable requirement of the department/major, it's worth looking at the other courses that are also requirements, and their relative difficulty and time demands. Because I can foresee a class scheduling mess where, for example, a required course that's more difficult and time intensive than yours which used to be available or have more openings in other quarters or semesters, is no longer available, and thus the required courses get loaded into one quarter/semester rather than being more spread out. Many students try to spread out their harder or more time intensive classes across different quarters/semesters, but sometimes, due to budget cuts or just plain bad course scheduling, find that they can no longer do so. That could impact their response to what you feel is a reasonable work load for your class.

No one wants to incur more debt by taking longer to graduate, and summer classes aren't an option for everybody. I knew more than a few students taking crazy course loads in their major because, thanks to the vagaries of course scheduling, i.e. Notoriously Difficult Science Major Requirement 105 is only available in the spring semester, but Easier Science Major Requirement 103 filled up too fast for them to get in in the fall, so now they're taking both in one semester when they'd have far preferred to stagger them for workload reasons. Students do it because they have no other option if they want to graduate on time, but obviously it can get stressful.
posted by yasaman at 1:13 PM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm a high school teacher; welcome to the hellspawn that comes from helicopter parenting. My peers and I simply cannot get our heads around how many students question expectations, argue about assignments, and ultimately, have their parents demand meetings with admin to discuss too-high expectations (all the while demanding to know what I'll do to get their kid into an Ivy).

In all my years, I have never seen such a bunch of kids who think it's completely within their rights to question their teachers about work. The work is always too hard. Not relevant. Boring. Unclear. They will spend more time complaining than doing the work. I would expect the next step is their parents will try to contact you to air their complaints.

What you can do is stop them. They are not paid to be there; they are not teachers, the class is not a democracy where everyone gets a vote on the work. They are there to do the work. You are there to teach them, not to engage in arguing.

I'm a fan of generally harshing out when students do this and explaining that class expectations are the expectations and they are not negotiable.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:21 PM on September 26, 2018 [17 favorites]

At my university, there is a formula. For each credit that a class is worth, the expectation at my university is that a student will spend 30 hours of time in class and homework over the course of a quarter. In a class worth 5 credits, that translates to 150 hours. In most classes we meet for about 37 hours of class time, so that leaves about 113 hours doing homework.

But of course it is difficult to estimate how much time students will take to read the readings, do the homework, write assignments, etc.

I try to assign about a chapter or maybe 2 articles for each undergraduate class meeting. I have reading quizzes for each class. For homework, I have moved far more into in class activities. This is due to the increasing number of students working full-time jobs.
posted by k8t at 2:08 PM on September 26, 2018

I teach at a small liberal arts college. I have had this conversation with my students when people have thought that the level of homework (or difficulty) was more than what was justified.

I've tried to keep an eye on it in various ways, such as asking my students how long they spend on assignments; I have a rough time I'm aiming for, and I do mis-calibrate sometimes (or a student is taking much longer than it 'should' take, which is usually a basis for a conversation about how the class is going in general). For instance, I assign weekly problem sets, roughly, that I expect to take about two hours for the median student. Especially in my intro class for my discipline, students might have a misperception about how much work or what kind of work is involved. Especially in the fall term of a course full of first years, they're learning about juggling different responsibilities, may not realize that the standards are higher than in high school, they have to manage their time effectively, etc. So sometimes I end up doing the thing you said - telling people that this is the way things are in this department.

That said, I also try to be cognizant of the other demands they face on their time; that they have other classes, that they need to work to pay for school, and that they should have a social life. Depending on your discipline and the normal courseload, it's worth asking whether your class is designed to take up a disproportionate amount of student time (like, if they have four courses and they all had the workload you expected, would they have time for anything else?) I suspect you have thought about that, though.

It seems like your question is partially about how to handle these particular students so they don't disrupt the class with this stuff. Do you do a mid-course evaluation of some kind? I tend to do one before the middle part of the term and take some time to acknowledge feedback. That can help you figure out if those students are in the minority or not. It gives them a vehicle for exercising their voice, and if you do it yourself, you don't *have* to share the data with anyone.
posted by dismas at 2:45 PM on September 26, 2018

Thanks everyone for all the responses. I appreciate the benefit of the doubt I'm getting in terms of believing that I'm not trying to work the students to the bone, or being unreasonable! I do worry about these things. I'm also glad (I guess) to see that I'm not the only one dealing with this and it's become more common.

I'm teaching an intro to women's studies course so there is a mix of assignments: essays, exams, creative projects. I definitely fall well within the "3 hours of work, in or out of class, per course credit" guideline.

I think a few people have hit the nail on the head by talking about the fact that pressures on students are much higher than they used to be--I know my students all work outside school far too much to be able to take the course loads they take. I'm often talking to students who are working a heavy part time job, and taking a full course load, and some have small children. I have no idea how they expect to do it all, and it often doesn't work out for them. At the same time, I know WHY they do it--sometimes funding, sometimes they just need to get qualified to get a job. It's hard and I sympathize with them.

I also think part of this is the lack of academic preparedness of many students coming out of high school. They are shocked by the new expectations and sometimes have not received enough support in writing or reading to cope with what's expected in a college/uni level course. And sadly, some of them were socially promoted and passed to the next level of school when they really did not have the skills. Additionally, we are getting more and more international students to help balance the books (they pay a lot more tuition and are viewed by underfunded Canadian institutions as a cash cow); not all of them are fluent in English, the language of instruction. The students who have complained are not actually second language learners though.

I think I will look to see if I can cut back--not on the number of assignments, but perhaps the length of some of them, and look to shifting some of the out of class to the class period. It's hard for these students, but I need to strike a balance that allows us to meet the mandated outcomes for the course to preserve transferability (I work at a 2-year college where students usually transfer to a 4-year university afterwards).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you have a class that meets more than once a week, especially, one thing I noticed helped a lot was having information on upcoming assignments even if we weren't really there yet, because there were some periods where I was trying to fit most of my studying and homework into like two days a week, and a Wednesday class telling me out out of the blue to have something done by Friday was really challenging. Up front knowledge about what's worth how many points and how they're going to be graded also helps with prioritizing. Though this was years ago now, I had a few instructors who seemed a bit indignant that anything was getting less than 100% of possible effort, but nobody can ever really do 100% all the time.

That isn't to say it'll fix anybody complaining, but for people who legit have trouble managing the workload with things like kids or jobs, I think that stuff is a genuine help. Law school compared to undergrad was a horrific workload, but in some ways easier to manage because almost every course had an incredibly detailed syllabus available before class even started and I very quickly knew what the expectations were going to be, compared to some undergrad classes that I found academically easier but logistically difficult.
posted by Sequence at 3:32 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree, Sequence--On the first day I hand out a syllabus that lays out all the readings and assignments (including descriptions, weighting, due dates) right from day one. I do it to help the students plan around other assignments and jobs etc. That's one thing I feel I can do, provide all expectations up front so students have an easier time knowing right away if the class will work for them or not.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:27 PM on September 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I and my colleagues get this every semester and always have. I thought it was universal. The students who think it's too much complain loudly, and I used to reduce the amount of homework each semester when this happened, until I started getting evaluations that said the class didn't have ENOUGH work, even though the only verbal complaints I get is that it's too much. I just assume now that the ones who are the busiest and struggling the most are the most vocal, and I try to put supports in place for them, but it still happens.

One thing I always do now is a brief anonymous survey in the middle of the semester, which asks (among other things), whether they think there is too much homework or not enough, and how many hours a week they spend on the homework and preparation for this class. Invariably there is like one student in 100 who says they spend 8 or more hours, and that's the mandated expectation for our students (2 contact hours and 8 study hours per class). So then I can announce the results of the survey and say that I'm sorry people are struggling with the amount of work, but actually they on average are only spending [5 or 6 or whatever] hours per week studying, and the university actually expects that they will spend at least 8, so perhaps they will find it easier if they can somehow find a little more time. (And that I know they have a lot of other responsibilities, and I'm sorry it's so hard, but that's the only way they are going to be able to cover the amount of material that they need to in a university level class and I don't think it's fair to reduce their educational experience either, etc etc).

That definitely dampens down the complaints for the rest of the semester after that.
posted by lollusc at 4:53 PM on September 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

As a Canadian teaching in a 2 year diploma program, yes. Our demographics have shifted dramatically in a short time. The visa requirements to come to Canada have shifted, and we think a lot of international students are coming to Canada instead of the US. I’ve also shifted my teaching.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 5:27 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

"I think I will look to see if I can cut back--not on the number of assignments, but perhaps the length of some of them, and look to shifting some of the out of class to the class period. "

When I taught at a community college, one of the best changes I made was assigning, say, 12 equally-weighted assignments and they could drop any two. It was totally up to them if they just skipped two, or if they did them all and dropped their two lowest scores, or got into an assignment and had a life catastrophe -- I did not judge, I did not care, I just took their 10 best scores. It gave my students a lot more flexibility in handling the workload during the semester, and I no longer had to be the missing-assignment cop.

