May 9, 2011

Watching Them Learn

Posted in miscellaneous other matters, Semester endcap, teaching revelations at 2:22 am by profart

I love grading discussion boards. I have a little trick for making them uber-successful, even those it KILLS my eval scores:

1. I make them post at least twice.
2. I require one of the posts to be up by mid-week.

In other words, I force discussion. However, this also means they get more learning out of it, because they have to process enough to respond to classmates and what they have to say. Some even make a good conversation out of it.

You get to watch people learn.

To be honest, there is rarely anything new being said on those boards. I am teaching basic-intro classes, over and over and over. The discussion questions are the same ones I asked last semester’s students to ponder. And the students before that. And the students before that.

Because you know what? These are all new students. They have never thought about art this was before. They have never considered the idea of a portrait creating presence before. They have never thought about architecture as controlling your experience of space before. For each group of students, this is all new. And even as they come up with many of the same answers to those same questions, for them it is new answers and new thinking.

Is it any less wonderful to watch your last child walk and talk than to watch your first? For me, not a chance. It remains a miracle of wonder.

Perhaps that is why I love teaching those base-intro courses: I still love getting students interested and excited. Or at least giving them something new to think about, if they so choose.


May 8, 2010

End of Semester Blues

Posted in Semester endcap, student stories tagged , , , , at 7:45 pm by profart

As the spring semester winds to a close, I would like to share one of my (least) favorite emails I have received from my students- the kind that makes me bang my head on my desk and wonder why I am here. Several years ago, I received this (and yes, I kept it. Remember, friends, email can be forever!):

Dear Ms. Arrt:

I was wondering if you could help me with my final grade, I’m trying to figure it out. I’m transferring to DecentFourYear College (DFYC), and I’ll have to retake this class if I didn’t get at least a C so it won’t effect my GPA.

Baddat Maths

Note the mis-spelling of my name. Yes, this person actually mis-spelled my name, and continued to do so throughout the whole email exchange, which was a general back-and-forth of “The formula for computing your final grade is stated in the syllabus, as well as conversion from letter to numerical grading. I do not discuss final grades.” “But I can’t figure out my grade!”

And here was the crowning moment:

Ms. Arrt:

When I added up my grades of 58.8 for my mideterm, 45.6 for my final, 72.9 for participation, and my 72 for my paper, I got 251.4, and divided by four, I got a 63.85. Is this a C? I really need to transfer to DFYC.


Did you all get out your calculators? That’s right- not one of those calculations is correct. And better yet, neither is the participation score. When I actually tallied it according to the conversion I provided, I got 62.8 (apparently, Baddat didn’t realize that when you get a 0 for a week, you have to actually count that in, and divide by the total weeks, not just the weeks you participated in. And it would still be wrong.) Oh, and according to the syllabus, a 63.85 is a D. Since I consider 62 the cutoff for a D-, the student still got a D. How Baddat would get through DFYC with this kind of problem with simple arithmetic, I have no idea. They certainly took none of the classes I teach at DFYC.

I get a few of these every semester, but none this bad- and despite my “I do not discuss final grades” clause in my syllabus.

January 4, 2010

A New Semester

Posted in Semester endcap tagged , , , , , at 2:28 pm by profart

One good thing about college teaching is you only have to deal with specific problem children for four months, then you move on to a new crew. Yes, they usually have the same problems, just different faces. However, it can be really nice to have the new faces.

This semester, I am smokin‘ hot! We had a meeting on online staff at the start of the year, and we agreed it would be a good idea to have our classes actually available to students a week before classes started. The reasoning behind this was that online education and online students were different from live students, and they needed extra time to get the ball rolling and get themselves together and settle in. For some reason, people felt online students couldn’t go to the bookstore and wait for the first day for the syllabus like everybody else. Whatever.

The point is, I did it. I got the classes open a whole week early, despite having to redesign the entire course to address issues of students needing increasing amounts of structure and hand-holding to get through material, despite digging up more online activities for them to complete, despite having to re-record many of my own presentations to be available in the trendy format of the podcast. Despite issues with Blackboard, and the college servers, and my own access. I did it! We are up and running! Woo-hoo!

Here’s hoping the students put as much energy into the classes. Stay optimistic!

