Have you ever wondered what students look for when they read a course outline? What do they think about the assignments they’ll be asked to do? This 3-part blog series describes one student’s reaction when reading a course outline for the first time and their subsequent conversation with the prof about concerns regarding the outline. In this second post, we see what Dominique says to the prof.
If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it now: Students are strategic: A student has concerns about assignments
I knock on my prof’s door, enter their office, thank them for agreeing to meet with me, and grab a seat. I then take out my notebook with my talking points, take a deep breath, and begin, “The thing is, I’m concerned about the time I’ll need to devote to this course because of the heavily-weighted group project and the really long reading list. Group projects are really time consuming because we have to coordinate schedules outside class time so that we can work together – in person or online. That’s tough because many of us have full course loads, part-time jobs and other responsibilities. And, there’re always some group members who don’t pull their weight, which means the rest of us have to do double-time to get the project done. And other profs have also assigned group work, so we’re spending huge amounts of time just trying to schedule meetings rather than actually getting our work done.”
My prof responds with a non-committal tone: “Yeah, I can see how that might be challenging. What are your other concerns?”
I return to my notes. “I really want to take this course, but it seems like it will be impossible to actually get all the readings done. There are so many! It’s kinda demotivating from the start. To be honest, students are strategic about how we decide to spend our time on course work. When there’s a ton of readings and no specific graded assignment associated with them, we tend to skim them and spend time on what we see directly contributes to our grades. We come into courses wanting to learn and do well, but … sometimes, it seems profs don’t realize how we have to be strategic because of time. I’m really nervous about being able to succeed in this course. The semester barely just started and I’m already feeling stressed.”
“Okay. Let’s talk first about the group project. Doing a group project is an important learning opportunity because it can give you an idea of how people work in ‘real world’ workplaces. And you develop your professional interpersonal skills by having to work in a group.”
The cynic in me thinks, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before, and it doesn’t change the fact that group projects are often designed in such a way they don’t take into account students’ “real world”! My prof goes on …
“About the course readings … reading is one of the main ways you gain knowledge in academia, so I hope you can understand why this reading list is part of this course. Profs understand that students are busy, but we have a responsibility to expose you to the work that will support your learning. These readings will expose you to different perspectives about the course content. But I’m going to think about what you’ve told me and see if I can suggest any strategies to help you—and other students—manage the workload so that you can succeed in this course. I’ll get back to you.”
“Okay, well, thanks for meeting with me. I feel a little better that you at least know where I’m coming from. I really want to learn in this course, but right now, it just seems overwhelming because of my full course load and life outside my studies. Do you think this course is really right for me at this time?”
Keep an eye out for the final post in this series to see how Prof. Lambert reacts to Dominique’s request.
Simone Tissenbaum is a second-year grad student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University and a current Graduate Student Assistant with Teaching and Learning Services. Outside of the world of academia, Simone is a dancer. She has blended these two worlds together in her research, which uses dance to explore the topic of safe and healthy relationships with youth.