I had some assignments that were mandatory, and an end-of-semester project that was mandatory and more heavily weighted, but for their weekly assignments I did my best to weight it all equally and let them drop two scores. I taught philosophy (so if they blew off a week they might miss David Hume but it wouldn't be like calculus where you're fucked for the next unit), and when I first did it my assumption was that I'd have students just not doing the reading or participating in the discussion at all in the weeks they decided to skip, but I found the opposite -- because they knew "This week I'm working double shifts, so I'm not going to do the assignment, that'll be one of my drops," they didn't worry about the assignment and just did the reading and participated in the class discussion, instead of racing to skim as fast as they could to crank out a sub-par assignment. It also let students who felt like they really just didn't GET something when they did the reading relax into listening to lecture and discussion and trying to understand, rather than frantically trying to synthesize something to turn in.

Anyway, giving them that really very tiny amount of control over their workload really improved their experience and their work for me, and gave them a lot more flexibility in planning for their own strengths and hurdles -- whether that was work scheduling, or having a kid at home (they could skip the assignment the week where their kid got the flu), or struggling with some units, or whatever. I had students who did every assignment; I had students who told me the first week what two they were going to skip because they knew when work would suck; I had students who gunned as hard as they could for 10 weeks and slacked off the last two to study for finals; I had students who did everything in advance so that they'd have some slack available if/when they had a crisis. And with "12 assignments, pick 10" all of those systems were fine! And it let them make those decisions, not me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 PM on September 26, 2018 [16 favorites]

I actually do exactly what Eyebrows McGee does and it works really well (do X assignments and drop X, no questions asked). It's a great system for all the reasons she states and I've never had students complain about it before. For the mandatory assignments (eg research paper), I am very happy to give extensions if needed, because I don't want to be assignment cop. All I ask is that they come talk to me and tell me they need the extension and boom, it's theirs.

So I guess this is where my bafflement is coming from. I already do many, many things to try and make things flexible for the students and it seems like they still have this belief that it is not enough--that other instructors are not as "hard." Yet I know many of my colleagues don't do the drop X assignments or allow extensions, or don't have a detailed syllabus at the beginning of the semester so they can plan in advance. I just am not sure what more they expect!

Anyway, I've really appreciated all these responses because they are reassuring me that my colleagues and I haven't missed some memo and I'm actually doing stuff to help ease the strain of pressure and burden from the rest of their lives. I know many are still going to feel pressured, but at this point much of what I can do is direct them to resources and remind them to take advantage of things like extensions and the dropped assignments.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:03 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Two things:

They might be dealing with learning disabilities, ESL help, or needing mental health support that is making it hard for them. I would recommend they go seek out mental health help and accommodations and to make it clear in en email.


They also may have a stigma that "Intro to Women's Studies" is supposed to be an easy course, because of shitty white male humor and the overall de-valuation of the social sciences and humanities. They might be overwhelmed and really scared to state that they feel like the material is difficult, maybe? They may not feel comfortable being vulnerable about not fully grasping the material? Maybe there needs to be different types of assignments to different types of learning styles? I feel I'm just guessing at things at this point.

I know I heard that a few times, but my first intro to Women's Studies class was really comprehensive with a lot of readings and short assignments. I'm a very fast reader who really enjoyed that, but they might have expected it to be more basic and not truly in depth, and may actually be personally threatened by the amount of investment the material requires. That then becomes a field where you need to strongly stand your ground for the legitimacy of what you are teaching, and having an honest conversation. You sound like a great teacher!

(Note: I am a Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies graduate.)
posted by yueliang at 2:22 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing that helped me, which you may already do, was backwards course design to make sure the assignments I was giving were aligned with course goals and learning objectives, and then explaining exactly what the purpose of each assignment was in terms of alignment with course goals/learning objectives. It served the dual purpose of helping students see that I wasn't just assigning stuff for the sake of assigning stuff, and making me be intentional about the things I was asking students to do.

For an intro course, papers, exams and other assignments does seem like it may be a lot of work. One option is to make some things ungraded, or peer-reviewed graded, or less formal. Is one of your course objectives to improve students' essay writing skills? If so, maybe you can restructure some of the essay assignments to scaffold particular skills (citation practices, topic sentences, organization, etc.) without (for example) requiring a 3 page response paper every week. And if that's not one of your course goals, there may be better ways to assess your students' learning than asking them to write essays.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:28 AM on September 27, 2018

I'm not a prof, but I am an academic advisor. I also take undergrad classes as a non-degree student, and my current one is kicking my butt, for reasons that have less to do with workload than with how the workload is structured. So that's my perspective.

