Wednesday, March 9, 2005

bad instructor! bad!

March 11, 2005

Dr. soandso bigwig
Tarrant County College (whichever Campus)
Office: wherever
yeah that address
city state zip whatever

Re: English course-section, synonym number

Dear Dr. bigwig

This letter is directed to you in your capacity as whichever campus English Department Chair. You should consider it my formal complaint about a whichever Campus English instructor.

Ms. bad instructor’s performance with respect to her Internet-delivered English 2311 Technical Writing course for the Spring 2005 term is unacceptable.

Issues presented in this letter include grievances of several students who have elected to join this complaint by acknowledging their participation through the attached e-mail acknowledgments of their agreement and participation herein. Each class member listed as a co-signer has reviewed this complaint and affirmatively indicated his or her concurrence in this complaint.

Since classes began on January 18, ms. instructor has consistently demonstrated a lack of engagement in the class. Repeated attempts by students to contact her have met with inadequate or no response. Ms. instructor has, on several occasions, promised via e-mail to stop “neglecting� this class, but failed to initiate any positive action or remedy thereafter. To date, four assignment due dates have passed. Now in the 8th week of class and at mid-term, we have received neither meaningful feedback nor any grades for assignment submissions.

The factors of my disappointment with Ms. instructor's performance are outlined below.

1. Delay of Assignments
Ms. instructor has been inconsistent in timely informing students of assignments:
• Assignment 1 was posted on Saturday, January 22, a full five days into the term.
• Assignment 2 was posted on Monday, January 31.
• Assignment 3 was posted on Thursday, February 10.
• Assignment 4 was posted on Thursday, February 17.
• Assignment 5 was posted on Friday, March 4. It is worth nothing that Assignment 5 is due Saturday, March 12, but Assignment 6 has not been posted.

According to her syllabus, assignments should be posted weekly. Her “Assignments� page on the Distance Learning website indicates students are required to complete 16 separate assignments. We are now nearing the end of the 8th week of class, meaning either that we are at least three weeks behind Ms. instructor's syllabus and/or eleven assignments (fully two-thirds of the course requirements) will be required during the last half of the course.

My concern with this issue is that Ms. instructor will attempt to “double up� on assignments, compensating for her lack of attention by increasing the workload on her students. Many students take Internet classes because their schedules are restricted and they must carefully schedule schoolwork to fit their busy lives. A “double up� approach forces these students into an untenable situation that could have been avoided if the instructor had properly handled the class.

2. Lack of Posted Grades or Notification of Grades
Ms. instructor's syllabus indicates that grades should be posted to the “� website, and that students’ student ID numbers should be used as login and password information.

When visiting this website, a student is presented with a section labeled “WebGrade Reports,� but the only report available is “600Fall2004.� When I attempted to log into this report consistent with Ms. instructor's instructions (using both my Social Security number and my TCC Colleague ID), the system reports an error, “Either your login id or password is incorrect. Please try again�. This indicates that Ms. instructor has not set up her grading system for her Spring 2005 sections. The only grade available to students at this writing is the automatically-graded “Online Orientation Quiz,� and, if completed, a series of short-answer questions that are automatically graded as an F until the instructor manually updates the grade (the short answer questions were not yet due as of this writing).

Ms. instructor's failure to report grades makes it difficult for students to gauge their mastery of the required material. Without reasonable feedback from the instructor, students risk repeating mistakes from one assignment to another. Each repetition makes re-learning more difficult, seriously degrades the utility of the course, and ultimately affects final grades. In addition, Ms. instructor's failure to inform us of our grades has made it impossible for students to drop the course in time to qualify for even a partial refund or, later, to decide to drop the course for a W in lieu of an F.

3. Lack of Email Response
According to Ms. instructor's syllabus, “All Internet faculty have committed to reading and responding to e-mail messages at least five days per week, typically within twenty-four hours.�

Students have consistently complained that the few email responses received from Ms. instructor have been significantly delayed. Several students have experienced delays of a week or more in receiving responses from Ms. instructor, and some have sent inquiries on several occasions with no response forthcoming. Since email is our primary method of communication with our instructor, and because feedback is so important to student success in a writing class, Ms. instructor's failure to respond in a timely manner directly impacts the ability of a student to succeed in this class.

