25 July 2006

Don't invoke Murphy!

Well, dear readers, your adjunct has inadvertantly invoked Murphy. In the process of this move, I've been having a hell of a time just getting things co-ordinated, so in my stupidity, I lamented "what else can go wrong?!"

...My desktop computer is having issues. Major issues. Like I'm going to have to do a partial rebuild issues. Now, it's about that time to do a rebuild... It's been about three years since I've upgraded, but this is not the time. It's end of semester. My students are smack in the middle of finals week...

And then I remember that the university I work for loaned me a laptop. Now, this laptop needs an OS rebuild because a few things are a little slow, but it's not asserting suicide like my desktop is, so on to the lappy I go.

So, the desktop is getting packed away and I will be living on the laptop for a bit. Some aspects of that irk me, but meh.

Now I must go grade like a banshee.

21 July 2006

Bad time to experiment, buddy

I just received an email from a student requesting that past assignments and quizzes be opened so he may have a chance at passing the course in order to maintain his scholarship.

Thus far, he has missed over half the assignments, the midterm, and over 75% of the chapter quizzes.

My policy, as well as the department's policy, is to allow a week slack to turn in late assignments. We're well past that week.

I do my best not to be an ogre. However, I am obligated by the terms of my employment contract to follow the rules of the department. Plus, I'm tired of students not planning out their online courses like they would a regular course. It is a self-paced method of instruction, and for the most part, also self-taught. A core course is not the place to experiment with the concept of "is this a fit for me?"

Now, I cut a lot of slack for students... But I only do this when they've been talking to me and letting me know what's up. Week 7 of an 8 week summer session is not the time to start being chatty. Sorry you're going to lose your scholarship. Sorry that your parents are going to have to fork over money for your education. Sorry about a lot of things...

Perhaps this will be the wake-up call that reminds you that when you hit college, you are officially an adult and have to do adult things.

Bloody prat.

18 July 2006

Seven Deadly Sins of Students - Sloth

Sloth: Students often postpone required readings and assigned preparations, making it hard for them to understand their classes the next day. Gradually, lectures and discussions that were once interesting start to seem boring and irrelevant, and the temptation to skip classes becomes greater and greater, especially when the classes are in the morning. Sometimes students arrive late with -- in my opinion -- insufficient shame, closing the door behind them with a bang. Slothful students regard themselves as full of potential, and so they make a bargain: "I will be lazy now, but I will work hard later." Like St. Augustine, students say to themselves, "Let me be chaste, but not yet." More on lust later.¹

Professor's Take:
We've all done this. Something was more important. A crisis came up. It was just too boring to get through. I will say that the one good thing that came out of my time in purgatory law school was learning how to read things that were dry and boring, and take notes on them.

Yes, your dear professor was one of those students. I would frequently attend class in undergrad having either just skimmed the material, if I'd read it at all. And yet, I did quite well in my history courses. But the reason that not reading the material is such a problem is that the lecture is designed to supplement the text, and vice versa. One does not equate to the other.

As an instructor, my frustration with this comes when that student that hasn't even dented the spine of their text comes to me and complains about their grade. Midterm, final, or even just a quiz or an assignment. You know the saying "if you didn't vote, you shouldn't bitch"? It's much the same way with doing the assigned reading.

Many students fail to realize how doing the reading helps them. Mainly because it is not an immediate gratification issue, and we all love our immediate gratification. If you have read the text and taken notes (more on this later), then you are better prepared to participate in the discussion. Or, at the very least, ask questions at the appropriate time during the lecture. And if you've taken notes while reading and while in lecture, when you go to office hours (which you should!), you can bring in your notebook with the unclear concepts marked and your professor should be able to explain the answer in a number of ways until there is one that makes sense to you. (If they can't, then you have a shit prof and I'm very sorry.)

Once you have a failure to understand the information, or be able to follow what's going on during lecture, it's very easy to 'zone out.' It's even easier to decide that you're better off not going. The original author is correct. It's a slippery slope and if you attend a university that does not have attendance requirements, or at least there's not one for the class, then it is very easy to set yourself up for failure.

And then come in and blame the instructor/professor for your poor performance. Don't do this. It makes you look like an asshole and it doesn't endear you to your professor. Academics are notoriously codependentt. If you come to us and ask for help, we're going to bend over backwards to help you. Except when you expect us to do the work. I remember writing a report in 2nd grade and asking my mom to 'help' me with it. Of course, my version of 'help' was for her to read the books, take notes, and create the outline. I have never forgotten what she said to me. "Honey, I've done second grade. I don't have to do it again."

Laziness is no excuse. Man up, take responsibility for your part, and do what you gotta do.

The door thing.

My biggest pet peeve ever. I loathed people like this as a student, and as a professor, it irritates me more. A few reasons. It interrupts my train of thought. It also makes me have to work harder. Students miss whatever I've been saying because of the interruption. And then they come up to me after class or during office hours and I have to rewind to where the hiccup was. As well as interpret the student's notes.

