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teaching – The Salt-Box http://www.jbj.wordherders.net "A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box."--Uncle Pumblechook Thu, 09 May 2013 17:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Draft Booklist for a Last-Minute First-Year Writing Course http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2011/01/11/draft-booklist-for-a-last-minute-first-year-writing-course/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2011/01/11/draft-booklist-for-a-last-minute-first-year-writing-course/#comments Wed, 12 Jan 2011 04:02:13 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/?p=412 Continue reading ]]> Lego X-Men

Photo by Flickr user Rob Young / Creative Commons licensed

As I’ve whined on Twitter, my digital humanities class this semester was canceled*, and has been replaced with a section of first-year writing.  Since classes begin on the 24th,  I need a book order immediately, and a syllabus soon after.

My normal strategy in first-year writing courses, since I normally teach in the first-year experience program, is to make the class be about college.  We read a lot about higher ed, from a variety of perspectives.  And that works pretty well with first-semester students. In the spring, though, the students have been around for a semester, and I’ve never had good luck with that approach under those circumstances.  (And it’s not an FYE section anyway–it’s just a regular section of 110.)  I needed a new theme, and thought that comic books would be an interesting way to go.

Here’s the draft booklist for the class:

We’ll also do some webcomics, but I don’t know which ones yet.  (Definitely Vision Machine, though, since my 7-yr-old loves Greg Pak, and he secretly makes all my curricular decisions.) If you’ve got thoughts, let me know!

(I’ll acknowledge straightaway that the course is shaped to a certain extent by “stuff I know really well without having to do a dramatic amount of prep for, since ohbytheway I’m still union president, and teaching comp while doing that is going to be hard.” The course isn’t providing an introduction or a proper survey, but just enough to be interesting.)

*The course suffered from a perfect storm: it doesn’t count for *anything* in the major; it meets on MWF in the first semester of a new MW schedule (all classes with Friday sessions took a hit); and I wasn’t around in the fall to hype it, especially in light of the other two reasons.

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Professor-funny http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/18/professor-funny/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/18/professor-funny/#comments Sun, 19 Jul 2009 00:23:14 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/07/18/professor-funny/ Continue reading ]]> In his mailbag yesterday, ESPN’s Bill Simmons offers up a taxonomy of the different ways athletes can be–or, painfully, not be–funny.  For example:

5.0 — Learned Funny
Humorless people who learn how to be adequately sports-funny in the right situations by mimicking the behavior of others, whether it’s by developing an overboard fake laugh, yelling “Daaaaaaammmmmn!” after someone else makes a joke, repeating funny jokes that other people said first, or making virtual videos of ideas that other people wrote. They can fool you on the right day. Example: Kobe Bryant (for every non-Lakers fan).

This reminds me of a distinction I’ve often talked about with various people–the difference between a professor who’s funny, and one who’s professor-funny.  (I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t find it.) Unfortunately, the former are wildly outnumbered by the latter.

People who are professor-funny are typically only good at two kinds of jokes: wordplay, and mercilessly unpacking the stupidity of others.   Their humor always has the same message: “Look at how smart I am.”  (A subcategory of ‘professor-funny’ is the panderer–the person who trots out broad comedy simply because “that’s what the kids these days understand.”  That’s just the inverse of the professor who mocks the stupidity of others.)  And, look, who doesn’t love a pun?  And sometimes, well, sometimes people really do stupid stuff, and it’s fun to take it apart.  Colleagues who are professor-funny can almost always make laugh.  But I find an exclusive diet of this humor sickening. It’s like Drake’s apple pie.  I love ’em–but, if I had ’em every meal?

I think students recognize this humor for what it is, and generally aren’t particularly fond it.  To put it slightly differently, while they might laugh at a particular joke, it’s always tempered by the possibility that the prof’ll turn on them next.

