How much of a cage should I build?

Just how much of a cage should I make my course into? How far should I take the constraints? The following sets the scene and asks the questions. Would love to hear alternate views.

Cat in a Cage, Valparaiso by geezaweezer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  geezaweezer 

The course

The course I teach has 300+ students spread throughout much of Australian, parts of Asia and perhaps other parts of the world. Studying both on-campus and online. It has folk who will be teaching everything from Early Childhood through to TAFE/VET, and everything in-between.

The course website is a Moodle site. Each week the students have a list (perhaps too long a list) of activities to complete (see the image). To help them keep track of what they have and haven’t done the Moodle activity completion functionality was used. That’s what produces the nice ticked boxes indicating activity completion.

Week 1 learning path

Building on this, part of the assessment of the course is tied to how many of these activities they complete. Activity completion is actually linked to keeping a learning journal and contributes 15% of the total course mark (5% for each of the 3 assignments).

Task corruption

Given the pragmatic nature of students today and especially given the perceived large amount of work in the first week. It was not surprising that a bit of task corruption” is creeping in. I assumed that some students would figure out that for the activities that are “web pages” with exercises, simply visiting the page would tick the box.

But there are other activities that require students to post to a discussion forum with some form of artefact. For example, a description of a resource found on Scootle and a description of how it links to their curriculum. These are posts that I see and try to keep a track of. So a bit of a deterrent?

Turns out perhaps no. I’m starting to see the odd post that either purposely (or not) does address the task, but is sufficient to be recorded as an activity completion.

The question is whether or not I should be actively policing this?

The trade-off

I don’t want to set myself the task of being a policeman. But perhaps I need to implement some penalties here, some options might include:

  • A gentle warning, at least initially.
  • Warn the student and delete their activity completion for the given activity (i.e. do it again).
  • Deduct marks for task corruption.

    Of course, there will always be the “but I misunderstood the task sir” excuse.


A purely pragmatic reason against doing this is that it will take a lot of work to police this. For another, I’ve already expressed some reservations about what it means to impose new learning strategies on a group of learners. That’s certainly something the course is currently doing.

We’re also talking about 3rd year University students, shouldn’t they live with their choices? If the don’t engage in these activities I do believe they will learn less and perform worse on the other assessment.

Then there’s the question of the students who are engaging with the activities and may potentially be receiving the same marks as those who have engaged in task corruption. I’m sure there would be a view amongst both sets of students.

Perhaps I should just mention this to the students to discourage (though not prevent) this practice?

Thoughts? Suggestions?

0 Replies to “How much of a cage should I build?”

  1. Interesting question David. As you mentioned the students in your group are 3rd year university undergraduates and yes we should be responsible for completing the tasks accurately but have you turned the question around and asked yourself why the students are doing this? Why do they feel the need to not complete these tasks accurately? Maybe turning that question around and seeing it from both sides might help you to make an informed decision on whether you start wearing your policeman’s hat or not. I mean no disrespect in my response, just wondered if you had flipped that coin around and asked your students why they are doing these things. (Does this mean I fail now??? LOL.)

  2. Hi David,

    Well I did realise that you can just tick the boxes but can can honestly say I haven’t done it, apart from the one that you said we could tick. If I did this I feel I would only be disadvantaging myself. I have come to the realisation that the learning activities are there to help us get a grip on the expectations
    for the first assignment. The activities are there to
    complementthe assessment and our future practicum. For instance by completing the scootle activity and posting my findings I have been able to use this as a reflection on my blog. I have met not only the weekly requirements for this task but used it for the assessment. When it comes to my practicum, I now know where to find digital resources that align to the curriculum.

    I am thinking if you don’t engage then this will show in your assessment results, but only time will tell.

    Just my opinion.


  3. Ah the ideal world in which everyone is responsible for their own choices. From a pedagogical point of view, then yes, ultimately you would hope students would be self-motivated and accept the consequences if they aren’t. However the reality of teaching at a university is that there are quotas and bell curves and review processes and you effectively aren’t allowed to accurately reflect student engagement – if you start handing out too many NIs or too many HDs people start asking questions. There’s also the curly question of student evaluations and no matter how brilliant your pedagogy if students didn’t like it and smack you in your review questions get asked and actions get taken.

    So yes – you’re probably going to have to do some mild policing. Just another fun example of red tape stifling anything resembling ‘innovation’ (or frankly, ‘good teaching’).

  4. David –

    I believe the answer lies in the expectations you establish at the beginning – or beginning now. I would explain that, as third-year students, they are expected to manage their learning. The activities you provide are aimed toward successful completion of (whatever) assessments. If they can be successful without completing the activities, so be it. However, they should expect no help from you after they’ve failed the assessment. Just a thought.

  5. It’s a hard call. Speaking as a student who will now rush back to the Scootle mention on study desk as I don’t remember having an activity to comment on, I myself may appreciate a bit of policing in the guise of setting me on the right track. The box may be ticked when one has clicked on the page but it is a false sence of security I now feel that I have ‘done it all’.

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