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Student Participation Profiles: Middle Group

The middle group of students is always the most perplexing for me.  How to give them the concrete advice that enables them to feel they can move up a notch rather than to be locked in a respectable but second-fiddle slot.  Perhaps seeing them operate in many posts will reveal a pattern or a point on which to focus.  I'm not sure about R -- maybe he is doing the best he can.  But G could be nudged toward bolder statements, and P could be encouraged to start his thinking in the text or in another's posts in order to deflect his strong first-person tendency.  And having a series of posts to use as evidence in conference with them might have positive effect.

Student G

Student G was very quiet and lacked confidence in the beginning but went on to declare an English major, mainly because of the discussion board experience in this class.  She was the type of person who needed more time to think out her ideas and thus she shied away from the bang-bang in-class verbal interaction.  But I sense that she found the discussion board a place where she could take her time and work out ideas informally and thus that it provided an outlet for her sincere and sensitive engagement with the texts.  I sensed that she really liked reading and thinking about texts and that the discussion board helped her enjoy and grow in these areas, though her posts often had a tentative way and a rough expression about them.

It was her lack of confidence, tentative manner, and sometimes awkward expression that put her in the second tier of posters in the class.  For she exemplified at times all the positive traits I was looking for.  Her serves could be passionate and explosive (4.2), the result of personal “confusions” endearingly trotted out (5.1).  She knew better than most how to frame questions so that we know why they are questions (5.1).  She identified the best return post she received as one that successfully disagrees with her best serve, one that she is proud and passionate about – showing herself compellingly open to new ideas – and her survey comment is, in effect, a rethinking post (4.4).  She intelligently boiled out the essential elements of a rather muddled serve by another so that she could keep the conversation going – the cardinal principle of my system (7.5).

But the best way to describe G’s work overall is uneven.  There’s a post that verges on being too long to be sharply focused (4.2), and there’s one way too short at 75 words to be effective (5.1).  She can be distressingly tight-lipped about very important matters (5.3) and soft to the point of losing a legitimate disagreement on a serious matter (6.5).  Immediately after using her knowledge of the text to teach the server a lesson, she makes a poor transition into another area and the post ends fuzzily (7.5).  Thus, G is an uneven, inconsistent, and at times even a reluctant poster.

But G’s a conscientious student aware of her situation, working on it, and senses improvement, with which I agree: “I feel that I am a better poster now than I was at the beginning of the semester.  But I also feel that I am a different poster.  I think that my posts at the beginning of the semester were more of questions that I was confused about.  However, as the semester went along, i was using the disscussion board not only looking for answers to my questions, but also to add some points or things that I found interesting from books in my posts” (survey 8.5).  The growing confidence in her developing ability is born out by her strong performance in the last unit of the course (8.6).

Student P

Student P was inconsistent, a senior English major who when he was "on" was head and shoulders above everybody.  But his engagement fluctuated erratically, not so much in terms of physical presence or attendance but in terms of energy and excitement.  When “his head was in the game,” you’d get some wild stuff, but when it wasn’t he was stone cold.  He was kind of a risky person to be in a group with.  You’d never know what you were going to get.  He was not a dependable conversationalist. 

P came out of the gate fast.  An early post was nominated for best serve in the class.  It was written in a hot, flashy, passionate style -- one bound to get attention, one bound to provoke thought even if not valid, one bound to generate rebuttal and disagreement (4.1).  It’s a serve that really calls attention to itself (not a good thing when you think of the function of a serve), and maybe that’s the clue to the downside of this very talented guy: he seems too self-centered to be a good interactor.

For instance, all P does in response to a pretty good serve is agree (4.1).  No energy is put into thoughtful response.  He designates the best return he got to his serves one that agrees with him, one that strokes his ideas (4.4).  On the positive side, P’s characteristic mode when he’s “on” is to disagree and/or to build.  He’s not the kind of guy to agree with or even enhance someone else’s ideas.  He has a strong ego; he’s going to either disagree or build (6.3).  P’s going to make something happen.

But then on the negative side again, when P’s “on,” he writes huge, self-indulgent, rambling posts that, though exciting as isolated pieces, really can be hard to handle in conversation (6.3).  He gushes.  A torrent of words.  And that can dwarf respondents.  And thus, out of control, he bears some responsibility for paralyzing response, such as happens when good student B makes only a short return (6.4).  And when his passion isn’t matched, P turns into a cold fish.  He swings from a 400-word passionate serve to a 60-word perfunctory fielding of the return.  His commitment to his original idea is gone.  His engagement is over.  Orgasm finished.  Steam dissipated.  Another huge 400-word post – a return this time – draws a sarcastic response from the server: “That was a gargantuan post,  I thought I lost you for a while there haha.”  And rightly so – there does not seem to be clear dialogue in this exchange (8.3).  I am not at all clear that the posters are talking “to” each other.

Student R

Student R was a solid, serious, responsible second or third quadrant kind of student.  He didn’t miss class.  He always had the reading done.  He was the kind of student whose eyes you could look into in class and literally see the wheels turning as he processed tough issues or thought about what he wanted to say.

R knew what was expected on the discussion board, and he tried to provide.  The serve he identifies as his best is a good one (4.2).  And the return he identifies as his best is a good one too (5.2).  R is always solid, always workman-like.  He has the mechanics down.

The trouble is that he’s not always successful.  He heads in the right direction but doesn’t quite get there.  He’s on the right track but too lean in one response (5.2).  Interestingly, he tries to take a different approach in another post, but it doesn’t work – he needs more clarity to be effective (5.3).  He’s timid in a third post and doesn’t stand up for his position when he well could have (5.4).  He begins a discussion with a passionate serve, and then that passion immediately dissipates (7.2).  He is certainly capable of good stuff, though, as shown in the last unit where he hatches a wild idea (a “Wow moment”) and jousts admirably with J, a top student.

R had the right intentions, and he knew the right packaging -- he obviously was on board and on message -- but he couldn't consistently deliver good content -- and thus he's a middle tier student.