March 25, 2009

WTFAIL: What do you say?

Posted in student mistakes, student stories tagged , , , , , , , , , at 12:33 am by profart

Dr. Profart,

    Good Afternoon, I am concerned about the online course I am taking. I thought I had been doing everything just right until the discussion came about the mid term. Everyone was recommending to look over the quizzes and I realized I had not taken any that I could remember. I also had been seeing the empty spaces in my grade book for the Assignments for each week–but I just thought that it was maybe just simply there, because I had not seen anything under my blackboard. Just today I met up with my friend ReallyGood Student, who is also taking this course and they showed me where to find the quizzes, I have this week’s assignment but have not had the others. I know this has taken me a while to realize this but this is my first time taking an online course. I knew nothing else to do other than to talk to you. I am very concerned please let me know what to do. Thank you.

Magic Reappearing Student

Dear Magic Reappearing Student, 

I am afraid I am a bit at a loss as to what to tell you. The midterm discussions took place 4 weeks ago, and you mentioned no concerns to me. Your syllabus is quite clear about the weekly assignments, what they are, and when they are due. The orientation presentation also discusses the weekly assignments. I also see that you have a “100” on your syllabus quiz; therefore you were aware of the assignments and when the first assignment was due. I also se that you completed the week 2 assignment, so you were aware where they were located and were able to complete them. Blackboard also says you opened the assignment for Week 5- therefore you knew where the assignment was, and were able to open it.    

Therefore, I can only conclude that you knew they were available and due, but did not complete them for reasons of your own. The only advice I can give you is to discuss how to withdraw from the class with the Registrar’s office.

Dr. Profart

March 18, 2009

Brilliant Housing Office Ideas

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:19 am by profart

Ok, whose brilliant idea was it in the housing office to schedule senior housing selection night on a weekday evening at a residential campus? 

For those of you who may not be familiar with evening classes, they are often upper-level (thus filled with juniors and seniors) and meet once a week. By scheduling housing selection on a weekday evening, the brilliant housing people have basically forced half of my evening class to forego a whole week’s worth of class in order to get their housing selected by lottery- and they have to do it in person. 

Since it is a residential housing selection, I would think scheduling these things on a weekend, when student classes would not be interrupted, would be a far better idea. If they can interrupt their academic careers for housing selection, sticking around for a Sunday night shouldn’t be a huge deal, either. In fact, I know it isn’t- that was when housing selection at my college was.

March 17, 2009

Helpful Hints

Posted in clues to the clueless, Helpful Hints, teaching revelations at 3:43 am by profart

I started “Clues for the Clueless” to basically snark about things adults and students should know, and fail to do anyway. I complain a lot here, but I thought today I would share some helpful hints that many students may not know as they leave high school and enter the world of college. They have been somewhat trained to be adults, but have never actually had to do it all for themselves, and there really are some helpful hints that are learned on-the-job, rather than drilled by some high school worksheet. 

I offer some of these hints, and hopefully will add more. So to balance out my snarkiness, here are some helpful hints for my students, and for your students, and for you if you are a student, that you might not know or be expected to really think about: 

1. When arranging a meeting with your professors, think about when that meting would take place. If you can make the appointment during the professor’s office hour, do that. Call or email and make the appointment. If those office hours are absolutely not possible,be sure to suggest times that are good for you. Note any times your prof has already said are definitely bad (I always tell my students certain afternoons are off-limits; they don’t know it, but these are times I have another job, teach another class, or my kid has therapy). If you make an appointment, SHOW UP. 

2. When making that appointment, be sure to clue the professor in as to what you are meeting for. Saying “I just want to meet you” is fine, if that is what you really want. Saying “I just want to meet you” then showing up with a lot of detailed questions about policy and assignments, not so good. 

3. Make sure a meeting is necessary. Many questions can be answered quicker through email or a phone call. Saves time for everybody, and you get your answer sooner. 

4. Do make appointments “just to meet you.” Have in mind something you want to know. What is the professor currently working on? What is the professor’s specialty? Has the professor been to interesting places, mentioned an interesting topic, seem excited about a certain theory? Find out more. The professor will remember you. 

5. Be remembered for the right reasons. Professors remember students who present them with good work, ask solid questions, and put in effort. Don’t be snarky blog fodder. Think about that when you are attending classes, sending emails, and making phone calls. 

6. The difference between an A and a C is what you have put into the class and the assignment. You have to go beyond what is expected to get that A. 

7. Most academics love talking with students. That’s why they do what they do, to pass it on. You’ll know when you meet a professor who doesn’t like students, and you should avoid their classes. If they are not interested in passing on knowledge, then you are wasting your money in their classroom. The best indicator? Professors who don’t seem to care if you show up for class (no attendance policy), are labeled “easy”, or who never return emails. 

8. Never confuse a first draft with a rough draft. A rough draft is something you think is a finished product, done at least a week before the assignment is due. You turn it in to the professor so they can help you be a better scholar and writer. In other words, you should have the paper completely written, including proofreading, consulting the writing center, and reworking it from those suggestions.

