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.

March 7, 2010

Clues to the Clueless #26

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , at 1:51 pm by profart

When completing work online, it is best not to be running extraneous programs on your computer. Technology is a funny thing, and programs tend to crash when you least expect. Or when you least want them to. Don’t be caught like this student:

Prof Art:
I don’t know what to do, i was taking the online test yesterday on a friends laptop when it crashed. They were downloading music while i was accessing the test when the computer shut down. I was at about 14-15 questions into the 20 question test, i was also saving after i answered them. We tryed turning the computer back on and it would light up to say corruption data loss. I had my essay saved on their computer and everything. Its a lesson well learned but i would like a chance to finish the exam if you could allow it or if not all just the majority percent of the test, the first part. Thank you for understanding, and whichever way you feel about this i’ll understand too.

Fortunately for this student, I do understand. And I also know they do not have their own computer, and are not used to online work and such. But seriously folks, learn the lesson before it happens to you: dedicated computer in stable environment. When taking your exam, go to the computer lab or library.

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.

February 28, 2009

Are there any stupid questions?

Posted in student stories tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:35 am by profart

Or, Five posts your professor really does not want to read the week before the exam.

1. “Do we really have to learn all of this stuff?” (Or its less common polite version, “Can you tell us what we should focus on?”)

2. “When is the exam?”

3. “Wow, has anybody done all this reading?”

4. “Do we have to know things like names and dates?” (Remember, I’m teaching art history…)

5. Any question that could be easily and immediately answered by reading the syllabus… which my students take a quiz on the first week of the course, and retake said quiz until they get a 100%. It includes the date the exams are due.

June 21, 2008

Midterms roll in

Posted in FERPA tagged , , , , at 4:41 am by profart

Yes, I like making fun of student writing. It makes the job of grading it that much better. Before I start on my posts about midterm essays and final essays, I just want to be clear: 

I rarely choose examples for THIS batch of midterms. I have been collecting quotes for years. This way, the writer and their writing are that much more separated and unidentifiable, and therefore FERPA folks can be happy. I won’t say “never”, because then you lose that little bit of questioning, and things are just that much more traceable. 

I rarely poke fun at students who are known ESL. In fact, I prefer to poke fun at students who are known to NOT be ESL. So when you see this screwed up grammar and wild word choice, remember that the writer is a native English speaker. It makes it that much funnier. 

I think pointing out bad writing is a great way to remind students, parents, and other teachers that students are coming to college writing like this, and that this is unacceptable. It is also a reminder that though I do not teach English classes, I am still teaching writing and research skills. It is my job to help these kids learn to write and analyze. This is the raw material I am sent. It is also a great reminder of why we need to be able to communicate and use language appropriately. 

No, I do not think it is unethical to laugh at student writing. I am forever grateful for the professors who took the time to slap me upside the head as an undergrad and say “Do these words make sense to you?” Or as my son’s kindergarden teacher puts it, “Here’s what your words said… [my son’s mangled attempt at trying to spontaneously create a sentence from scratch instead of quoting/echoing someone else]… does that make sense to you?”

Midterms are rolling in. Stay tuned!




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.