I guess that my impulse is to say that students may have come into your class assuming it would be easy. That's especially likely if these are mostly students in disciplines other than women's studies who are taking your class as an elective or to fulfill a general education requirement. One of the challenges of my job is convincing students to care about classes outside their majors. Many students see those classes as a waste of time, and they look for classes that they perceive to be easy so they can focus on the classes that they think matter. They are frequently grievously misinformed about which classes are easy, and women's studies is the kind of thing that they might choose because they were under the mistaken impression that they would talk about current events and write the occasional paper about how sexism is a thing but women are really strong and awesome. And they sometimes blame professors when classes don't meet their expectations, even when their expectations were unreasonable and ill-informed.

(These students are not bad people, and they often choose classes that they think will be easy because they're dealing with a lot of other pressures and responsibilities. I still find the whole phenomenon infuriating.)

Having said that, I'm currently taking a class that is taught by a pretty inexperienced professor who doesn't seem to realize that some of us are adults with adult responsibilities. He has a lot of last-minute assignments with very tightly controlled deadlines. It's kind of killing me, even though I enjoy the class and think he's mostly a pretty great teacher. But it doesn't sound like you're doing that, so my guess is that you're dealing with students who had incorrect expectations about what a women's studies class would be.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:28 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was going to raise the same issue as ArbitraryAndCapricious, and wonder whether the students may have assumed your class would be easy. My mother for many years taught a "science for non-science majors" class at an an elite American university, and definitely had to deal with the fact that some of her students clearly expected it to be a blowoff and were surprised/unhappy that it required some work (not that it was a highly challenging class by any means).
posted by slkinsey at 7:51 AM on September 27, 2018

It sounds to me like you're doing all the right things already, and have gotten a lot of very useful advice. One small thing that you might also consider, although I suspect you're already doing it, is being as transparent as possible about the pedagogical purpose of each and every assignment. In the past few years, I've been working to articulate clearly, both in class and in the assignment guidelines, precisely what each assignment is designed to do—what skills, content, etc. each is meant to reinforce, and how each assignment fits in with the previous one and the next one. I've not conducted any scientific surveys about it, but it seems to be both cutting down on the complaining and bringing up the quality of student engagement (that, is, the quality of the work they are producing). [My background: 20+ years of experience teaching history at R1 universities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.]
posted by pleasant_confusion at 3:10 PM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I teach at law school and had a year when the sort of student grumbling to see what they could get away with escalated into out and out complaining in the middle of class. I heard later that the school had changed the admission criteria and admitted many more students than usual under less-strict standards. That explained the change because when the standards moved back to the usual ones, the complaints faded to the usual murmurs. I also have a sort of "There's no crying in baseball," talk with students the first day and set expectations about how much work there is. I have varying levels of success with that approach depending on who decides to take my class.
posted by *s at 12:48 PM on September 28, 2018

I sat in on my friend's Intro to Gender Studies class yesterday and pleasant_confusion's advice is spot on, because the prompt for the first essay was gone over in the first class, the purpose of how feminism is applied and all the different ways it is was discussed, the essay prompt explained clearly how to think through the problem and how to reach out for help and how to talk to the professor, and it was stressed several times that you can get an A if you put the work into it and they will be as helpful as possible, but you can also do the bare minimum and just show up but you will get the result that happens. But at least show up - you may be surprised by how engaged you will be. This is at a Tier 1 research university with a very large class.
posted by yueliang at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2018

So I guess this is where my bafflement is coming from. I already do many, many things to try and make things flexible for the students and it seems like they still have this belief that it is not enough--that other instructors are not as "hard." Yet I know many of my colleagues don't do the drop X assignments or allow extensions, or don't have a detailed syllabus at the beginning of the semester so they can plan in advance.

If you're teaching a course that's largely to first-year students, as intro-level courses often are, it may simply be that they haven't yet realized that their other courses will be as hard or harder than yours (precisely because your colleagues haven't given them detailed syllabuses). In my experience, first-year students often respond in this way to the first set of grades they get, in part because they haven't adjusted to college-level grading. Is it possible that these students just haven't adjusted to a college-level workload, and your syllabus is the only one that accurately represents that workload, so your class is the only they're complaining about?

Also, nthing everything everyone else is saying about the assumption that Intro to WGS will be "easy," because it's just a class about how women are great and sexism used to be a problem but things are so much better now that we're all enlightened and empowered. It really does sound like you're doing everything you can possibly can, and they're lucky to have you.
posted by dizziest at 1:37 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

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