February 26, 2010

And sometimes I do something right (for a change)

Posted in Helpful Hints, miscellaneous other matters, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:22 am by profart

With the increasing crush of posts and emails to the effect of “this class has so much information, how can I learn it all this week, in time for the midterm???” I get this time of year- increasing not only with the flow of the semester itself, but in comparison year to year- I decided to put my butt in gear and do something. After all, I teach intro classes. My students are about 40-60% first-years, and some of my non-first-years are only that by technicality (in reality, their “first year” was 20 years ago, and they are back for another round of college in order to finally finish/get a new degree/change careers/etc). The idea of “study skills” is either non-existant, forgotten, or not internalized for whatever reason. The result is a lot of students with few or no tools for independently learning and analyzing material. In other words, they have no clue what to do with the elephant on their plate, and don’t even know what a fork is.

So, as I said, I put my butt in gear, and put together a new tutorial module, “How to Study.” I included some basics on studying techniques, note-taking, and the all-important flashcards and timelines, so useful for beginning art history students. I put in some weblinks to cool sites about all these topics, posted it, and held my breath.

So far, I have sixteen thank-you emails, four thank-you posts, and a instant ebb of the “How do I do this???” messages. Holy frijoles, I might have actually helped somebody and taught them something.

I mean, something actually useful.


January 29, 2010

File Under: Are You Serious?

Posted in student stories, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:03 am by profart

As the add/drop period comes to a close, I am reminded of an email I got from a student some semesters ago. It was the kind of email that spews diet coke over your computer screen and has someone popping their head in to make sure the the scream that just emerged from your office didn’t require medical attention.

Dear Prof Art:

Hi! This is Suzie Snowflake, I’m in your online class. I just noticed the F I keep getting for the discussion stuff. I thought my posts were really thoughtful, and I wondered why I got an F. I know I’m supposed to post two times, but I thought I’d at least get some credit for what I did. I have a full-time job and three kids at home, so I don’t have a lot of time to post and log in to the class. I hope you’ll remember that when you grade this stuff, and take into consideration that I don’t have a lot of time. I really need this class to graduate, I have to have three humanities credits, there required, so I can’t drop this class or fail it. Can you give me some advice to help my discussion grades, and can you check to be sure you graded the last three weeks right? I just don’t see this as F work.


What did you think I advised?

A. I will certainly look into your grades and think about your home life when grading your work. Heck, you should get an A, because who needs humanities, anyway? Its just three credits.

B. My advice would be to meet the minimum requirements for each and every assignment. When you do not meet the minimum requirement, the only possible grade is an F. I did give you some credit for posting. If you had not posted at all, I would have awarded you a grade of 0.

C. You need to withdraw from this class.

Keep in mind that this student later accused me of “favoritism”. And by the way, I teach 2-3 online classes each semester, so I had to hunt down who this student was in the first place.

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.

December 3, 2009

Plagiarists beware: Flunky flunky!

Posted in student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , , at 1:29 pm by profart

I hate it when students flunk. It’s bad on my nerves. I always feel like there is something more I should have done, something more I should have said. I agonize over placing the fat, honkin’ F on that record, especially with students who have at least warmed their seat all semester. But one must get what one earns, even if I lose a little sleep over it.

With one exception. Plagiarists. Don’t feel like doing footnotes? I’m going to flunk you, and not even bat an eye. Want to just copy material in from books, or cut and paste from websites? Flunky flunky! I just don’t tolerate theft of other people’s ideas and hard work, just because you are too frickin’ lazy to do your own.

With the citations thing, I give my kids a gentle second chance. Either I flip through the papers as they hand them in, and hand it back if there are no citations (or at least try to); or if they are emailed, I will send an email noting that I clearly have the wrong draft, and would they kindly email me the correct one, the one with citations? Because if that is not enough of a hint to correct the issue, they deserve to flunk for outright stupidity. We have enough thick-headed academics in the world, and I am sure if a couple professors had flunked their butts when they were being thick, instead of just passing them off to the next poor fool, we’d have a lot less of them.

There is nothing I consider more EPIC FAIL than failing to cite sources in a writing assignment, especially in upper-level courses, where it should be practically second nature. And I have one policy for EPIC FAIL: an F on your transcript.

November 12, 2009

Notes and noteworthy

Posted in Helpful Hints, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , at 10:46 pm by profart

When I was in college, which really wasn’t that long ago, and you missed a class, you provided your excuse to the professor- and then went and got notes from your classmates. Going and asking the professor for their notes was not done. At the time, I didn’t know why- it was just not done.

Now I have the answer.

You see, a professor’s lecture is under copyright. It is propriety to them. Taking the notes of a professor for a missed lecture is like going over to Bill Gates and asking him to provide you the full code of the current Windows operating system, and all the business memos included with it. Or asking for the full and correct formula for Coke.