Professors who are genuinely funny are harder to sum up–after all, many of them also enjoy puns, or occasionally mocking the ignorant.  But the most salient characteristic of this group is a willingness to tolerate self-mockery, or having the class occasionally laugh *at* them, rather than just *with* them.  It signals humanity, because, as Scott Adams once said, “everybody is an idiot.”  I actually believe that at least *some* heirarchy in the classroom is important, but owning your own idiocy shows the truth: that such heirarchy is temporary and local, rather than, like, ontological.  You’re not claiming to be a better person, just to know more about topic X.

Lord knows there’s no need to be funny.  And if you’re not funny, you shouldn’t try. (There are lots of ways to signal humanity.)  And this is, obviously, a touchy subject.  But if humor is part of your pedagogical toolkit, I do think that there’s something to be said for occasionally letting the students have a laugh at you.  Not all the time, and sometimes the rapport with a particular class just isn’t right–but every now and again.

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Graff & curricular mixed messages in English depts http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/04/13/graff-curricular-mixed-messages-in-english-depts/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/04/13/graff-curricular-mixed-messages-in-english-depts/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2009 02:59:28 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/04/13/graff-curricular-mixed-messages-in-english-depts/ Continue reading ]]> Mark Bauerlein posted over the weekend about Gerald Graff’s presidential address (some scrolling required) to the MLA.  The argument will be familiar to anyone who’s read Graff’s Clueless in Academe: The default attitude of many professors is a kind of pedagogical libertarianism, whereby we all agree not to look too closely at what goes on in one another’s classrooms.  In part this arises from our differing specializations (esp. if you’re not at a research school, you might well be the only person in your field in your department), and in part it arises from the real difficulties of evaluating teaching.  Here’s Bauerlein summarizing Graff:

 Graff focuses on the end point, that is, how it comes off to students. They get “curricular mixed messages,” he says, “clashing stories . . . from the faculty.” In the episode above, the student received from Graff and the other teacher contrary assignments, and he was confused. One teacher seemed to “undercut” the other, forcing the student into what may have seemed senseless adjustments from morning to afternoon (“relativists at 10 o’clock and universalists after lunch”).

I tend to agree with Graff and Bauerlein that this is a real problem–not because there should be One True Approach to literary/cultural studies, but because conflicts between approaches are too often buried or unacknowledged.

We can probably turn the screw a notch tighter here:  Part of the difficulty is that we often claim to be teaching the same skill, when in fact the methods involved are worlds apart.

For example: It absolutely kills me anytime I hear or read people say things like, “well, no matter what, we all value close reading.”  That’s either untrue, or what is meant by “close reading” is something so general that it can only mean something like “being prepared for class.”  Most of the time this isn’t that big a deal–if you’re sufficiently upfront about how you’re using a term in your assignments, then students will catch on pretty quickly.  (I will say that this is one of the reasons I call one of my regular assignments an “explication paper,” rather than a “response paper.”)  Sometimes, though, it’s more frustrating: I believe at least some graduate students have had their prospectuses held up partly because of differing assumptions about what “close reading” would mean, or about what it means to apply a theoretical model to a literary text.

This isn’t a point about theory/non-theory approaches.    (Remember, although I play a sane person on my blog, I’m secretly a card-carrying [well, button-sporting] Lacanian . . . ! )  I’d say, instead, that it’s simply worth remembering that the fact that “everyone knows” a term or skill doesn’t mean that everyone knows the same thing about it, or deploys it in the same way.  Ask any 5 psychoanalysts about the death drive, say, or about the interpretation of dreams, if you want an example from another field.