4. Previous Experience
More than one student has indicated that these issues are not unique to this semester.

male student, a student in the Spring 2005 section of Technical Writing, has said that he took Ms. instructor's Summer I 2004 section, and failed the course. Mr. student's failure to look in the correct place for assignments, thereby failing to complete them correctly, was exacerbated by Ms. instructor's failure to respond to his first-week inquiry until the last (5th) week of the term.

female student, a student in the Spring 2005 section, relates a second-hand account of a student in Ms. instructor's Fall 2004 Internet section who saw her assignments lost and mis-graded, and had to pursue Ms. instructor past the end of the semester to get her grade.

5. In-Person Meeting
In her online orientation, Ms. instructor invited her distance learning students to attend her Wednesday evening (5:30-8:20 p.m.) classroom section of Technical Writing. We withheld this complaint until we could meet personally with Ms. instructor, and three of us did so, as a group, on March 9. Our discussions with Ms. instructor have not been fruitful, leading some of us to bring this complaint.

At this meeting, Ms. instructor did acknowledge and apologize for her poor handling of the class. She indicated that she is teaching 21 hours this semester, and said that she would be using the break to catch up in grading. She also indicated that she would be dropping some assignments from the schedule.

While there, one student asked Ms. instructor to look at an assignment in progress. The student was dismayed with how harshly she felt Ms. instructor graded the assignment, and while the grade Ms. instructor gave was not recorded as final, it impressed upon both me and her how little we’re familiar with what Ms. instructor is looking for in these assignments.

In discussions with her classroom section of Technical Writing, we also discovered that they also have not received any feedback. While they’re in a slightly better position with respect to expectations because they see Ms. instructor each week, I found it instructive that this situation exists in multiple classes. I had hoped that the distance learning section was being neglected because it’s easier to overlook or put off email than it is to put off a student sitting in front of you, and learning that her classroom section is in a similar position was distressing.

While I understand that Ms. instructor may have had some medical issues earlier in the semester, and while I realize that she may feel overwhelmed with her workload, the entire situation raises a red flag in my mind.

In fairness, Ms. instructor did send a very contrite email to the entire class as I sat in her classroom on Wednesday evening, a copy of which is attached. However, given her class load, and the fact that other classes are in similar situations (meaning that the break will not be one of catching up mostly on email and distance learning work), I am not inspired to confidence that, even is Ms. instructor catches up and starts anew on March 21, she will remain caught up through the end of the term.

Other Students
It is worth noting that this complaint arose through a cooperative effort on the part of a number of students, some who have chosen to sign this complaint, and some who have not. A number of students who declined to offer a concurring signature expressed a fear of retaliation; even some students who did agree to sign expressed that fear.

It is also worth noting that while I have taken the lead in drafting and presenting this complaint, I did not initiate the discussion that led to its creation.

All of these deficiencies in Ms. instructor's handling of the class lead to an untenable situation for her students:
• We must proceed through the class unable to effectively schedule our work load, making up for Ms. instructor's lack of organization through our own efforts.
• We must proceed through the class without effective guidance, not knowing if our assignments are satisfactorily complete or not.
• We must proceed through the class without adequate ability to evaluate whether or not we should drop the class, and when.
• We must proceed through the class with unresolved questions about course content, expectations, grades, and/or other non-technical issues.
• We must proceed through class unable to effectively plan for on-campus interactions. The list of assignments indicates the possibility of on-campus assignments in Weeks 9 and 15, and the syllabus mentions four trips to campus. Distance learning students require reasonable notice for such scheduling so that they can make arrangements to attend. I need not remind you that students often take courses through distance learning because they can not conveniently come to campus.
• Many students require this course to graduate or transfer, and are now in their final semester of study. Unable to evaluate our progress or correct mistakes, we risk unwarranted failure or poor performance in a core course that could prevent our graduation or successful transfer.
• Some students feel that invoking our right to express our concerns to school officials may provoke retaliation in the form of harsher grading or outright assignment of poor grades, leading them to be more willing to suffer through a course that can’t be completed with a reasonable expectation of success than to exercise their right to seek redress.

We therefore ask that you immediately take whatever necessary steps are required to rectify this situation, so that we can proceed through the course with confidence that we are earning the grades we receive, can properly evaluate our progress, and can make intelligent planning decisions.

Thank you,


1 comment:

  1. [...] ng has happened. tarrant county’s spring semester has ended and grades are posted. bad instructor gave me an a. i also got grades of a in geology and statistics; i got a b [...]