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I work as a programmer as a full time job. Since I'm an experienced programmer and have some teaching aptitude, I've been asked to give a 40-hour course in C# programming to a computer science group of 70 students.

I've given two lessons so far (4 hours total), mixing lecture and practice sessions. I think I'm doing just fine but I'd like to reduce the number of students I'll lose along the way. I thought I would make each student more engaged if I established a conversation with them, even if that might prove to be time consuming. I already have an ongoing conversation with (roughly) a fourth of them, since they reached out to me to ask questions and be advised on practical matters. Plus, they did the excercises I assigned to them.

How should I act with the rest of the students? Today I thought I would be sending a message to each of them (we're in a Slack team) just to check if they've understood the lessons and be helpful in giving advice in case they were stumped by simple matters they might be too shy/afraid to report. On the other hand, I understand they are adults and that I should not babysit them. What would you do?

Thank you in advance.

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    It's acceptable. In some places it's even mandatory for instructors. It is time-consuming and you should carefully consider if it's worth the possibly indefinite expenditure of time (i.e., consider if what you're doing would scale if you were teaching 3, 4, or 5 such classes at once some day). – Daniel R. Collins Mar 26 '17 at 18:23
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Establishing cordial relations with students is almost always beneficial in education. By making connections with them you are providing a form OF social support that helps with retention and academic performance. Your concern with babysitting relates more to.the students expertise in the subject matter rather than their age. Novice students normally require much more support than advanced students regardless of their age.

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Having taught online for many years, I can say that you will get a large proportion of students who will not engage with you. Some of these are good students. Some of these are low-performing students. As long as the students know you are available to talk, that's what is important.

For instance, for in-person classes, I have office hours and only a small number of students will visit me during them. However, I regularly announce reminders of my office hours and when particular students are falling behind, I will reach out to them to see if they would like to visit me in my office. I do not schedule an individual meeting with all of the students in my class.

My advice is reach out to students who are falling behind individually and send full-class reminders that you are available to talk/video chat with about their questions or concerns. I actually think that having a quarter of students actively engaged with you without it being required is actually pretty good. Good luck!

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No. Do some simple math, if you have 70 students and "reaching out" to each of them takes 5 minutes this would take you 5:50, the better part of a work day. Moreover, "reaching out" via e-mail could mean getting replies at different times meaning it would take even more time.

Your intentions are admirable. However not everyone is going to grow up to be a programmer. Set expectations. Be humorous. Some students will find it easy, others will be completely incapable (You are doing them a favor by showing them this is not a career path). Invest your time identifying the ones that are struggling but putting in effort and put your effort there. Differentiate between those, and the students that want to politic for better grades.

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Most instructors don't ask for feedback about the teaching or the material at this stage. However, that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't, if you wish to.

Think about exactly what you wish to know, and then try to put that into a very short form that you can link to or include in an email or a post in your classroom management software.

For example, you might be interested in asking

  • How does this course fit into your academic and career goals?
  • How much time did it take you to do Hw # n?
  • What is your preferred way of getting help when you have difficulties with understanding some course material or completing some homework (email, course management software, office hours, special appointment)
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TL;DR: Instructors have many responsibilities that they need to balance in order to be successful in their careers, and it is often not feasible to reach out to each student individually. So, rather than reaching out to each individual student, I suggest you make your students aware, collectively, of additional resources, and really be available for those individual students who want the additional help. For those lower-performing students that don't want the help or don't seek it out, they will fall behind and will need to do some much needed soul searching about why they are in the course in the first place.


To answer your question, we need to answer another question first: "acceptable" with respect to what?

Assuming the answer to the above question is "with respect to my other responsibilities," then I would say that, no, it is not acceptable to reach out to every student individually (especially in your case, having 70 students at present).

When instructors need to balance their teaching and other responsibilities (such as research, service, or, in your case, your full-time job), reaching out to all students collectively is the more efficient approach; this is accomplished by making students aware of additional resources that are available (e.g., office hours or additional interaction times, as needed, practice problems, etc.). I list all of the resources available to my students in my syllabus, and I make it a point to reiterate what the available resources are verbally throughout the semester. I also send emails to groups of lower-performing students to suggest that they make some time to come in and talk to me about things that are unclear.

Now, the individual students who really want additional help will seek it out. So, what to do about the students that don't seek out the desperately-needed help? Again, from time to time, I will remind students that help is available, but it is up to them to seek it out.

I suppose your stance on how to handle this scenario may be field dependent. In my field (engineering), I think that engineers-to-be should be "trained" in such a way that encourages them to take responsibility for learning and getting to the bottom of things that are unclear to them. (Perhaps in other fields, such a stance is not as important.)

I have especially noted that, in the follow-on courses, where the topical coverage is more advanced and at a deeper level, students who don't get the memo on how to take their studies seriously and take full responsibility for their learning are really not able to keep up; so much so, in fact, that the course pace is slowed down to the point that I am not able to cover all of the topics that one would nominally expect to cover. This is especially troublesome for the students who do put their best foot forward and are having to suffer the consequences because some of their classmates cannot keep up.

Thus the free ride of having the instructor do every little thing for the lower-performing students has to end at some point so that only those students who are willing to put in the effort are allowed to advance, and those that don't need to do some self reflection and try again.

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