I think when it happens next², because it will, I'm going to pull a parental. I'm going to make them get up and go out and back in and close the door properly. And I'll do that to every student that makes that critical error. Yep. It's an interruption, but maybe something that's missing from the university experience is a little bit of social stigma for bad behaviour.

In short, the original author has hit Sloth right between the eyes. Students are notoriously lazy, especially new college students. It's amazing what huge amounts of freedom do for one's sleep habits, and one's awareness of time. I think a lot of this problem, on the student's end, could be solved with learning basic time management. Think Scotty on the original Star Trek. When he would have a problem and it needed to be solved, he would always quote a time much longer than what he thought he would need. Papers and reading are like that. Figure out how long you think it will take, then add 50-150% to it. Set aside the time, even if it's not all at once, and just do it. And have a hard copy schedule in which you write down due-dates. Remember to look at it. Stick to your timelines and schedules and you will probably find that you have more time than you anticipated, because you won't be spending so much time trying to work yourself up to doing what needs to be done. The semester is cumulative and unless you are expert at cramming or turning out 5 beautiful pages of prose in two hours, 'working harder later' just doesn't fly.

¹ Benton, Thomas H. 2006. The Seven Deadly Sins of Students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 12, 2006. http://chronicle.com/ (accessed July 18, 2006).
² One of the joys of being a web professor is that there are no doors to slam. I do have personal experience with this, though, for a previous teaching gig. Major pet peeve.

17 July 2006

Coming up next...

For the next class, I mean post, I would like you to have read 7 Deadly Sins of Students by Thomas H. Benton, as published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.


Because I am going to take on each sin, and give it to you from a professor's point of view... And that of a recently-been student.

Because I don't ramble and rant as much when I have a topic.

And because no one has gifted me with a question/topic to rant upon, so I have to find my own amusement.

And we have a review!

"A must read for anyone who has ever attended college, talked to a professor, or otherwise suspected that our instructors are not necessarily as benevolent as they seem, here is History Is Hell."

While my students have occasionally (and erroniously) referred to me as 'benevolent,' I always suspected that it was in the vein of Vizzini from The Princess Bride. You know. "You keep saying that word, I do not think it means what you think it means." [And here we pause for some fangirl happiness. Mmmm.]

Yes, there are times when I'm willing to cut a little slack. "Aw, you're PMSing really bad *and* your favorite cucumber patch has blight? Okay, three day extension."
But there are times when I'm not. "So this is the fifth grandmother that's died this year, right?"

Basically, here's the deal. Here's the Dirty Little Secret, part 2.

[looks around]
[drops into a conspiratorial whisper]

No, you idiot. Not like Soylent Green is people. ...Okay, thinking on some of my co-workers, kinda like Soylent Green is people. I digress.

I teach a social science, soft science, whatever you want to call it. If I don't take the chicken shit route and base my student's grades on rote memorization of dates and events, then whatever I have to grade on is subjective. Sorry. That's the way of the world. However, I am preparing them for the cruel, hard world of peer reviews, employee reviews, middle management with an IQ of a very inbred ferret, and dealing with the public in general.

C'mon. Why should *I* have all the fun of being based on a subjective standard. Share the love, I say!

So yes. If I am having a shitty day, your paper may get marked down. Thankfully, my shitty days are usually 24-hour shots, and I will go back and reread to see if that "D" I gave was appropriate for the quality presented. Another tip. If you email me or call me or drop in for my office hours and you're immediately aggressive to me, it really makes me want to grab the nearest fire axe and bury it in your developing noggin. I understand that constructive criticism can sound so horribly mean at times, but I'm actually writing it so you can do better and get a higher grade. Not because I want to see if I can make you cry. If that was my intent, I'd make you come up and pick up your papers during office hours and then I'd go over them with you.

...I'm tangenting again.

Let's rewind and use bullet points, shall we?

Students, here are some vitally important lessons.
  • You do pay tuition, but you do not pay my salary. If you, as an individual, don't sign up for my class, my pay rate doesn't go down. Get over the little power play you think that will create.
  • There is no discernable difference between a 92% and a 99%. Both register as "A's," and when I enter grades, there is no percentage value that the university accepts. It's a letter grade. Perfectionists be warned.
  • Similarly, some professors just do not give out perfect scores, or if they do, it is a rarity. Here's the reason: the grade is based on mastery of the topic, not regurgitation. Insight is key.
  • Personal responsibility goes a LONG way. If you've fucked up, missed the deadline because you didn't write it down, decided that things were more important than school... It happens. Take responsibility for it. Now, I'm not saying that you should be Washingtonian in your admission, but don't blame it on someone else. Ever.
    • As a female that is out in the dating pool, this rule also applies to you boys out there that happen to be adults. Maturity is a good thing. Use it.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you have been one of the lucky ones to be granted an extension, don't squander it. If you think you're going to blow the extension, for the love of all that is Heinleinean, talk to your professor. Don't tell me that your son died trying to swallow the family hamster, just tell me that you have a family crisis, or a death in the immediate family. I don't need details, but I do need you to keep talking to me. I am not a mindreader.
    • Conversely, do not assume that I care about the little things in your life. I am not your friend, though we may become friends after you graduate. I am your instructor, possibly your mentor, but while you are attending the school that pays my wages, we are not peers. No matter how close your extended family is, I don't care about what happened to your fourth cousin, twice-removed and how Buffy is all upset and has been calling you day and night. That's your shit. Deal.
  • Do not assume that college is like high school. Do not assume that you don't have to learn new skills to keep up with your classload. Look into helpful books, like What Smart Students Know. Also, if you have an LD like dyslexia or ADHD, inform yourself as to methods that help you retain information and better your study habits.
    • Also, for those with LDs, take advantage of your school's ADA-required assistance. It is a resource and one that those with any type of LD, even ones that you consider 'minor,' can work to their advantage.
I'm sure at some point I will go back and re-edit this into a cohesive expression of thought. But until then...