9. If a professor takes rough drafts, plan to have your project/paper/whatever done at least a week ahead of time. Then take advantage of the opportunity and hand it over to your professor for critique. 

10. Use the writing center. Use the tutoring center. Use the career center. Visit all of these offices during your first few weeks on campus and familiarize yourself with what they do and can do for you. 

11. If you have a disability, document it and document your accommodations. Alert your professor with copies of the document that includes your accommodations. Insist on having those accommodations. If you suspect you are experiencing a disability, go have yourself tested. Accommodations are not advantages; they are things you need to level the playing field, so you can learn and demonstrate your skills appropriately. 

12. You can do this. They don’t let you in unless you have demonstrated the potential to succeed. The admissions folks are convinced you can do this. They are well-trained folks. Believe it.

March 15, 2009

Clues to the Clueless #16

Posted in clues to the clueless, teaching revelations at 5:53 pm by profart

Hint: If a professor tells the class that the exams suck so bad that everyone needs to rewrite their essay, then maybe it would be a good idea to rewrite your essay. 

One thing I decided a long time ago is that if an entire class fails an exam, or even a single question, the problem is not on the side of the students; I am the one who has done something wrong. Did I forget to go over important information? Did I mis-speak in my lecture? Have I not covered a skill important to completing the task at hand? 

Although I teach art history, I do consider the ability to build an argument in English to be an important skill students are supposed to be learning in my class. So when I get a whole stack of exams which are, for the most part, barely coherent, then I think it is my duty to comment extensively on those essays, and return them to be re-written. Writing is a skill, and no student should leave my class without some improvement in that skill. I the  have to re-grade all those essays. I don’t just tack on some points for completion- I completely re-grade from scratch. 

However, I notice that students generally only grumble when I offer this re-write. Yes, it is more work- but personally, I see it as the work they should have done the first time. The only person really getting “extra” work is me, who now must grade essays for another six hours. And after all, I could just let them all flunk, right? 

If your professor handed you back a failing-level essay and offered you a chance to re-write, complete with comments about what to write, what would you do? 

Apparently, most students would bitch, moan, grind their teeth, and spend the weekend badmouthing the professor to each other and to their friends. I hope at least some of them remember to atually re-write the essay…

March 2, 2009

How to make your professor grumpy, part 574

Posted in clues to the clueless, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , at 1:55 am by profart

So I get an email from a desperate student who has waited until Sunday night to do their homework. At the beginning of the semester, I warned folks not to wait until the last minute with this particular assignment, as there are some issues with how BlackBoard handles putting images in quiz questions that students may have to resolve to complete the assignment. Just one more reason I’ll be ever so happy to redesign this class and find alternate platforms for delivering quizzes. 

Fortunately this year, this is the first student I’ve had who can’t seem to see the images and bugged me about it. Had they loaded it up earlier in the week, they would have had the tech support folks on campus to help them do the magic settings fix that works for everyone else, but which I, not being a computer person, have no idea how to do (and have never needed to do; everything loads fine here). Basically, you have to set your security settings so that your computer will allow a website to load an image it is “hotlinking” to (ie, I have used an img src tag). However that is done on your computer. 

But no, they have waited until Sunday evening, the day the assignment is due. They apparently- according to them- they have now called every computer person they know, and to no avail. And oh, they had a sick person in and out of the hospital, that is why they haven’t had time to do their work until now. (Providing excuse after two emails and late Sunday night=extremely suspicious…)

This is the magic opening of the last email:

Okay well I have done all that I can do.  I have tried all resources.  I have googled help for the error.  Unless you give me permission to do something else I will just have to submit the assessment without being able to see the pictures and take a bad grade. 

So I email back that I will try a few things from this end. After all, I have a new version of BlackBoard to play with, most of the students have already turned the thing in, let’s see what I can come up with. I try some alternative methods for posting images, and email the student asking if they can now see any images. 

No response. That’s odd.

But whatever, I pull up the site on another computer, and see what is working and what is not, and note that the alternative methods are definitely not loading now on my other computers here, so I opt for a new fun thing I can do, which is to add links to quiz answers, so I add that in and email them again telling them what I did and to let me know if it works for them. 

No response. We’ve gone from desperate emailing student asking for options to dead silence. Really, really weird. 

On a wild hare, I open up the grade book. Sure enough, Desperate Student has turned in the assignment. In fact, they apparently turned in the assignment before they emailed me that last email asking for alternatives. 

Folks, I cannot give you alternatives unless you wait for me to give you those alternatives. I cannot wave a magic wand and instantly solve a problem; I need a few minutes to look into what can be done for you. 

There is nothing ruder than sending a professor email asking to “do something else” about an assignment, then turn in the assignment without discussing “something else”- and disappearing. Rude, rude, rude. How would you like your boss or colleague or co-worker to do it to you? Leave you looking for alternatives, when they know they intend to just barrel forward- or know they already have? 

I could have spent those 45 minutes I was trying to solve this problem for this student doing other things- like grading exams.