March 20, 2010

Why I Don’t Hand Out Study Guides

Posted in Helpful Hints, teaching revelations tagged , , , , , , at 2:39 am by profart

The great debate rages on: to give study guides, or to not give study guides. That, my friends, is the question.

Dear students, I don’t do study guides for one simple reason: you should be creating them yourself.

That’s right. A key skill in college classes is understanding what concepts, terms, objects, items, etc. are important, and be taking notes about them, both in lecture and while reading. If you didn’t pick up this skill in high school, I’ll give you some hints:

Lectures and reading usually have some thread of connection. If you hear of something in both places, write it down.

If the professor writes about it on the board, write it down.

Listen to the inflection. Is the professor stressing words, concepts, terms with their voice? Write it down.

Is it bolded or italicized in the text? Why?

Does it appear on quizzes, reviews, or other assignments? Probably important.

Just give it some thought: its all important, or we wouldn’t be wasting time presenting it to you. Your job is to understand the material enough to pick out what is absolutely vital, and be prepared to discuss it intelligently.

After all, real-life is often closed-book analysis, not open-book regurgitation. When your boss is droning on about a project, what information do you actually need? How do you know?

I have discovered the hard way that if I hand out a study guide, the students memorize that, and nothing else. If anything strays from that “guide”, the whining is incredible. You get positively trashed on your evals. Nowadays, the dean will get an earful, too. Grumpy deans are no fun.

Next time, don’t ask about study guides. Bring your notes to the review or the office hour, and ask questions about material you don’t understand or connections you didn’t quite see for yourself, even after they were explained. Make your own study guide.


March 9, 2010

Clue to the Clueless #27

Posted in clues to the clueless, student stories, teaching revelations tagged , , at 3:52 am by profart

Hint: When your midterm is an untimed, take-home, open-book, open-notes examination, there is absolutely, positively and without a doubt NO excuse to flunk it.


I have no idea what else to say about that. Seriously.

November 29, 2009

Clues for the Clueless #25

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:12 pm by profart

Ah, we have come to a momentous occasion: my twenty-fifth clue for those who have none. Seriously, kids need to have academic advisors and be required to see them regularly; and those advisors should start listening to the “problems” and offering clues. But then, you can lead the horse to water, but even holding its face under that water can’t force it to imbibe.

Hint: Lack of planing on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part, nor qualify you for an extension.

My assignments not only have a due date, they have a due time. It used to be noon. When I first started teaching, this was just fine. Noon on the day of the assignment due date was pretty standard for my college, allowing professors some flexibility in taking assignments and office hour time to assess those assignments. I could happily spend the rest of the afternoon grading, and plan that time effectively. No problem.

Then it started being a problem. Noon deadlines started meaning you were still receiving assignments at one, then two, then three pm. Then the emails began really rolling. In a hyper-connected world, why can’t a student email you their assignment at four? After all, they have so many other classes, and jobs, and kids, and stuff, and its just one paper, right? I was handing out so many zeros that the department chair, then the dean got on my ass. I had to do something.

So I shifted the due time to 5. Then 6. Then midnight.

But it never ends. If I can wait until midnight, why not 1 am?

Tricking them by saying the due time is noon, but accepting papers through midnight, only works once. Not just once per class; in this day of internet and Twitter, I mean once. And even then, you have the stragglers who just can’t seem to understand the definition of “deadline.” As in, if you cross the line, you are dead.

Corollary: if you are going to be traveling the day or two before something is due, black those days out. You will not have time to complete the assignment on those days. If time appears, bonus for you, but the more common experience is one of flight, train, and bus delays, security delays, taxi delays, traffic delays. Also, you have no assurance of internet connection when you arrive at your destination. Seriously. Finish up before you leave.

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.

August 8, 2009

Incoherent Student Strikes Again

Posted in student stories tagged , , , at 4:13 am by profart

These are the instructions:

Answer one question clearly, concisely, and completely. Use at least three works of art for examples, clarifying how the example is pertinent to your thesis in your writing. Each example must be identified by title, date, and country of origin. You must cover at least three major areas of art history. You must select at least one item from: Prehistoric, Ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Ancient Aegean, Greek, Etruscan, or Roman. You must select at least one item from: Early Christian, Byzantine, Islamic, Early Tribal/Early Medieval/Celtic, Carolingian, Ottonian, Romanesque, Gothic.