December 12, 2009

Hell Semester Gets Nasty

Posted in Semester endcap, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , at 7:26 pm by profart

So I get this email from my department chair. Apparently, some folks have gone whining to her about how unfair and unprofessional I am. Hmmmm. Let me see. I bet I can tell you who they are!

The only legitimate incident would be when I slam a book on a sleeping student’s desk. I had two of those this semester, and one last semester. I can see why folks might label that “unprofessional”, since it does disrupt the other students. However, sleeping in class is a problem students need to resolve to be successful. And I only slam for multiple offenders.

I have the student who was reading a book as I completed taking roll. I asked them to please put the book away. They got shirty with me because they “just had this last bit to go to finish the chapter!” How dare I ask them not to read that last little bit and instead pay attention to the class!

There is Have I Done Enough Work Yet? student, who keeps asking when things will be graded, when will things be available, and is this draft good enough? Give me my week to get writing assessments graded, please. If you turn in a class full of 5-page papers on Monday, it is unlikely that I will have them by Wednesday- and even next Monday might be sketchy, as I am not skimming, and at this level, these papers often need extensive commentary.

Then, of course, we have Lucky. I bet Lucky has bad-mouthed me all over campus. I know they had done so all over the counseling office, and to every ear they could bend around the satellite center.

And let’s hear it for my Careless Student, who sat in the back of the class and chatted with their neighbors, and when I asked them to participate, told me they didn’t want to learn this stuff now, they might forget it before the test. Um… huh? Or the Careless Students who liked to cluster about someone’s laptop and chitchat instead of taking notes, and then look at me blankly when I ask them a question or give them an assignment to do.

Or Arguer, who just couldn’t understand that a “works cited” page is not actually citing works. You can’t have a “works cited” without any citations in the paper! For some reason, arguing with me about this was considered an appropriate thing to do, rather than to just go put the citations into the paper.

You know, I think I’m a little tired. I think next semester, I’ll have some changes. For one, I’ll have some online tutorials about how to write and cite a paper. I will have a tutorial about classroom expectations, maybe some of the tips I have provided on this blog. And then I will make a major policy change: no second chances. Because seriously, that is where I end up with the most trouble. “This paper needs citations, here, please do them.” “WHAT? Isn’t a bibliography enough for you?!?” “?”

No, no more of this. No citations, you flunk. Period. And I am going to make that policy clear in the syllabus: papers without proper citations will be an automatic zero. See tutorial for information about how to cite a paper. What you give me is your final version, period. Not done correctly? You should have paid attention to the instructions the first time.

Rough drafts before the due date still accepted.

December 7, 2009

Questions that make my skin crawl

Posted in Semester endcap, student stories tagged , at 9:47 pm by profart

Here we are at the end of the semester at last. This has been a long one, as I took on some extra classes, particularly and upper-level for a sick comrade-in-arms. Yet I dutifully put in the time for each class, and made sure my students didn’t have to over-share my time between them (though there are still only 24 hours in a day). I forewent sleep in order to grade assignments. I skipped leisure time to offer extra office hours. I put up my usually array of study aids and crutches, even though some of them had to be done from scratch. I accepted rough drafts up to the usual deadline.

Yet I am repaid with the usual array of questions that really get my blood freezing and my skin crawling:

We have to bring the essay to the exam? Can I email it instead? (answer: NO.)
Review? Where is that online? (Under the module marked “Final Exam Review.”) Where are the modules? (in BlackBoard, in the menu, where they have been ALL SEMESTER.)
What’s BlackBoard?
My paper had a “works cited”. Doesn’t that count as citations? (NO. You cannot have “works cited” unless you actually cite the works! And I told you it didn’t, and gave you a second chance to turn in the paper- and you still have no citations!)
When is the exam? (Help! I am turning blue!)
I have three exams that day. Can you move yours? (NO. the exam schedule is posted at teh beginning of registration. Plan accordingly.)
Can I turn in the assignments I missed? (Those were due WEEKS ago. NO.)
Are you offering extra credit? (So you can give me more crappy “work”? NO NO NO!!!)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!! Yes, the end of the semester is upon us. Armageddon is here. Tell Armageddon home.* Please.

*If you don’t do MUDs, it’s OK, I know you don’t get it.

