With the adaptive learning system, I now receive lists of students falling under one of three categories: high engagement/low performance; low engagement/low performance; low engagement/high performance. The idea is that each of these categories of students faces different challenges and potentially can benefit from different kinds of interventions. I will write more about this in the future, but I did want to mention something that I think is important, and that relates to this very interesting article about how suicides can be prevented by sending certain kinds of messages to patients. We, of course, are not suicide prevention counselors, but I think the research reported in this article reflects a simple and more general truth: people are more receptive to help when they believe “helpers” genuinely care about them. I’m considering different ways of reaching out to the students of the different categories, but I think this article vindicates the approach I took this semester, which was to simply email words of concern (and offer of help) to students in the low performance categories, and words of praise and encouragement (and willingness to meet and discuss grad school, etc.) to students in the higher performance category. I seemed to get a positive response from this approach (although I’m not gathering data to prove it this semester), and the messages from students indicate that it was the expression of genuine care that affected them most. They knew they were in an online class with 700+ other students. They seemed surprised and touched that they were noticed by their teacher and that he cared enough to reach out to them. The other connection to this article is more direct: one student in particular responded to my initial outreach message and told me she had been sexually assaulted, was really struggling, and had already dropped two classes. I have no idea if she was suicidal, but I was able to send her information about counseling services available on campus and to make sure she knew that I and others on campus will do what we can (within our spheres of influence) to support her. In this case, I gave her deadline extensions, which appears to have been enough for her to finish the class successfully. (She also went to counseling, and I of course was legally obligated to report her case to Dean of Students office.) This experience reminds me of what Salman Khan said in his first Ted Talk about using Khan Academy’s adaptive learning system and video tutorials to flip classrooms in low-performing schools. He said that the best part of the technology, somewhat paradoxically, is that it allows for more fully humanizing the student learning experience. My brief experience with sending the messages to students suggests that this is another way that adaptive learning can humanize the learning experience, especially in online courses where students otherwise feel alienated from their instructors.
Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread