6 tips for handling the challenges caused by students adding your course

One of the unexpected challenges of teaching at the college level is add/drop.

Add/drop is the official time students have to add or drop a course. This time period typically lasts for a few days or a week at the beginning of each semester.

Check your college’s schedule for the timeframe for add/drop.

For students, the challenge is often financial. Adding a class past a certain deadline may result in a late fee. Dropping after a certain deadline may mean receiving only a partial or no tuition refund.

But for teachers, add/drop is more complicated.

At the University of Florida where I teach, as with many universities, add/drop is taking place during the first week of classes. Teachers are supposed to be teaching from the first day of classes — distributing the syllabus, talking about course goals, promoting the value of the course, and making assignments. But with drop/add, you can have quite a turnover of students. You could start out with a class of 25 on the first day and have a class of 35 the next class meeting. Even if you had 25 students for each class meeting, you could have different students.

In my class of 200, I had a change of about 20 students from the first class meeting until the third class meeting when add/drop had ended. That’s 10 percent of my students who weren’t there for those get-you-engaged-and-oriented-for-the-course activities and for directions for the first graded assignments.

As an instructor, what can you do? Realize that add/drop is part of the university process and be prepared.

1. Utilize the class listserv. With a big class like mine, I find that sending several emails to the class listserv can help everyone who is adding the course get caught up. I send one email before the semester starts, one during add/drop, and one the day after add/drop. The listserv is updated every day, so the repeated emails can reach those who are adding the course.

With each email, I add new information but also include the emails I’ve previous sent.

2. Make class assignments during the add/drop period that can be made up by the students adding the course. The big class I teach is based on weekly writing assignments. The first assignment serves as a pre-test of the students writing abilities. The students who add the course can receive directions via email, complete the assignment, and email their completed assignment by an established deadline.

3. Schedule time to meet with students who have added the class. On the first lecture day after the end of add/drop, I ended class a few minutes early and had all the students who had missed class meet briefly with their writing lab instructors, who were there in the auditorium to meet with the students.

4. Develop a handout to give to students when they add the course. I use the same handout that I distribute on the first day of class. The one-page handout includes my contact information, the required texts, the URL to the course blog, and the course goals. This information — plus the information on the course blog — helps all students obtain the material they need to be tuned in and prepared for the course.

5. Utilize students in the class to help catch up new comers to the class. Students typically want to be helpful and, if you ask them, will be glad to spend a few minutes talking with a new student about what the student has missed.

6. Be patient. That’s what one of my new teaching assistants said he learned from the University’s orientation for new teaching assistants. And that’s good advice. Most of the students adding the course do have legitimate reasons for being late in joining the course. The class was filled and they couldn’t get into the course until late in add/drop. They changes majors and now need your course. They are freshmen or transfer students and didn’t know how the scheduling process worked. You will have a few students are playing the system, not registering for classes or attending classes until after add/drop because they don’t feel that you can hold them accountable until after add/drop. But in my experience, those are the exception.

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