This is the question:

Light is a common metaphor for the divine. Discuss the use of light and its connection with religious and political art in the ancient and medieval worlds.

Here is the answer:

Light, by all means, is one of the most cherished sources man has worshipped, arranged their lives by and what our planet thrives from.

Since Ancient times man has used light to many of his advantages.

Before the light bulb was invented,
Before our towns, grew into cities, then those cities became even greater, cities OF LIGHT, with a touch of man’s manipulating hand, and the itelligence man is born with, Man mixes these amazing ideas which they come up with

and have brought them to LIFE. Sacrficing and labor intense work, with man hands, some pully’s and a wheel, GREAT STRUCTURES were built. OF course SUNLight, The ball of fire which man awakens with every morning is worshiped, thanked, cherished, and Is mandatory that it be shown In peoples areas of worship, giving thanks to the solar power that keeps motivation in the world Man has taken over with its various species.

Humans, being able to comprehend this precious power the Earth shares with all of its lusture of life, TO all creatures that live on it, has made Humans expand more complex subjects : politics, Science, GOD? or No GOD? greed, POWER and the urge to want more and more,

Buildings of great height,areas people gathered for worship, give thanks or some may call it, being one with yourself and communicating with a higher power, The guy that put them here for a reason? or mayne not a reason,

No one has the answer too that question, but that is the question we will keep on asking, and keep on trying to prove, and all life will one day die.

A person’s religion and faith is Sacred and Personable. Amazingly humans have been in deep thought and have been questioning their faith and will do so til they die and This place in each persons soul and their faith or whatever mindset one may have, Is shown in people who have taking their beliefs and constructed massive Buildings, Scultures, cities of architecture and paintings by people of any time is amazing to look deep into and see their

and with whatever media a person could find ,stone, marble, clay, metal…ANYTHING destructable could be reconstructed and is a piece of our history.

Sunlight, from the first day, was a important factor of our ancient relatives. Naturally human’s sleep at night, so the sun was what people woke up for, during the day was when it was safe getting around and finding food during the day. For the predators that come out at night and without all the little gadgets we have created for ourselves in this day of age, sunlight was their friend, God? It was just very important to them!
That bright glowing ball in the sky and the warmth it shoots from its rays is like a natural Euphoria, Humans and animals, like, (cats for example)a wonderful sensation awakening us as the sun rises in the early AM was a sighn for life to get up and get the day started!

It was important that man did comprehend quickly that Sunlight is one major nessecities in order for their speicies to survive. All things work with sunlight, and (darkness is just as important) in order to establish growth and flowering to take place in plants and such.

Differently and much more complex than any other life on earth, Humans took these feelings they got from the sun and other natural resources from the Earth and came up with these… intense feelings, ideas and it was a process that started with such simplicity, but has grown to be such an amazing process of how we have evolved as people.

Sunlight inspired the Art of humans and humans art is filled with complex but simple random composiitions

It was a divine and giving object that glowed high in the sky, providing all life to sprout, flourish and give to the creatures that used the nutrients as well in order to live.

Humans went from stick figure drawings to , of course want and do better, so as humans developed and learned more and more things, their ideas grew to what was UNIMAGINABLE at the time, but the strive for power, woman, understanding of what the world may be? All led to Amazing works people Thought of…decided to put it into action, and make their ideas Come true.

Light, being a single source of flame, or a big ball in the sky is a major contributer to human emotions, beauty that is so amazing it has to be captured by human eye and then recreated because beauty is eye candy. Being the source of life and the foods we eat to nourish ourselves, schedualing our lives by the time the light goes up to when it goes down, is a work of science and art not made by human, but is Admired and loved by them and is symbolized in the works people do, in whatever they are building, painting, Art history is a deep, interesting subject, and it has brought us to the type of society today, under the same sun ancient ancestors and dinosaus sunned themselves under!

Sun, light, fire, all the same substance, but has so many functions it does for everything and anything that our world maintains its Life.

Am I playing the Dada game*?

*[Dada is an art movement searching for subconscious thought and emotion through choice and chance. In the Dada game, a person thinks of a question. A second person thinks of an “answer”. The Answer person tells the group the answer. Then the first person tells the group the question. You then spend a lot of time and drink a lot of alcohol while trying to connect the answer to the question.]

