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.

Baddat

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.

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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.

Thanks!
Suz

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.

January 8, 2010

Redesign for a new student profile

Posted in teaching revelations, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 3:21 pm by profart

As someone who teaches intro-level classes, I feel it is part of my job to help students transition to the college environment. This is a broader challenge in the community college system, as there is a wider variety of “real world” situations students are transitioning in from, and a wider variety of college-level situations students are transitioning into. Most of the 4-year-college students are coming from a high school and into a group-living dorm situation, where they sometimes work a part-time job. A good chunk of community college students are coming in from situations involving work, family, and educational needs and transitioning into a world where college courses need to fit into the work, family, and educational needs. Even younger students are often working full-time, and increasingly don’t understand that you can’t work full-time and go to school full-time and expect to be giving your full effort on both fronts.

This transitioning has been an increasing challenge. To be honest, I thought it was me. Then I started reading blogs and talking to other colleagues, and hearing the same thing I was experiencing: an increasing number of students who arrive without an skills for reasoning and analysis, and increasingly poor writing and communication skills. When you up those science and math classes in schools, don’t neglect English and art! What good is making discoveries if you can;t communicate them to other people?

The new student profile includes kids who are really not on the college level. They require a lot more structure, a lot more spoon-feeding, a lot more specifics. You can’t just give them a task and have them discover for themselves how to complete it- they won’t do it. I am now realizing they can’t do it. Personally, I find that not only frustrating, but highly concerning. These kids have no problem-solving skills. They have regurgitation skills.

How do I transition these kids from a world where everything is plotted out for them, and all they have to do is get from point A to point B, to a world where they have to make their own decisions, decide where they want to go themselves, and use a map to get there? Especially since they seem to never have had a map in their lives?

And although the great influx of newly-out-of-high-school students is the major part of the problem, I am seeing these issues in “adult students” as well. Most of my plagiarism cases have not been “traditional age” students- it has been far more often the “adult” student, the older-than-usual, coming-back-to-school students who have proven to be a problem! How do I transition these students appropriately so that they understand this isn’t about slapping a grade on a transcript? Why are they even here, unless they want to learn? It used to be older students were great assets. Now they are increasingly huge liabilities.

I have made some redesigns to my classes to increase structure and flow, while encouraging individual exploration. I think the first step to striking out on your own is to strike out in a safe parameter. Instead of “write a paper about art”, we can start with “write a paper about the art of second-century Rome.” The student has a specific parameter to crutch themselves, but also have some wiggle-room to find something that interests them.

Now I just have to worry about the kids who have never had passion about anything, and so have trouble finding anything to interest them.

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 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 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.

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 28, 2009

Clues for the Clueless #23:

Posted in clues to the clueless tagged , , , at 1:16 pm by profart

Hint: If you are already on a professor’s shit list, and you know it, it is a bad idea to ask for extensions or “rule bending” of any kind. That kind of crap just pisses your professor off and makes you BLOG FODDER.

Ever have a student you just want to throttle, because they are so self-centered and thick-headed that you wonder how they managed to get through the admissions process to get into your college?

When I was young, one of the great lessons I learned is of you piss somebody off, the best course of action is to not annoy them further. In the world of college, if you already have crossed a line with a professor, your best course of action is to toe the line of course policy. Come to all the classes. Turn in all the work. Turn it in on time. If the professor provides you with something like an extension, despite your previous run-in, turn that work in quickly, by the new deadline set, and for the love of All Things Holy, make sure you turn in high-quality, spectacular work, to show respect for your professional and beneficent professor. Because if you don’t, and you were already on the Metaphorical Smack List, you will get moved up to the Report Student to Advisor and Department Chair List. Oh, and you’ll likely flunk that crappily done assignment you turned in late.

I think in my next syllabus, I am going to include a Late Work Policy. If you forget to bring the essay I kindly allowed you to do at home instead of having to complete in class without any books or notes, you may turn it in by midnight for a Five-Point penalty. Each day that passes thereafter will be another Five Points. Be aware that your points may run to the negative. (So if you have an essay worth 25 points, and you turn in a C-level essay a week late, that would be 19 – 35, or a -16, to be added into your exam score.)

Seriously. The rise in this kind of shit is getting so annoying, it is making me cuss on my blog in frustration.

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.

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