I’m Watching

My worlds – writing mysteries and teaching college –  have finally collided and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to technology, I’m now able to apply my fictional super-sleuthing abilities to my actual classrooms.

Eek – does that mean she’s spying on us?

In a way.


I am.


On you.

And here’s how……

Almost every student as this point has participated in either an online course or a traditional course with an online compliment. I’ve been teaching online for years, but until recently, I haven’t taken advantage of the tools offered by the educational software packages. This summer, I decided to delve into the myriad of reports offered by the software. Once, I got the hang of it, I spent time coding my digital classrooms to capture just about any type of student behavior.

How often do you log on? What pages do you look at? How long do you spend on each page? How many times did you open a video? When was the last time you logged on? How does your behavior compare to your classmates? How long did it take you to complete a test? Did you look at the calendar, the announcements, the emails?  Your test crashed and you need an extension? Really – because it has to open first before it crashes. You get the idea.

Holy cow! This is insane and so powerful because now I no longer have to have fake conversations with students. In the past, I had to sift through the stories, the tears, the excuses and the inevitable death of Grandma who, for some reason, could never stay alive through final exam week.

The question is whether I will use my newly acquired electronic knowledge for good or evil. Before you panic, there’s a word for this in the educational field and it’s called an Early Warning System.  What I’m supposed to be doing is tracking student behavior and alerting you before it impacts you negatively.

Translation“Hey Student, I see you’ve only checked in once this week. Do you need help?”

Now that we’re on the same page, I have only one request. If you know that I know, then let’s both come to the table and have an honest conversation about your progress.

I’d love to hear from students! Let me know how you feel about being tracked in your online coursework.


Are You Too Old For E-Textbooks?

I feel sorry for Millennials – the world has branded them the first high-tech generation yet they already seem too old to master digital learning. If you’ve ever screamed at your computer screen because your online test abruptly closed before you finished, you know what I’m talking about.

As young as Millennials are, their elementary school teacher was still a person, not an avatar and their textbooks were hard covered and at least 20 years old. Remember when teachers passed out a textbook and you couldn’t wait to see who had it before you? And who didn’t love the ridiculous names scrawled inside the cover – James Bond, Homeroom 007. Give it up, people. There’s nothing like a 12 year-old with a sense of humor.

Fast forward to college where tests, readings, assignments and course announcements are all online. And your teacher? A mere thumbnail picture on your screen. We all thought Millennials would love it, yet it seems to be backfiring.

Last semester, we tested an online component to a traditional lecture course where teachers could track student progress through a series of online exercises and tests. It bombed. Students were frustrated, grades dropped and my student reviews took a beating. For the record, it wasn’t my idea.

So what’s up Millennials? You tell me – how do you like to learn?

Dear Virtual Student,



I’d like to congratulate you on being a number, that meaningless array of digits your school has provided to ensure you don’t stand out in a crowd. Most likely, we’ll never meet in person and I’ll never hear the sound of your voice. Sure, we’ll exchange some emails concerning course requirements. You’ll be polite and I will return your concise questions with my own professional responses. Years from now, I’m certain you’ll never mention me as your favorite teacher and I’ll never remember that day we didn’t meet.


Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m loving our virtual relationship and here’s why. I’d much rather grade a student based on what they produced than be swayed by how they performed.


A physical classroom setting is a platform for theatrics where a vocal student can easily outmaneuver an introverted peer. By now you must be thinking –“That’s not fair. How much you talk in class shouldn’t make a difference.” Really? If your syllabus includes participation, then that’s exactly what it means.


Luckily, stage presence is not a factor on-line. In a virtual classroom, you are what you submit. I’m not impressed you’re wearing a suit. I’ll never know if you have a sweaty handshake and I’ll never know if you’re lounging in your pajamas and drinking a beer while taking an online quiz.  All I care about is whether or not you answered the question.


So make it good. And I mean really good because that’s all you’ve got.



Comments about your experience with online teachers are welcome here!