In lieu of an ending, a couple of disconnected points:

  • This infra-disciplinary variousness makes assessment . . . let’s say a challenge.  Say, for example, a department wants to assess how its graduates “read closely.”  Good luck with that!
  • This is probably an argument for prolix assignments/prompts.  I don’t think there’s any reason to think that a rising junior or senior, asked for a close reading of a literary text, will know what that means, because it means too many different things.
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Learning from our public schools: What matters in evaluations http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/29/learning-from-our-public-schools-what-matters-in-evaluations/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/29/learning-from-our-public-schools-what-matters-in-evaluations/#respond Mon, 30 Mar 2009 03:14:01 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/29/learning-from-our-public-schools-what-matters-in-evaluations/ Continue reading ]]> So, this weekend we received a document with two forms: the teacher of the year nomination and a parent survey, largely about satisfaction with the school.  We’re pretty happy with the school, and very happy with the teacher, so no worries there.  (Readers with long memories will recall that I think the district . . . makes poor decisions, but we like our kid’s school.)

The parent survey is labeled “Holmes Brand Survey,” and, after a demographic question about grade-level, the first two questions are . . . wait for it . . . these:

Holmes School focuses on

  1. Leadership
  2. Higher Order Thinking Skills
  3. Science and technology
  4. Global Community

Holmes School’s (motto/slogan/tagline) is:

  1. Raising Readers!
  2. A formula for success!
  3. Launching Leaders!
  4. Scholars at Work!

(The answers, for the curious, are “Science and technology” and “A formula for success,” respectively.  And, yes, the fact that the correct answers have lower-case words is reproduced faithfully from the handout, as if it’s a tell.)

After these critical questions come more usual questions about whether the child’s being challenged, etc.

I hear the Connecticut State University system is redesigning and standardizing our student evaluations–I think we should look to the public schools!  Start all student evaluations (sorry, student opinion surveys [!]) by asking them to correctly identify the motto of the system and of their particular university.*  Because that’s what matters in education: maintaining your brand.

</sarcasm>

*Every single day it amuses me a little that my school’s slogan/motto/tagline (“Start with a dream. Finish with a future.”) is basically indistinguishable from my father’s community college’s (“From here, go anywhere.”).  I’m *very* easily amused.

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Deploying the iPod Touch in a classroom http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/26/deploying-the-ipod-touch-in-a-classroom/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/26/deploying-the-ipod-touch-in-a-classroom/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2009 18:58:04 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/26/deploying-the-ipod-touch-in-a-classroom/ Continue reading ]]> Put the case that you were piloting the widespread deployment of iPod Touches in a classroom.  You can assume the following:

  • Two sections of the same class will be taught in a 5-week period.  For the sake of argument–let’s call that course World Lit I, a 200-level course for both majors and nonmajors.
  • Both courses will teach the same syllabus, and, broadly, the same assignments.
  • In one section, every student and the instructor will have an iPod Touch.  In the other, not so much with the iPod Touch.
  • It’s definitely an iPod Touch, not an iPhone.  No cheating!  (Perhaps your governor has banned new cell phone contracts.)
  • You’re at a regional comprehensive public university.  You can assume the professor’s down for whatever, but you *cannot* magically assume s/he can throw significant amounts of resources at this one class.  (E.g., no fair coding an application in 2 months during a semester.)
  • Update: You can also assume that the default class location has good wireless access, and that the college has a Blackboard/Vista license, and so can support the new Blackboard app.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to accomplish two things:

  1. Showcase the tech, but *also*
  2. Meaningfully assess its utility in the classroom

What kinds of things would you like to see in the class?  What kinds of information would be useful to you in persuading colleagues to adopt / not adopt the iPod Touch?  What might you do to make the experiment a helpful one for everyone?

At present, let’s still call this hypothetical, but let’s also call the question a serious one.

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Changing attitudes among students and faculty http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/23/changing-attitudes-among-students-and-faculty/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/23/changing-attitudes-among-students-and-faculty/#respond Tue, 24 Mar 2009 03:13:48 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/23/changing-attitudes-among-students-and-faculty/ Continue reading ]]> Earlier this month, UCLA reported on their triennial survey of faculty attitudes and values, “The American College Teacher.”  (Here’s the study; here’s the InsideHigherEd.com writeup.  Quotations below are from the latter.)  The above-the-fold news from the study was that faculty are apparently interested in promoting personal change:

Compared to three years ago, faculty members were more likely to believe it is part of their job to “help students develop personal values” (66.1 percent, an increase of 15.3 percentage points over 2004–05), “enhance students’ self-understanding” (71.8 percent, a 13.4 percentage-point increase), “develop moral character” (70.2 percent, a 13.1 percentage-point increase) and “provide for students’ emotional development” (48.1 percent, a 12.9 percentage-point increase).

