Tuesday, April 3, 2012
SMALL GROUPS, LARGE CLASS SERIES (PART IV)
In this series so far, I have been discussing the group work taking place in my large introductory Human Development class. Since I last posted an entry, students have provided one another with peer feedback, and their project grades up to this point have been weighted based on that feedback. So now it's really hitting home with students that their attendance and participation in group work is going to impact their final grades in the course.
Although I learned a great deal from the peer feedback process (such as how many different ways what I thought was a simple feedback form could be interpreted and completed), one thing that became very clear was the unique situation in which I have placed my student athletes.
The University of Utah has joined the PAC 12. Even someone like me who knows next to nothing about sports can recognize that this is a big deal. Indeed, the U of U's MUSE project recently held a conference where students, faculty, and administration all spoke about how joining the PAC 12 brings attention not only to our Athletics programs, but also to the University as a whole. This means that our academic standards and performance are now being compared to the likes of UCLA and Stanford. No pressure!
Although some may think that student athletes are only interested in their sports, and not committed to their studies, this is a stereotype that has repeatedly not held up as concerns the student athletes in my classes. Moreover, many of these athletes are on scholarships which require them to maintain a certain GPA, not to mention that they are often the focus of media attention both on and off the field. If anything, many athletes feel more pressure to do well in their classes than the average student.
The group work in my class has put the student athletes in a difficult situation. I chose Fridays as the day for group meetings, as I had hoped that this schedule would help to minimize how many students chose to take an unofficial long weekend (especially as the weather starts to get warmer). To some extent this has worked, but unfortunately, many of the athletes in class are missing Fridays because their sports schedules require them to travel on Friday to reach their next out-of-town event (which are often scheduled on weekends to avoid conflicts with classes). Although I am bound by policy and my own ethics to allow student athletes to make up work they have missed because of their sport, it is difficult for them to make up missed group meetings.
This is not for lack of trying! Several of the student athletes in my class have discussed with me their attempts to keep in touch with their group members through email or the course website, or talk to them during regular class sessions. Unfortunately, although their peers acknowledge that theses students are called away for legitimate reasons, it seems as though they do not truly appreciate the attempts that the athletes are making. Instead, many of the athletes were rated low in terms of being good team players - ah, the irony.
In the future, I plan to restructure my schedule so that student athletes won't miss the majority of the in-class group meetings. In terms of this semester, I am considering switching up the schedule based on the remaining travel dates of the athletes in my class.This Friday I am also going to be visiting groups with athlete members to discuss the legitimacy of their absences, my role in scheduling group sessions, and what has and can be done to make sure that the student athletes have opportunities to contribute to their groups' work in meaningful ways, and to ensure that the other group members are also "playing fair", and holding up their end by responding to the emails and messages from their team members.