Class dismissed.

16 July 2006

Opinions are like assholes...

Dear Students:

While I appreciate your attempt to bring the past into the present, and I do know how 'street' it is right now to bash the President, your comparison between President Bush and Louis XIV is not a valid one. First off, your knowledge of history is general at best. Second, your textbook is a survey text and does not go into the detail that you would need in order to make an accurate comparison. (Nevermind that you have no idea how to review your other sources.) Third, unless you have a direct line and whatever the ultra-uber-top-sekret clearance is called this week, your views of present day events are skewed by the media, emotions, and are incapable of being presented in an unbiased manner.

Congratulations. You have put me in an awkward position. Now I have to find a way to tell you you're a dumbass, smack your pee-pee, and correct you, all without hurting your widdle bitty feelings. Because if I hurt your feelings, you go to my department chair and whine. Guess what. You're 18, you don't know shit about shit. I, who have had more educational and teaching experience than you, still don't know shit about shit. I do, however, know how to sort the shit better.

I do my best not to bring in my religious, political, sexual, whatever beliefs into the classroom. Do you know why? Because they pay me to teach, not to wax poetic on my belief structures. I am there to present you with information that is as factual as it can be (given that history is written by the winners), and show you how to analyze it, interpret it, and use it in a way that can be communicated to others. Do you really give a shit who I voted for in the last election? Or how I think the world could be run better? If so, I'll gladly get up in front of my class on Monday and tell them the way the world should work were I Grand High Empress of Everything.

But I get paid to teach. When I feel the need to have my opinions known, that's when I get my ass to the library, to the internet (thank god for e-publishing of journals), to the dank recesses of some older-than-dirt university across the pond. And if I'm lucky. If someone thinks that my opinions or ideas are neat enough... They publish me. And! And, if I'm really, really lucky, they pay me.

Find your own outlet, you post-pubescent gnat. Go do what I did when I was your age. Go out to Denny's, stay up all night sorting how best to solve all the world's ills. Don't harass your waitress. Tip her for the time you've been there, not the bottomless cup of coffee. And keep it out of my classroom unless there's a reason to it.

One Pissed Off Prof.

[If you don't know the rest of the saying, it's "everyone has one and they think their's doesn't stink."]

15 July 2006

Dirty little secrets

There is a dirty little secret in higher education. We professors are not given formal training on how to be a teaching dynamo. It doesn't matter what the medium is, whether it's teaching online, via video, or in-class. We are given no formal training.

I can honestly say that I was given more training for my waitressing gig at a chain restaurant. But I digress.

Instructors, if they have had involved and competent advisors during their Masters or PhD programs, might stand a better chance at knowing what they're doing because of that mentoring. That only works if the advisor is a good instructor themselves. Not always the case. As a result, there are now many books and articles available on the methodology of teaching. I hope to give reviews of the good and the bad and let you know what has worked for me and why.

The good news for students in higher education is that most of their professors start teaching while working on their Masters or PhD program. Professors also generally start teaching in a professional manner shortly after they have left the classroom as students. In the vein of "when I'm a parent, I'm going to do it different," good professors will attempt to avoid the pitfalls that they experienced as students. However, most of the time, it's not the big things that students react to, it's the little things. It's wearing a hat low on the forehead. It's looking down at your notes when a student is asking a question. It's when you as the professor are not being an active listener. Yes, a prepared professor is good. But we have to also be aware of what non-verbal cues we are giving our students.

In the beginning

I was planning on starting off with a little bit about me, what it's been like as an adjunct web instructor, how one sticks out a year of law school and then bails to go follow her passion for history...

But that will all have to wait. You see, last night I injured myself. It involved a cheese grater and my thumb knuckle on my right hand. (Guess who's a rightie!) It might be bad enough to need something other than a bang'd-aid, but my family has a long line of injury stubborn-ness. And scars are sexy!

So typing is slow going. I've already had to inform my students at Alien U that they're not getting commented papers back this weekend. Knowing them, they don't care for the most part. In the summer, my kids are in maƱana-ville, especially around the 4th of July holiday.

For your linky pleasure, I present the 7 Deadly Sins of Students by Thomas H. Benton, as published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Class dismissed.