It is also basically asking a professor to take notes during their own lecture.

Some professors actually write out the whole lecture, and it works like an article they have written or any other work they have done. Other professors write notes, and are talking extemp. Included in either of those notes are notes on the notes, information that may or may not be actually offered in a lecture, notes about questions that may or may not be asked. Things may be crossed out, updated, notated, and even in code. They are not in a state intended to hand out to the public.

So here’s a hint to folks prepping to miss a class: get a buddy. Ask that buddy for a copy of their notes.

Or come to class.

October 25, 2009

Clues for the Clueless #22

Posted in clues to the clueless, student stories tagged , , , , , at 2:04 pm by profart

Hint: Turn in all work you have, when you have it, and if at all possible, on time. Late work is extremely annoying to professors. We have to manage our time just like you do, and having work roll in late means we have to come up with new blocks of time to grade it.

I have had a huge number of make-up midterms this semester- more than I have had in ten years’ teaching put together. Midterms are a quarter of the final grade, you would think they would be taken seriously.

Not only have there been a mass of make-ups, but make-ups to the make-ups. I put together the make-up exam online, and had another group of students who failed to finish it by the deadline. I made the mistake of allowing students to do their essay at home- its two weeks later, and I am still waiting for some of them. We won’t be making that mistake again.

Then I have The Incredibly Unlucky Student. The student’s situation is a bit comical in and of itself. Either this student is an ace at getting away with shit, or they have the worst luck to ever hit a student in the history of the planet- but not bad enough to keep them from being a pain in the ass.

This is the second semester I have had Lucky, so I have the drill down now. Lucky appears in class, oh, maybe the third week of a semester, in time to be counted present in the federal paperwork. Lucky claims to have been sick, vaguely, and can even produce a doctor’s note if you so desire. Lucky then comes in late for the next week or two, straggling in and disrupting classmates. Lucky is coming from another class or from work, and does have quite enough time in-between to get here on time. Lucky is not stupid, and has had some education; they seem familiar with basic history and geography, in a world where most students aren’t. I have a vague suspicion that this is why Lucky is here- big fish in a little pond. Then the absences start again. Last semester, Lucky was in and out of doctors because of a mysterious condition that could have been serious, but turned out was totally not. Lucky was happy to produce doctor’s notes, which are notoriously vague. There were trips to emergency rooms, days in bed from dizziness and nausea, doctor’s appointments, and just “I felt too bad to come.” This semester, we have the lovely H1N1 to blame absences on and get vague doctor’s notes for.** So Lucky has, of course, had the flu for a week and a half. And then the morning of the exam, lo and behold, Lucky was in a car accident. They presented a doctor’s note about a shoulder injury, it was a little difficult to make out, other than “excused from school and work.”

So I bundled Lucky with the other third of the class who didn’t show up, bit the bullet, and put up an online make-up exam with a week to complete it. The day before it was due, our college’s computer systems were down for about 3 hours. Of course, they went down while Lucky was taking the midterm. And did Lucky contact me right away, or immediately after the systems came up, or even the next morning? Um, no. Lucky emailed## me the day after the exam was due to complain that they did not get a chance to finish the midterm.

The solution this student sees for this? Lucky wants me to just use the score on their final for their midterm as well. They see this as “fair.”

Ok, stop laughing. This student is serious. After all, they go on and on about what a good student they are, even though their attendance is poor, and how hard they worked. Hey, they passed last semester, right?

But wait- I look in my records, and realize not only do I not have the make-up exam they are taking online, I don’t have the essay, either. The one they were supposed to bring with them to the exam, remember? That should have been printed out in the car when Lucky was in the accident. Emailing it to me should have done immediately, or at the very least after I informed Lucky of the make-up exam when they showed up (late) for the next class.

The online midterm situation was easy. I reopened it, and emailed Lucky that I did so. I am sure Lucky will be whining Monday morning that they didn’t check their email, so I also let the whole class know that Monday at midnight is it- exams are done. If Lucky bothers to come to class, I can at least warn them in person, and email be damned. If not, Lucky can just take their ass to the dean and complain. With the latest update to our servers, I can actually see what work has been done on the midterm, so I’ll grade what I have and call it done.

I’m tired of waiting for students to decide to do their work.

** I wish I could insist a doctor sign a doctor’s note, or that it appear on actual letterhead, or something- I suspect a lot of these “notes” are just a word processor and a scribble.

## I seriously considered posting the email, but most of it a rant about how life is so unfair and why, and there was just too much personal information. When I cut it all out, it wasn’t all that coherent.