Some of these sound pretty . . . um . . . squicky.  I’m pretty sure that I don’t want anything to do with students’ emotional development, and I’m *certain* that I don’t have much to offer students by way of “develop[ing] moral character.”  I also have a hard time understanding how I could help students “develop personal values.”  (And, lest you think I’m just another misanthropic jackass . . . I teach in the FYE program.  I helped pilot learning communities program at my school.  [Ok, “misanthropic jackass” probably still fits, but student success means a lot.])  When people talk about the transformative power of education, they’re supposed to be referring to its self-transformative power.  As Adam Phillips once said about psychoanalyis, the illusion that teaching too often leaves in place is the belief in the power of the teacher–which is a problem.

But it turns out that the same center at UCLA releases another study, “The American Freshman.” (Study; InsideHigherEd.com report.)  And there’s a question in this other survey that arguably speaks to the shifting faculty interest:

The survey also contains questions about students’ personal goals, often depicted in the report as a struggle between “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” and “being well off financially.” During the counterculture years of the ’60s and ’70s, students often emphasized the importance of having a meaningful life philosophy, an interest that receded over the next two decades as financial concerns surged. In the last three years, students increasingly have said that both areas are important, a change that analysts attributed mainly to women’s rising interest in financial success.

Slightly more than half (51.4%) of current freshmen said it was important to develop a life philosophy and more than three-fourths (76.8%) said it was very important or essential to do well financially.

It would be interesting to introduce a question about helping students develop a life philosophy into the faculty survey.  I tend to read the answers quoted above as proxies for “life philosophy,” which makes sense: It’s not that faculty really want to build students’ moral character *directly*, which would be weird; rather, we know that an education in the liberal arts can help students embark on a program of self-transformation.

(I think Mark Bauerlein’s critics run past this point too often: That students today seem much less interested in self-transformation or self-improvement as a goal, at least according to all of these longitudinal measures. I don’t think it’s Twitter’s fault, but he has a point.)

My chair (yes, that’s right–my chair blogs!) was on this story a while ago,  which isn’t surprising since the two of us argued just this point in the local paper three years ago.  Faculty might be more interested in helping students change than they’ve ever been, but that can be understood as a defense of relatively traditional educational values against an increasingly pre-professional reduction of the undergraduate curriculum.

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A small proposal for (esp. junior) faculty http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/17/a-small-proposal-for-esp-junior-faculty/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/17/a-small-proposal-for-esp-junior-faculty/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2009 03:21:10 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/17/a-small-proposal-for-esp-junior-faculty/ Continue reading ]]> Everyone in graduate school gets drilled into their head that they should be good to the department secretaries.  Department secretaries can accomplish all sorts of excellent things–they can expedite your travel paperwork, teach you the funky new copier, make sure your stipend money doesn’t stop when your funding department changes . . . they’ve got their hands on lots of levers.  They’re great.  And, in case you ever get a teaching job, it’s good practice, since department secretaries can help you with all manner of things–like getting you a good room to teach in, expediting your travel paperwork, &c.  Quite often, especially in your first couple of years, aside from filling in personnel forms in your first week, the department secretary may well be the only university staff member you deal with on a regular basis.

One of the things I have tried to be mindful of over the past couple of years is university staff outside of departments.  They used to terrify me, and they still scare me a bit.  They promulgate rules designed to cover contingencies I can’t imagine, and they deal with faculty, students, and state auditors–three audiences with very different interests.  Plus, they often like to use the phone to accomplish work-related tasks, and I hate the phone.  (My current voice mail quite literally begs people to hang up the phone and send me an e-mail.)