July 29, 2008

Clues for the clueless #8

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , at 4:25 am by profart

Dear Students, 

If you are going to be so brash, lazy, and stupid as to cut and paste parts of your assignment from Wikipedia, please at least be so kind as to remove the links in the text. Plagiarism is not cool. Being stupid about plagiarizing is just sad. 


Oh, and it means you fail the course. Epic fail the course. 


Thank you. 

Art Prof.

June 30, 2008

Clues for the Clueless #7

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , , at 1:39 pm by profart

Hint: Any sort of assessment probably requires critical thinking skills to complete; even multiple-choice assignments.


Every semester, in at least one of my sections (and especially online), there arise the discussion of multiple-choice tests, and the skills required to complete them.


I use the multiple-choice option in my online courses for two main reasons. The first, to be honest, is that the computer grades it. Immediately. I can even put in little messages to send back to the students about what they got right and wrong, so they get instant feedback. This makes my life easier, as I don’t have 70-120 papers to grade each week, the computer kindly takes care of that for me. I need only review the papers to look for patterns of problems with the group or with each student. After all, I’m an adjunct. I don’t get paid much, and I would prefer to at least make close to minimum wage.


Second, I am good at writing them. I use a careful methodology of using the textbook, considering the language of the textbook, and providing choices and answers that reveal whether or not a student actually understood the reading- often using the language from the textbook. Skimming a chapter and trying to take my multi-choice tests is probably a bad idea. We don’t have lectures. As I add in presentations, I write questions about them, too; but the main source of your knowledge is the textbook, so it is important for you to not just read the words off the page, but to comprehend what you have read.


I have a child with hyperlexia. By the end of kindergarten, he could read at an early fifth grade level. However, his comprehension of material was closer to the early third grade level. He could read the words off the page- long words were no problem, complex sentences, no problem. But did he understand a word of it? That is harder. It is all fine to be able to say words. Being able to understand what those words mean takes an entirely different skill.


As the semester wears on, I expect the students to think more about what they are reading. We have come further in discussion. We have done more work to familiarize students with what I expect from them. This is a gradual process; I don’t just suddenly stick a bunch of super-hard, thought-provoking questions in their assignments. Actually, I start the process outside of the graded assignments, ratcheting up the discussion questions first, and then the assignments.


That is where the trouble begins. Even using the language of the textbook, students have difficulty connecting different part of the chapter to come to conclusions. For example, the beginning of the chapter on Gothic at discusses the cathedral as Heavenly Jerusalem on Earth. Then there is. Later in the chapter, a discussion of stained glass and Lux Nova, creating effects of miraculous light as a metaphor for God’s presence. Can my students connect the dots, and come up with the idea that stained glass is intended to enhance the idea of a cathedral as sacred space and Heavenly Jerusalem?


Usually the trouble revs up in the chapter on Egypt, when in the discussion, I ask students to discuss non-funerary art. To be able to do this, the student has to understand what “funerary” means. Then they have to find art in Egypt that is non-funerary.

Invariably, I get long threads about pyramids (which are tombs), mortuary temples (mortuary… funerary… um… ), tomb portraits (TOMB portraits, people…), and grave goods (grave… funerary…). Granted, there are limited examples provided of non-funerary art in an introductory textbook, but I would think a student could still be able to find them- especially if they are being specifically asked to find them. But no, they just babble on about whatever they feel like. Now, that is fine to start a new thread and discuss funerary art all you want. But discussing it in a non-funerary thread just shows me you have no idea what you are supposed to be discussing!


Now take that to the multiple-choice test; you are asked what the point of non-funerary art is. The choices include references to funerary art, plus a choice of “non of the above.” Guess what the answer is?


Yet I am inundated with email about how “tricky” the question is. Well, I guess if you have no idea what “funerary” means, and your mouse has an aversion to clicking the little button next to “e: none of the above”, that would indeed be tricky. But then, the point is to see if you understand that all of those answers are about funerary art, and not non-funerary art, that you understand the difference.


Yes, you have to think about it a little. The textbook doesn’t say, “This piece is non-funerary.” The fact that an item has no connection to death, death ritual, tombs, funerary rites, or the dead should, I think, tell you the item is non-funerary; just as I expect you to know an item in or around a tomb is funerary. And is therefore not non-funerary.


Your grade school multi-guess test this ain’t. Welcome to college. 