October 13, 2009

How to Eat An Elephant

Posted in Helpful Hints, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , , , at 2:42 am by profart

Midterms are upon us, and with it the usual whining about studying, cramming, and poor time management. This is moment when those students who complain about having lives, jobs, and kids get particularly annoying, especially to their fellow students.

One of my little darlings actually shared these complaints on our discussion board, and has been getting a plethora of advice on how to study. By far my favorite has been the one entitled “How to Eat An Elephant!”

So I share with you the wisdom of that note, because it is sound studying advice: don’t try to eat an elephant whole. You have to cut it up into smaller pieces, and consume it over at least several days. You should be studying all along, not just trying to cram things in before the exam. A review is no time to learn the material, it is a time to refresh things in your mind that you have already learned. The elephant should already be skinned, deboned, and ready for the barbecue.

Otherwise, you just get indigestion. And a dislocated jaw.

September 11, 2009

The color! The color!

Posted in student mistakes, student stories tagged , , , at 4:12 am by profart

Recently there has been a huge increase in vague, empty writing coming from my students. In trying to follow certain writing formulas, student not only end up saying nothing at all, or not what they thought they were saying, but there is often complete disjoint between sentence parts; clauses don’t jibe. Paragraphs shift gears halfway through. Random things- I can’t say fact, because they aren’t usually accurate- are tossed into the middle of discussions. It’s weird. Very Dada.

In discussing Flemish art during the Renaissance, I often ask my students to consider a few issues: why did oil paint become important? What is the difference between humanism and secularism? What factors resulted in the differences in style between northern and southern Europe? What is “International Gothic Style”, and why is it considered a Renaissance style, not a Gothic one?

Remember, these kids have a textbook to read about this stuff. I provide external links to look at and read about these issues as well. Some of the responses are precious. Allow me to conflate some of the responses while preserving the flavor of the posts:

Medieval art had more of a religious focus, whereas Renaissance focused on realism and everyday life. Because of the shift from religion to humanism the art work changed and though its style was similar the term “renaissance” became to represent the focus more so than the style. The International Gothic style referred to the people of the 14-15 century with the thin pale skin. It was the end of the Middle Ages and would start the change for a new world. For this it is called the “REBIRTH”.

The Tres Riches Heures portrays the International Gothic style very well. It conveys a sense of comfortability. It captures a feeling a cold winter weather with the bare trees, the snow covered landscape, the dull gray skies/high horizon, the smoke from the chimney, the size of the trees and buildings compared to the people. The things get smaller towards the back of the picture in contrast of to the front of the photo. Also the top half consists of a calender device with a sun, and a zodiac symbols.

[Tres Riches Heures] is also an example of secularism.This can be inferred in the flaunting of jewels, tapestry, stone and sculptures. It focuses on the Dukes and their collection of these lavish items. All noble men and women and no inferences of religious symbols can be found but a large amount of vanity of the Dukes and others are abound. Unlike the opposite that you would find in a piece such as Unicorn is Found at the Fountain. There we find small suggestions of Christ within the unicorn and other woodland creatures representing symbols of faith, valor, mercy. This tapestry depicts the Resurrection of Christ in a different form and is a great reference to humanism while still representing the rich colors of this period.

Find yourself saying “huh???” and “What does that have to do with anything?” a lot? Imagine a whole message board full of this stuff.

This may be a long semester.

August 31, 2009

Red Alert: Crap Ahead

Posted in student mistakes, student stories, teaching revelations, Uncategorized tagged , at 3:54 am by profart

Stock phrases are all the vogue these days in the world of Standardized Testing and Empty Writing. Generic fluff really annoys me. It annoyed me when I was a student trying to read articles and get to the point. It annoys me that this horrible habit of bad writing is being not only passed to a new generation, but intentionally ingrained into them. Its kind of like the 5-paragraph essay: it is a great little crutch to get kids started in thinking about the structure of writing, but too many of them get stuck there, never to actually understand the purpose of writing and communication.

Here’s some popular red flags for “here comes some empty crap I slapped together to get some credit”:

This is a question that can have many different answers.
(Really? I wonder if that might be why I asked it…)

The threshold problem with this is…
(What is a “threshold problem”? I get this a lot from non-native speakers and students from China and Taiwan. What is this supposed to mean?)

How we consider this question depends upon our point of view.
(Yes. Yes it does.)

In my opinion….
(Unfortunately, this is rarely followed by an actual, original, thoughtful opinion.)

This question isn’t easily answered…
(No kidding…)

I know my idea might be preconceived, but…
(It is. Trying thinking about the material instead of just spouting off at the mouth.)

Defining art would be like defining love…
(Give me a BREAK)

Don’t worry, there are lots more. I’ll add as I get slapped with them.

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