But as I’ve worked on a couple of committees that are populated by faculty and staff, and as I’ve worked on events that have occasionally required massive contributions and favors from administrators and staff, I have generally come to think that it’s important to know these people and to understand their jobs.  And not just because you may one day need a favor.

What’s interesting–aside from the normal interest one might take in people and their jobs–about the administrative side of the house is that it is, in many ways, an embodied history of the university and its decisions.  Policy X is housed in this department rather than that one because of historical contingency Z.  Policy exception Y, touted as exceptional customer service by one department, ends up interfering with another’s mission-critical task.  Rule 42, which seems intuitively stupid to any right-thinking faculty member, is *also* hated by the staff, but they have to do it anyway.  Rule 43 emerged because faculty members a, b, c, d, e, and f over many years refused to address circumstance foo.  And so forth.

I was at a meeting of such a committee a couple of weeks ago, and one of the participants said that the most amusing thing about the meeting was watching my face as I processed all the sausage-making that goes into making certain kinds of decisions, given the resource constraints that we operate under.  That experience is incredibly useful.

Don’t take me the wrong way: I don’t know much about how things work, and I have precisely no power on my campus.  I know that there is *always* going to be conflict between faculty who tend to improvise and a state-regulated bureaucracy that needs to have paper trails.  And I lean *way* too much on a handful of people who–out of kindness and out of a shared desire to make awesome things for students–are able to fix things when I just start beating my head against the desk.  And I don’t want you to get the idea that if you just walk across campus in someone else’s sensible shoes that all of your campus’s problems will vanish.  That can’t happen, especially in times of budgetary crisis and recission.

But I think that in addition to working on committees with faculty (which I’ve written about before), it’s worthwhile to find ways to connect with staff.  Maybe that’s through clubs.  Maybe it’s through the union, if you’re on a unionized campus.  (Or, if you’re on a campus with multiple unions, through inter-union collaboration.) Maybe it’s through big, honking committees. Learning about how your university works, not from gossip (which privileges scandal and vitriol), and not through the one time you need a particular office to process something, is a remarkable experience.  Because the staff serve the faculty and students as a whole, rather than just a department, they are the living memory of the institution.

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Satisficing & grading http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/16/satisficing-grading/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/16/satisficing-grading/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2009 01:05:08 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/16/satisficing-grading/ Continue reading ]]> I’m slow with the grading.  Some of it is garden-variety procrastination; some of it is bad planning (assignments for different classes coming in at the same time); some of it is overcommitments elsewhere; some of it is figuring out the assignment design before figuring out how the grading will work.  But a big part of it is overcommenting.  On most papers, I give three different kinds of feedback: a rubric score, interlineal comments (now delivered, in most cases, via track changes), and a terminal comment.

On the one hand, intellectually I know perfectly well that this isn’t necessarily helpful.  On the other hand, when I was a student I felt very strongly that comments = professorial love and engagement, so it’s hard for me to let that go.  Beyond that, the biggest problem with a lot of student writing is that it seems to have been produced with no thought of a reader.  It’s as if churning out material of a certain length is good enough, and so the plethora of comments is supposed to say, “Oi! Live reader here!)”

The track changes feature in Word actually makes matters worse in one way: If you change a formatting aspect of the paper (say, the margins), then it produces a comment about that for every single paragraph in a paper, so it looks like you’ve commented a lot.  But then it looks like all you’ve done is look at formatting, so I always make extra comments to convey that I read the paper carefully.

I also don’t think of comments as negative; often, I’ll use comments simply to suggest alternate lines of thought or stylistic possibilities.  (How else are the students going to get them?)

This really isn’t sustainable, however.

