Midterm Slump

Usually, at this time in the semester, students start losing steam. It’s hard to keep them interested or even awake. In education, we call it “the midterm slump,” and it’s soul-crushing because no matter how great your material is, discussions are sluggish and there’s constant yawning going on in class.

This semester is different, however. The interest has never been higher. Participation is so active that I don’t even have to prepare discussion questions. All I have to say is, “please discuss,” and they go right at it. I’m beseiged by students after class, asking how they can improve and what else they can read and sharing their insights into the material. It’s like I’m suddenly in a world I always wanted to inhabit.

Mine is the only face-to-face class they are taking. People teaching online are saying that the midterm slump is a lot worse this year. I haven’t come across a student yet who doesn’t passionately hate online learning.

It’s time to recognize that this isn’t working and head back to the classroom.

7 thoughts on “Midterm Slump”

  1. Comment on Midterm Slump

    I have never heard the term “Midterm Slump” before, but I certainly know the phenomenon. I have always attributed it to the fact that the semesters are too long. In grad school, I was at institutions on the Quarter System. This problem did not exist; students and faculty maintained enthusiasm up to the end of the term.. I have long said that I believe that generally people’s attention span is ten weeks long. Both as an undergraduate and as a professor, I was on the Semester System. It is clearly inferior. It seems to exist only to reduce administrative workload. Two rounds of grade reports and registration per year instead of three made a difference. Whatever justification existed for it has mostly disappeared with the advent of computer systems to handle the routine busywork. I would love to see a widespread return to the system with shorter academic terms.


    1. I agree. We had a 12-week semester in Canada and got more done than with a 15-week semester in the US. The last two weeks of the semester are generally quite useless.


  2. My department was relentlessly positive about online teaching. “But you can do breakout rooms on Zoom and students can have all kinds of materials with them to help the learning process!” “But look at how much more inclusive we can be now!” “But the students have responded so well, it’s amazing!”
    This week we got an e-mail that we apparently need to have a meeting because the students are complaining about “Zoom fatigue”.
    p.s. I was the only one in my department who volunteered to do face to face teaching. The day before I was due to start, the opportunity was taken away from me because cases.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Has anybody met any student anywhere who actually loves Zoom teaching? Not tolerates it because there’s no choice but enjoys it?

      I know that I wouldn’t be able to be successful in a Zoom course as a student. I just get distracted. There’s nothing I can do. I get antsy and shifty and it’s terrible. And I was a stellar student.


      1. “I wouldn’t be able to be successful in a Zoom course as a student. I just get distracted”

        Maybe that’s the point, to filter out the potentially independent thinkers and produce compliant drones who can stare at screens for hours on end…

        I totally understand the ‘distracted’ part, that’s why I can’t be an interpreter (I’ve done some interpretation informally a few times which demonstrated to me why I shouldn’t pursue it further… I get distracted too easily instead of maintaining the necessary focus on the speaker).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To me, distance learning might work if you have the following things in place (e.g. like in the Open University in the UK):
        -A really strong set of textbooks and course materials that the students can navigate at their own pace. Since the time and effort involved in creating such course materials, they should normally be designed to last at least a few years.
        -An army of tutors that students can reach out to if they find difficulties with the material; students should also have opportunities to meet in groups with their tutor, preferably face to face.
        -A body of students of considerable maturity – by which I mean mostly two things: a) an ability to organize their time independently, plough on through the isolation that will inevitably be felt, keep motivated; b) an acceptance that the university isn’t there to provide a social life or a structure for you. So students who are a bit older and have acquired the two things above through developing a career, having a family, studying for another degree face to face, etc. will be more successful.
        -A second army of student advisors to constantly check upon students, so that e.g. if an assignment is missed, support (practical, academic, financial) can quickly kicks in.
        Even then, you should expect higher attrition compared to a traditional university. So it’s a completely different set-up that cannot simply be improvised in a few months. I have experience of four different distance learning universities (all in Europe – I think in the US things can be different and it’s a much more “for profit” ethos) and all of them followed the model above – to different degrees of success, but certainly we didn’t have anything like constant Zooming or skyping in any of them. In the UK at least, every time everyone dares voicing any opinion about Zoom learning being inferior to f2f learning, you have a choir of “But the Open University!”. Which is completely dishonest, because it’s comparing apples with oranges.


  3. “People teaching online are saying that the midterm slump is a lot worse this year”

    Where I am the academic year starts at the beginning of October (and was two weeks late this year for bureaucratic reasons).
    I don’t use zoom but the university (at some tremendous cost I’m sure) got Microsoft teams for everyone and that’s what I’ve been using (with blogs that I’ve also been using for years and years). There’s something else that I don’t use (moodle).
    I’m slowly getting the hang of it but I’ll never like it for whole bunches of reasons. The worst is that I usually depend a lot on live feedback (visual and aural) and that’s gone so I end up feeling like a crazy person talking into the air.
    I did a presentation for a remote conference type thing in September and that was also awful – not least because due the software they were using I couldn’t see myself and the visual presentation at the same time… I’m usually relaxed in front of a live audience but here I was nervous and ill at ease…

    Liked by 1 person

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