Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Faculty poll: student access to prior course materials

I need your thoughts, oh wise professoriate.

If you had--hypothetically speaking, of course--created a bunch of course content in a learning management system (something like Blackboard or Moodle), would you want your former students to have access to that content? I'm talking about content like podcasts, any PDFs or docs you might have uploaded, tests and quizzes, etc.

For the purposes of this hypothetical, let's say you teach a course in the fall and again in the spring. It's the same course, but you have two different sites on the learning management system--one for the fall class and one for the spring. The sites will have a lot of identical content, but since you roll out content over the course of the class, the spring semester course starts as a relatively blank slate--you post content as students need to see it. Only students in the fall course can access the fall course site, and only students in the spring course can access the spring course site.

The question, then, is this: Should the fall students still have access to the fall course site once the fall course has concluded?

There seem to be two schools of thought:

1) Students should be able to access content from courses they've taken because they may need to review it for subsequent courses.

2) Students are lying, cheating bastards who can't be trusted not to pass test questions and other crucial course content to current students in the class. Therefore, the fall students' access to the fall course material may compromise the learning of the spring students.

What are your thoughts?

(Fox photo by Rob Lee, used under a Creative Commons license)


Terminal Degree said...

I put stuff online on a "need to know" basis. I've learned that if I put up all the handouts, powerpoints, etc. at the beginning, students get the idea that all they have to do is download materials, so, as one student put it, "why bother to go to class?" This is even though I warn them time and again that all of the info they need is NOT online, NOT in the powerpoints, and NOT in the handouts.

Just my experience. Your mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

Are we assuming that professors are only capable of writing one test in the course of a year?

Yeah, I know y'all are busy.

My experience as a student using course websites is that it's helpful to have handouts that must be printed out posted ahead of time (beg. of course) so that I can download them all at once. For me the purpose of this is not to avoid lectures (I can't absorb the material without the lecture and the handouts are clearly not "the whole story" anyway), the purpose is so that I know I have what I need at each class meeting. I don't have to worry about whether I remembered to download, whether or not the prof. forgot to post on-time, who's computer's down in a given week, etc.

Also, I find that it's very helpful to be able to look at previous content, discussion threads, etc from earlier iterations of the course or from other courses by the prof (if they are open to non-participants). Extra resources, knowledge, threads, etc. (Good too if you want to learn about the prof, construct an independent study syllibus, and so on.) One of my current profs is really upset that years of his philosophy discussion threads were recently decimated--he himself was hoping we could benefit from the content.

Seems like the main thing is the professor's judiciousness in posting.

Anonymous said...

Our CMS leaves courses accessible to students (and instructors) for two years. Since I work with a graduate program taking things down for the reasons you are thinking about wouldn't really occur to us. I can certainly see the need to secure tests and if you post test answers and feedback publicly I would take that down at the end of the semester and turn off student access to the testing area too.

Terminaldegree has a good point if you are teaching a blended class. I teach totally online and in some classes I put everything up at the beginning of the semester and others I put out bit by bit. It partially depends on how much I am building as I go along based on feedback from the students and which direction their interests are taking them.

What Now? said...

I wouldn't allow student access to test questions or anything like that after the term ends. And for the most part, I think that students should have downloaded any materials that they want to keep, rather than assuming that they'll always be able to have access to them.

That being said, I think that faculty should be careful about recycling test questions too often. Even without a course website, students do talk with other students, and those oft-repeated test questions will circulate among the student body.

Anonymous said...

Your hypothetical makes my head hurt. Ow! Stop it!

~Mr T

Rhonda said...

I keep content online and available for as long as the university allows students to access their old courses. I place a higher value on allowing former students to reuse materials as they need them later on than I do on trying to shop inter-semester sharing of materials (which could happen anyway).

However, I don't do tests online, and I would probably remove tests if I reused questions (which i usually don't do anyway). Quizzes I keep online, as I change at least some of the questions from term to term, if not the whole quiz.