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In each class, there are often a few students who seem to have given up early on.

In my recent discrete math class, when I asked a student a question, he said he was working on his graduation project.

In another time, when I picked the same student, he simply said he was not listening.

I wonder if there is anything I should do in such situations?

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    $\begingroup$ Just to ensure I understand… “giving up” means the student is unwilling to participate in lectures when called upon? And what you should do depends on your goal — is it to get this student to participate? To develop an atmosphere in which students feel in control of whether or not they want to participate? To develop a rapport that leads students to participate organically? To humiliate or punish this student and coerce participation from everyone? $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    May 5, 2022 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve I think I'd prefer to develop a rapport that leads students to participate organically. But to be honest I am sort of coercing everyone to participate. I am teaching online so I want avoid students being too distracted. $\endgroup$
    – user11702
    May 5, 2022 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Note in comment to an answer, OP has said the student in question is "at a B level". $\endgroup$ May 16, 2022 at 19:48

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Online teaching is so hard.

What is your college's policy, or yours, on whether the students must have their cameras on? At my college, we've been asked to respect the fact that some students don't have enough privacy at home to be comfortable putting their cameras on, so I don't require it. But I know that everyone having their cameras on helps with participation. However, if it's late in the semester there like it is here, I wouldn't recommend changing any policies now.

I try to get students to participate in ways that are lower risk for them. I ask "Is that making sense?" and have them give me (only me) a number 1 to 5 in chat. Even that, many of them won't do.

You described it as giving up, but I'd describe it as disengaged. I'm curious how this student is doing with assignments. I'm also wondering about his attitude. Both of his comments seem on the verge of hostile, or at least a bit disrespectful. (Maybe it depends on the tone...)

I record each zoom session, so I'd tell him it's ok to not come, and to watch the zoom later. It might be worth figuring out an empathic response to that student, and messaging him privately. "It sounds like you're feeling pretty overwhelmed. I wonder how you're feeling about this class." I guess that would depend on how he's doing with quizzes and tests. (Sadly, I have trouble with students who are cheating. As I said at the start, online teaching is so hard.)

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    $\begingroup$ The student is not doing OK with the assignments, probably at a B level. He is graduating next week, so the grade does not really matter for him anymore. He probably only took this course to fulfill degree requirement. That's perhaps why I was hesitant to talk him directly. In any case, the course has now finished. I guess I will try better next time. $\endgroup$
    – user11702
    May 6, 2022 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ablmf: I would call a B level definitely ok. My college faculty handbook officially defines a B grade as "Good" (and rarely achieved in the courses I teach now). I'd respectfully suggest you count yourself fortunate. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2022 at 13:41
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Sometimes students will not engage with classes as a correct response to their current incentives. For instance, if a student is happy with the grade they would get in a course if they did no more work, they might shift focus to their other courses or other aspects of their lives. Same if a student doesn't see a practical way of passing a course. It sounds like this student has more pressing responsibilities in their graduation project.

One of the important learning objectives of an undergraduate education is to learn how to prioritize one's tasks. For many students in many classes, these meta-lessons are more important than the actual content of the classes.

Specifically for students who don't see a practical way of passing a course, I've found offering retakes to all of my students an effective but work-intensive way of getting some students back on board. This provides them with a clear pathway to success, although some may not be convinced if the pathway is too long or unfamiliar.

It's hard to find a practical solution for students who are happy with their grade. Artificially inflating the priority of your class with grade penalties is too cruel. You could work to deflate the priority of students' other responsibilities with college-wide efforts to reduce student workloads, eliminate grades, or reduce the need for students to have jobs to pay for college, but these are big projects and can't address all of students' other priorities.

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  1. From a practical perspective, I think you have to moderate your expectations. It's good that you want to connect (and I'm basing this on previous questions as well). But (a) you can't save them all. And (b), you need to not let people get you down or let them screw with you either...there are just some social dynamics even games that go on, when one person is a presenter.

  2. I would advise to be outgoing, modulate your voice, wave your arms, etc. Ham it up, some. If you are normally a 5 or a 3, move it up to an 8, in terms of being high energy. If you're doing that, you still won't reach them all. But will get some people that you won't with a drone. I'm not a natural high energy sales guy...more of a 10 caveats thinker. But amping up the energy really helps me when teaching or just presenting research. Yes, you can do it too much. But I'd go two notches above your comfort factor. That will be right level, then.

  3. I would definitely call on people. Make a little bit of a joke about it, to take the edge off...but yeah, still call on people. And not "do you understand" or "what questions" that make them passive and customers. But "Johnny what step comes next", or "Mary how do set up this integrating factor ODE". Don't torture them and move on if they can't answer...and then call on one of your safe people. (You have the class to move along.) But occasionally put the sleepers on the spot.

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