Monday, April 29, 2013

This Kind of Thing Should Not Happen

Oh what a week it’s been.

A new semester has started at BYU-Idaho, but never in the two years that I’ve taught here have we had so many technological glitches in one course as we’ve had this semester in the redesigned ENG 106.

Which is a pity, seeing as this is the course meant for students who can’t make it to BYU-Idaho proper, and are taking classes remotely. Many of them are English as a second language students. Many are of age. These are not in of themselves obstacles – but combine them with a classroom that’s malfunctioning at every turn – imagine a physical classroom in which none of the desks have stable surfaces and the fluorescent lighting is flickering constantly – and you’ll have a pretty good picture of what’s been going on this week.

I’m not here to cast blame, because I did next to nothing in looking at the course prior to its inception, though I’d been invited. Maybe if I’d been there, I might have noticed a few of the glitches. But I doubt it. Because many people smarter and more active than I went through the course, tooth and nail, and declared it ready when it was not.

Here’s the flaw: We, as instructors, don’t get to see things from the student point of view. So to find things exploding (as in the syllabus not matching up to questions on the syllabus quiz, journal entries not showing up as completed and readings not available or linked to the wrong article) is not a surprise. We should absolutely have beta tested this course from the student perspective, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that such testing did not happen, or at least did not happen in earnest, as it should have.

And if BYU-Idaho wants to continue offering online courses and to push the Pathways program, we’ve got – and I pardon the expression – to get our shit together now.

There are human ways around the glitches, thank heaven, and we as instructors have taken many of those routes this past week. But the undue frustration adds up – and adds to the expectation that when the next glitch is encountered, the entire class, from the students’ perspective, is flawed, poorly assembled, and rotten. We can put Band-Aids on things, but if the errors continue, no amount of human intervention will heal the damage to the brand.

We’re advised to prepare every needful thing as instructors – but right now I’m unable to post a note from myself to my students in Week 1 of the course because of some glitch. I posted it instead in the discussion thread, and maybe they’ll read it there; maybe not. (Of course, there’s no guarantee they’d read it if it were in its rightful place, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

This is no hysteria. If this continues, we are doomed.

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