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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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Student Participation Profiles: Bottom Group

What to do about the bottom group?  That's always the question.  Just consign them to the ash heap without worry?  Certainly they can't be helped unless they want to be.  Student A had a bad attitude.  Students like him are perhaps unreachable.  And Students F and N were not committed -- they didn't come to class, didn't read, didn't listen to instructions.  But at least their posts show where I could start to help them if they wanted to improve.  Forbid F to agree; require N to start with a quote from the text.  

Student A

Student A was absolutely worthless on the discussion board.  He had no redeeming qualities as a member of the community.  He was the only student not to receive a vote when I asked “What 5 people in the class would you choose to work with you on a major class research project?” (survey 8.13).  His first serve was a straight 100-word summary (2), even though I made it clear that “summarize is not one of the five eyes,” and showed complete insensitivity to the main character’s suicide.  In fact, so undimensional was A, that he registered no sense ever of the social or moral issues aplenty in the readings.  He was similarly insensitive to his classmates, returning a serve containing a clear and important climactic question with a curt, insulting “good question” (5.2), and even insensitive and insulting to me, announcing, after all my meta-week proclamations, that “i didn’t know that there were response option documents, so I didn’t refer to them” (survey 5.5). 

When asked to choose his best serve, A arrogantly replied “all are worthy,” and the one I picked to represent him was a perfunctory, unimaginative 60 words (5.1).  What might be loosely called his best work (4.2, 5.3) lacked social qualities, and his social unconcern can be seen in the last unit in which he forgets to initiate discussion, putting his partner on hold, then fails to finish (8.7).  His surveys are dotted with complaints about the “busy work which can be annoying when i've got way too much other stuff to do” (survey 5.18), admissions that “the less i have to post, the more time i have to read, study, and live” (survey 7.14), and self-fashioning as “a man of few words” (survey 6:10).

It would not seem worth the effort to chronicle Student A’s unrelievedly negative qualities were it not for the fact that I must figure out what to do with such students in a community-oriented space.  In the realm of tests and essays I could clobber his solitary posterior without a qualm if I wanted to.  But such a misfit egregiously disrupts the kind of small group interaction I am trying to achieve.   In any event, Student A never got on message and served as my reminder that we live in a fallen world.

Student F

Student F was an inconsistent class-goer and rarely participated in class when she was there.  She was also an inconsistent poster.  Though showing occasional positive flashes in her posts (she had a flair for language, for the catchy phrase – she could be delightfully epigrammatic), she wrote mainly very short posts and mainly in the level 1 "agreeing" mode that dead-ends conversation.

Student F was, in fact, a consummate agree-er.  That, above all else, is what marks her as one of the weakest discussion students.  Though I see some flashes of a deeper intellect, her basic tendency is simply to go along with whomever she is responding to.  She gave no “bounce” to conversation.  Interaction died in her hands.  One time all a group member could respond to her post was “Thanks” (6.4).   

In addition, F was lockjaw’d.  Her posts tend to be lean and undeveloped.  She writes probably the shortest posts, on average, of anybody in the class.  Her opening serves were 60-100 words when the clear guidelines were to post a substantial college-length paragraph of 150-250 words (2).  Later she has a 40-word return (5.3) and a 50-word return (6.4).  F shrinks her thought, as if the discussion space is a short-answer space on an exam.  She writes in sound bites, bumper stickers – just the opposite of the reasonable fullness of thought and expression needed to stimulate interaction.

F is not dumb.  She recognized central issues at times (2), but she wants to get to the end right away.  Like the most important thing to her is the bottom line, delivering the product, the result.  She seems unused to conversation, to give-and-take.  I wonder if this is an example of someone habituated to giving "the answer" and giving it in the most direct way possible.  

And it’s not as if F isn’t alert either.  Mentioning what a student said in class shows she was paying attention (4.4), and after my pep talk about the nature of hypothesis posts, she delivers (6.3).   And she knows what she should be doing according to the “program,” because she identifies as her best post one that goes beyond agreeing (5.1). 

And she could do good work, for there is some evidence that when she is put in the position of responsibility, that is, when she was a leader serving to kick off discussion (7.1, 8.10), that she does much better.

But, basically, F was just skating by.  For instance, I caught her in a discussion board “felony” – not reading the posts of others in her group before posting after I gave strict orders to do so (7.6).  She was caught red-handed using the same metaphor that was in an earlier post by a group member, and she admitted her sin against community when I analyzed the group interchange in class.

In short, I’d say that F’s characteristic combination of short and shallow posts put her at the very bottom of the class.  

Student N

Student N was never a factor in class, as far as I could see.  He cut a decent amount (just short of being dropped for poor attendance), never quite seemed to have read the material, never volunteered in class and was evasive when called on, didn't finish all the surveys, and always seemed "out in left field."  On the other hand, he was gregarious, a clown, a bit of a creative writer, and was extremely popular.

A student like this is obviously a group-wrecker.  Another student identified an early serve of his as the most difficult she had to return (4.3).  His topic was “out of the blue,” had nothing to do with what was discussed in class, so there was no common context on which to base a response.  It is an interesting topic, though – N was no dummy – but it is presented in terms of look at this great idea I have come up with.

That self-absorption or self-reference seemed to be his problem.  I talked to a veteran and this is what he said about war (5.2), or I would have pissed myself in battle (5.3).  Sometimes these references were all he would say, but always this is where he would start.  He never seemed to be "in" the text.  He always seemed to start outside the text and have but a tenuous link to it.  Of course, maybe that’s because he wasn’t doing the reading.   I guess I would feel better if N had showed himself more versatile and had skillfully done other type posts across the course.  I think that the fact that this kind of post was all he did is the big problem for me.  He knows things, his mind percolates, he shows energy at times, but he was undisciplined and unfocused and unconnected.  Even his best interchange is an intriguing but perplexing combination of the fun house and roller-coaster for his partner (8.2).