August 13, 2009

Bad at Math: Massive Increase

Posted in Semester endcap, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , , , , at 3:00 am by profart

You may recall that I have been having trouble students who cannot do math. I have recently had a serious uptick in the number of students who email me at the end of the semester with emails to the effect of, “How can I have gotten an F? All my grades were C’s!” and I rush to check the gradebooks, only to find that they failed their exams, sometimes spectacularly, failed several of the weekly assignments, and have the occasional “0” to really help that grade out.

Do students not realize that anything below a 70 is not a C?

When I was in school- elementary and secondary- our grading scale looked like this:
95-100 A
88-94 B
81-87 C
75-80 D
74 and below F

You read that correctly. A 74 was an F. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with expecting a student to be able to retain, analyze, and communicate at least 75% of the course material in order to pass a subject. Seriously.

So I think it is a freakin’ GIFT that a 60 is a passing grade in college. A gimme. A break of a lifetime. That a 70 is considered “adequate” is just miraculous. Why students who made it to college can’t get a grasp of 70% of course material, or grasp that below that would be “inadequate”, that’s just unacceptable. This is what happens when you change the secondary school grading scale so that 60 is passing: you are lowering your standards. Why do parents want to pay all this tax money to schools to get less achievement, lower levels of learning for their kids?

As the grading systems in elementary and secondary schools get fluffier, the students at the college level become less capable of doing college-level work. After all, a grade is a simple problem of basic arithmetic. If your kid can’t do a simple equation of add four numbers and divide by four, your school system has some very serious problems. Maybe expecting more from your kids would result in getting more from your kids.

Kids tend to rise to the challenge. Unless you don’t set them one. Then they get to adulthood without any skills to cope with challenge.

June 5, 2009

Bad at Math

Posted in clues to the clueless, Semester endcap, student mistakes, student stories tagged , , , , , , at 3:00 am by profart

From a student:

Hi Prof. Art. I was in your class and I just now looked at my grades and I am really not understanding my D in the class. I did all of the assignments and participation and my grades dont look bad. I averaged them and it looks like a C to me. The only thing I dont see on there is my Final exam part 1 grade but all else looks right. I am just a little confused, I thought that class was going well and I was doing well.


So I went back and crunched the numbers. Hey, I ain’t perfect, I’ve missed a number before. But the facts remained:

In fact, Confused had missed one weeks’ worth of participation, and one assignment. Part One of the final was never opened, nor attempted, according to BlackBoard.

And in fact, the numbers crunched to a 57.

Which is an F.

May 11, 2009

Just Shoot Me Now

Posted in Semester endcap, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , at 3:00 am by profart

I don’t know why I did it. Honestly, what kind of self-loathing I must have, what insanity creeps into my brain.

I just sent out an email to students who had not yet turned in all their work, reminding them that tonight is the deadline for turning in work. Of course, they have known this from Day One. However, the “exam week” for the college doesn’t actually end until tomorrow. Of course, the grades are due at noon the very next day, and I need some time to actually grade the work, so I set my deadline for today. Besides, the online course weeks have all ended on Sunday, all semester, so it made perfect sense.

I have three students who haven’t taken the proctored section of the exam yet. They will be screaming in the morning, claiming that they had to work or whatever, and why can’t they take the exam today? Answer: Because it was due yesterday.

I’m just begging for a storm of email to the effect of, “I just got your email! So can’t you take this now?” Answer: No. That email was a reminder of what you already knew. I sent it out of the goodness of my heart for your convenience and in your interest. I did not lie. The deadline was yesterday.

Why do I open myself up to this crap? Just shoot me now.

May 4, 2009

One down, three to go.

Posted in Semester endcap, student mistakes at 3:17 am by profart

One class signed, sealed, delivered. The other three have their exams this week.

The good quote of exams from this done class?

“If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?”

I guess blind people can’t hear trees falling.

January 10, 2009

An Exciting New Semester Looms

Posted in Semester endcap tagged at 3:54 am by profart

Ah, the beginning of a fresh new semester. The lectures are updated, the powerpoints fresh, the essay questions refined, and we’re ready to go. This semester, I return to the classroom after hiatus (filled with online teaching). I haven’t been on one of the campuses since last May; and I haven’t taught live at the other campus in five years. I have a lovely selection of intro western and intro eastern courses to teach, so it should be fun. And hey, i get to talk about¬†Astasahashrika¬†Prajnaparamita and Mahamahishashuramardini this semester. How bad could it be? Seriously.

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