Teaching Tuesday: Strategies in Studenting

One of the challenges that my students will face over the next month or so is adapting to new expectations for their classes, which are now online rather than face-to-face. This often means dealing with faculty who are, frankly, more likely to be stressed and unfamiliar with online teaching than our students. More than that, since students are not on campus they’re dealing with a whole raft of other challenges from online access to finding room, food, and employment. Students might also lack access to their usual academic and personal support networks.  

All this means that our students will have to make calculated decisions about their academic progress in a time when everything is crazy, chaotic, and unprecedented. My sense is that this decision making is particularly challenging for first-generation students, students who come from less rigorous academic backgrounds, and students who already struggle to balance opportunities and risks in their day-to-day course work.

The proximate challenge for many students right now is whether to move a class to “pass/fail” grading. At the University of North Dakota, they’ll be allowed to change any class to P/F as late as reading and review day (May 8th). They will be able to do this for classes in their major and as Freshmen.

I’m going to do two things to attempt that adapt to this change: 

First, I’m going to make sure that most graded work is returned to students by April 28th, giving them plenty of time to make an informed decision on whether to shift a class to P/F.

Second, I’m going to present students with a clear set of options that allow them to make a decision as early as possible on whether to shift to P/F rather than waiting until the end of class.  

Here are those guidelines:

1. The class was originally divided into three modules covering Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages. I’m canceling the final module which was scheduled to run from April 14-May 5. 

2. All work associated with the Greek and Roman sections of the class is due by April 21st. I will have grades posted by April 28th.

3. If you want to take the class P/F. If you have a passing grade on April 28th, you can switch the class to P/F and receive a passing mark. No other work is required. 

4. If you want to take the course for a letter grade, then you need to write the primary source paper as it was originally stated on the syllabus. This paper is due May 8th, but I’ll read drafts submitted by April 28th and return them no later than May 4th.


The goal of being deliberate about this is allowing students to make decisions about whether to move from a letter grade to Pass/Fail as early in the process as possible. This, ideally, nudges students toward thinking strategically by giving them as much information as possible upon which to base their decision while also encouraging them to be pro-active rather than re-active. 

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