Clues for the clueless #6

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , , , at 1:03 pm by profart

Hint: If I cannot decipher your English, I cannot grade your essay. There is a really great way to help this problem, which I recommend in my syllabus, orientation presentations, and course information (and announce several times over the semester, both in live and online classes): have someone read your essay aloud. Whenever the person stumbles trying to read aloud, you probably have a problem in your writing that needs to be fixed. Be sure your reader is a fluent English speaker. 

No, this doesn’t often result in perfect papers. That really isn’t the point. The point is that the English will at least be adequate, so I can understand what is being understood. This isn’t an English class, and my English writing probably makes my English Prof readers cringe. The point is to be understood

This isn’t just an ESL problem. I get mangled English from everyone- mangled so badly that I cannot tell if they understand the concepts.  To me, exam are teaching tools. They allow me to evaluate what a student knows while teaching concepts of writing and recall, analysis and critical thought. I offer a few different formats for getting this information back and forth, because not everyone is the greatest at any one format. Multiple choice, short answer, essay, discussion… some things timed to check for recall, some things untimed to check for understanding and research. 

Essays are untimed. I provide the questions two weeks before an exam week begins. Then they have all week to enter their answer into the computer, or have until exam day to turn it in. For upper-level courses, i do timed essays to help them prepare for timed tests such as the GREs. Timed essays are very different creatures from untimed ones. I expect some mangling in timed essays as students untangle their thoughts. But untimed, do-at-home, at-your-leisure essays? For a major exam? The least you can do is look up the artist names and spell the time periods correctly. 

If you are discussing Leonardo the winchy in an exam, you are not going to get an A on that untimed assignment. It is just one symptom of a much larger problem: and I have yet to find an essay with one such symptom that doesn’t show many, many others. Displaying your ignorance- then complaining that you are not getting an A- isn’t going to help your grade at all

June 20, 2008

Clues for the Clueless #5

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , at 1:59 am by profart

Hint: if a professor asks you to both email and telephone if there a problem on your exam, and you have a problem, the best thing to do is to email to the email addresses provided as well as call, right away. If your professor doesn’t know there is a problem, s/he cannot fix the problem. 

Corollary: if you are having trouble with images loading, and it is Thursday or Friday of exam week, and students have all week to take the exam, and the testing centers are not open on weekends, the likelihood is high that the majority of other students have both attempted the exam and not had the problem you are experiencing. Therefore, it is a high likelihood that there is nothing the professor can do about your problem, it is a technical issue on your end. Calling the professor to report the problem is still a good idea, but keep in mind that asking the professor to fix the problem isn’t going to be helpful. Getting belligerent about the professor not fixing the problem is not going to improve anyone’s blood pressure. 

June 15, 2008

Ah, Summer Midterms

Posted in teaching revelations tagged , , , at 5:08 am by profart

Midterm approaches, and with it, the usual pile of emails of “do we actually have to take a test?”, “I’m going on vacation this week!” and “What about a review assignment?”

I usually give in on the review thing, since regular semesters have whole review weeks. Why you can’t remember all of four weeks’ worth of material is beyond me, but I think a benefit of the doubt isn’t going to hurt. Here’s a review. 

The problem is the heap of emails that will file in at the end of the semester asking for the review assignments to be counted as extra credit. 

Not a chance. 

Some time ago, I read somewhere- and I wish I could remember where- that extra credit was “an attempt to make up in quantity what was lacking in quality.” It was like being hit with the truth of what you suspected all along. Invariably when I allowed extra credit, when I was a young and hopeful lass of a teacher, what I would get was a pile of steaming junk and a lot of complaining about not getting enough credit for that crap. The folks who did good work didn’t need extra credit, the folks who really needed it didn’t do it, and I was left with useless extra hours of grading poorly done “writing” and answering nasty emails. 

No more. I now know why it was such a waste of time for all concerned, and I leave it be. 

In summer, midterm season has an extra intensity. I think because they have not been in the course as long, it is not yet as routine to them to answer the kinds of questions I am asking. There is a sense of panic, of unfamiliarity, as if students don’t yet have their sea legs. In a regular semester, we would have at least two more weeks of material ahead of us, plus that wonderful review. In summer, we’re already half-way done. 

At least I’m not teaching live. Live summer classes suck, because you have to go to campus and teach for two hours every day. No one has time to process anything before you are on to your next topic.