Seth wrote to let me know of how frustrated many of you are, so I thought I'd post my email response to him here and also on the class site.
Read the class blog at ENG101fall2007UAT.blogspot.com. It should clear up at least some of your confusion and, I hope, frustration.
Some of the confusion was a result of the initial week's problems. Some is my unfamiliarity with student practice at UAT. My usual practice is to let students struggle with the first paper on their own, this practice is meant to cause frustration I then use as a learning platform. However, added to the initial frustration and confusion with the course, employing this practice hasn't---to say the least---played well.
The reason I have students struggle with the first paper is to give a graphic lesson in just how much information they're usually given prior to writing in an academic setting, information which they will have to figure out on their own as they adapt their writing to rhetorical situations outside the classroom. If the lesson goes well (and it usually does), students quickly learn the value of prewriting, that is, what exactly they need to know prior to beginning to write; and, instead of just accepting that they will be given essential information like genre, format, length, and jargon common to a new discourse community, they learn they have to actively seek this information out. Learning just how much information is needed prior to writing is an important aspect of a writer's skill set. Think, for instance, how many folks will end up doing consultant work with their UAT degrees or moving between different company cultures as their career matures. Each of these moves will involve you in learning the writing expectations of the your new discourse community.
In this class, however, what is usually an effective tactic just added to the loss of ethos inherent in the confusion of changing the course design in the middle of the first week. My other faulty assumption was in assuming that students would write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and concerns. Instead, I've found students at UAT try to work out these concerns in threaded discussions on the class site; so, while I've been monitoring my email at both UAT and my gmail accounts, I wasn't hearing or responding to the level of frustration building up on the class site.
Last but not least, I assumed that students would dive into the class blog, and all I needed to do was direct them to it via an announcement on the class site. Instead, students continued to look for updates, content, and clarification on the ecollege web site.
Here's my plan:
1) I'll be more involved in the threaded discussion on the class site.
2) I will no longer assume students will write me directly with concerns or questions.
3) I will update the ecollege class shell and not just handle the class through the blog and email.
I hope you'll meet me half-way and read the class blog at eng101fall2007uat.blogspot.com. I does answer many of your frustrations and concerns. If questions still remain, do write. I'm here to teach and want you to know I am available and more than willing to help in any way I can.