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How can I promote student accountability?

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How can I promote student accountability?

Every professor has had the experience of starting a class only to find that several students are late, or haven’t done required work. The experience is disheartening, but there are steps you can take to understand the problem, adjust your tasks, and to help students to recognise the importance of the work, and keep one another on track.

For some general ideas and resources, this guide from Indiana University Bloomington’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning offers some ideas and considerations.

Table of contents

Information-gathering
In-the-moment responses
Clarity and motivation
Arriving on time
Preparatory work
Deliverables
Multiple means of engagement
‘Coming up’ teasers
Transparency
Partner work
Group projects

Information-gathering

A good first step is always to learn more about the problem. You might seek ways to learn from your students whether there’s something particular that is keeping them from arriving on time or completing certain tasks. You can simply email particular students in a friendly way, indicating that you’re interested in learning more; this can be especially fruitful if both you and the student can end the conversation agreeing to a positive way forward, which then provides student buy-in. A less targeted approach is to make available an online ‘comment box’ as an anonymous Google form, linked to from your class Moodle, and encourage students to use it to let you know how things are going for them. Another great method is to have an open discussion about the expectations and commitments for the class, which ideally takes place at the very beginning, but can also be revisited later if the need arises.

Take a close look at the tasks you’re having problems with. Are they too hard, or is the reason for the work unclear? Is it possible that students aren’t sure what they should be doing? Ensure that the task is manageable by focusing preparatory tasks on lower-level cognitive tasks in Bloom’s taxonomy like recognizing, remembering, or understanding new material, and keeping the higher-order work for class time.

If students are arriving late, what is happening for them before this class? Do they have to cross campus after their previous class, and are they getting out of their other class on time? Might a student have mobility issues? It is worth being aware that there may be a number of causes, and that students do not always share the challenges they are experiencing unless they are in a situation where they feel safe to do so.

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In-the-moment responses

Give some consideration to the ways you will respond if students aren’t prepared. In a frustrating situation, it can be tempting to focus on negative consequences for the students that aren’t meeting your expectations, but it’s also important to think about what it will take to keep everybody on track. Conversely the ability to pivot to meet students where they are is often important, but be mindful of the expectations that you’re setting, and ensure that you are respecting the time and effort of those students who have done the work.

For example, if some students have not completed a particular task, you could consider simply asking them to complete it in class while other students are engaged in a different activity such as discussing the material in groups. Building in structures like warm-ups, and having possible pivots in mind, can create consistency and shared expectations, and lessen the burden of responding to unpreparedness in the moment.

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Clarity and motivation

Student motivation is a huge topic, and is one of the foci of the Exploring Student Motivation & Engagement Learning Community (to learn more about this, contact Robbie Pock). If you are interested in learning about motivation frameworks, it is worth checking out this video for a primer, and for further information you can check out these resources:

Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci 2017)
Why Students Resist Learning  (Tolman & Kremling 2016)
Enhancing Learning Interactions by Reducing Student Resistance (Tolman 2017)
Dave Stuart Jr.’s blog

Below are summarized a few practical techniques you can use to promote motivation among students to participate in the ways you are hoping.

Arriving on time

Building in specific tasks that happen at the beginning of every class can create structure and shared expectations around the beginning of class, and serve to minimize disruption from latecomers (since other students are well engaged in a task). Examples might include low-stakes opening quizzes, or small warm-up tasks like writing down everything they can think of about a topic to create a collaborative word cloud (easy to execute on Poll Everywhere. This is a great way to get students’ minds in gear, and perhaps even have them discuss briefly with a peer to get the class energy going.

You can provide additional motivation by having these tasks be worth participation points, or you can focus on making the task itself intrinsically motivating, for example if it’s something fun, or an opportunity to share experiences with a homework, or similar.

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Preparatory work
Deliverables

Students work well when they have a clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing, and giving them specific deliverables can help to orient and direct their efforts. Some examples of deliverables for preparatory work are as follows:

    Submit a written response to a discussion prompt or questions, either as an assignment or a discussion forum on Moodle; if you favor a low-tech solution, one option can be to have the students submit responses as handwritten notecards.
    Complete low-stakes quizzes on readings or other materials.
    Work in collaborative spaces like Google Docs or Google Slides, where students can share their work among each other, the faculty member can observe their work, and the students produce a clear artifact of their work.
    Annotate a reading, and come to class with three questions about it.

Some instructors have students record themselves in Zoom break-out sessions when practicing a particular skill. This both holds students accountable for their work and allows the faculty-member to assess their progress.

Several Pacific instructors shared their ideas and experiences around promoting student accountability in hy-flex classrooms during the pandemic, and some of those are collected here.

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Multiple means of engagement

When students are struggling to complete preparatory work, it is worth thinking about whether there could be other means for them to fulfill the same learning objectives. If the work in question is a reading, could the same ideas be conveyed in a video or audio form? Offering different ways to engage is a central principle of Universal Design for Learning, which you can read more about here.

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‘Coming up’ teasers

During the last five minutes of class, you might consider spending a little time previewing a reading or homework assignment such that students feel fully prepared when they do engage with it. You can use the time to get the students excited about the activity, cover in detail what the objectives are, what might be difficult about it, and what you expect the students to produce, help them to access and actually begin working with the materials, and even encourage them to block out time on their calendars when they will complete the work. This creates an on-ramp, easing their entry into the learning, and creating motivation.

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Transparency

A major principle of the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) approach is that the more students understand the learning objectives that a certain task fulfills, and why they are being asked to do it, the more motivated and engaged they are likely to be. A great way to do this is to simply discuss with students ahead of time what skills and what knowledge they will gain from the particular task, as well as what the task is, and what you expect them to deliver. Resources for applying TILT can be found on the TILT website.

Since spring 2021, CETCI has facilitated an annual institute working with the TILT framework. To know more, reach out to Robbie Pock on pockr@pacificu.edu.

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Partner work

In her Faculty Teaching Profile, Katie Bell describes the methods she uses to ensure student preparedness when the stakes are high: students are coming to class to practice administering injections on their peers. Katie has students watch preparatory videos and complete quizzes, but with a twist: students sit beside the person who will be their partner (and on the receiving end of their needle) while they take the quiz, so the motivation to be really prepared is very high!

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Group projects

Assigning group roles can create a clear structure for students to work within, with each member knowing their role and being accountable for fulfilling it. This guide from Washington University in St. Louis’ Center for Teaching and Learning suggests a range of possible roles with wide applicability for different types of situation and project.

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Interested in thinking more about ways to promote student accountability in your class? Reach out to us at edtech@pacificu.edu, and we can suggest more resources or schedule a one-on-one.

We are also always looking for more answers to this question, so if you have one that’s worked for you, please let us know!

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