The other day, I re-discovered this word: satisfice, or to be happy with a good-enough solution, rather than one that is maximally optimal.  It reminded me that my current grading practice is a mostly failing attempt at maximizing the amount of possible feedback on any given assignment, which leads to two different counterproductive effects: it takes too long for me to grade, and students may well feel overwhelmed.  (Although very good students usually point to this overcommenting as the thing they like best about my teaching.)

What I need to do, then, is to develop a satisficing strategy: knowing where I’ve said enough to suggest opportunities for revision (and, to be candid, to justify the grade), but in such a way that it’s acceptably fast, light, and flexible.  Students who want more comments can always come in and talk to me anyway, right?

How do you know when enough’s enough?

(There’s always Ross’s solution . . . .)

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Online quizzes for lit classes http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/10/online-quizzes-for-lit-classes/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/10/online-quizzes-for-lit-classes/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2009 20:31:54 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/10/online-quizzes-for-lit-classes/ Continue reading ]]> A couple of years ago, I began requiring online reading quizzes in my 200-level lit classes (Brit Lit II, plus topics-based courses for nonmajors).  This year, I’ve extended it to any class where there’s assigned reading.  As usual, there are some gains and losses.

Here’s a sample question:

According to Keats, a poet is:

  1. A man speaking to men
  2. A chai-drinking beret-wearer
  3. An unacknowledged legislator of the world
  4. The most unpoetical thing in existence
  5.  An eolian harp

People who’ve read their Keats letters recently will recognize the answer as #4, though 1, 3, and 5 are definitions offered by other romantic poets we’d read earlier in the semester.

15/51 students who took this quiz (out of 59 enrolled), or ~29%, missed it.   Of these, 10 picked Wordsworth’s “a man speaking to men,” and 5 chose “an unacknowledged legislator of the world.”  The rest got it right, which isn’t surprising because the question uses verbatim language from the assigned reading.

Here are the gains:

  • When there’s a quiz, more students do at least some of the reading, or at least it seems that way based on class discussion.
  • The frequency of the quizzes reinforces my general shift toward assignments that are more frequent, but with lower stakes.
  • The course management system does the grading automagically, so no grading for me!  (Because, like all sane people, I hate the current version of Blackboard/Vista, I use Moodle to do this.)

Here are the losses:

  • Wow, is writing quiz questions a pain in the ass!
  • Course management systems excel at grading defined-answer questions, such as multiple choice; I would have to review or manually grade any other kind of answer.  So all the questions are multiple-choice.
  • Not that this ever happens, but if I get behind, then I have to figure out a way to account for that in a fair way.  Usually what I do is assume that I gave a quiz, and students all got the questions right.  (Because I don’t like to punish students for my own failings.)
  • The quizzes are supposed to be easy, to compensate for other assignments that are harder.  The idea is to offer a carrot for doing the reading.  Nevertheless, a lot of people will miss any given question.  This is depressing.
  • I tend to ask questions that don’t require much interpretation, because I started this in classes that weren’t necessarily for majors.

Apparently people in other disciplines have quiz questions that they can simply download from the publisher and plug into their course management system.  If a similar solution exists for a literature anthology, I’ve yet to see it.  (I use Broadview, and they offer multiple choice questions for students to review, but they’re in PDF format, and they give the answers.  Similarly, Norton offers a quiz students can actually take, but it’s pegged to a period as a whole, not individual authors.)

And there’s no bank of questions, at least not that I’m aware of, for all the myriad texts one might teach.  (E.g., all of Trollope, or Kathy Acker, or whatever.)

Someone who developed such a bank–or, that is, someone who coordinated such a bank of questions, able to be plugged in to Vista, Moodle, & Sakai–would be a hero.  It could just be a site where people upload questions from their various courses, and other faculty could download them and manipulate them as they see fit.

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About online grading http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/04/about-online-grading/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/04/about-online-grading/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2009 04:18:59 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/04/about-online-grading/ Continue reading ]]> Katy asked for a post about grading with the computer, and I always try to honor requests, so here goes:

Online grading doesn’t save me any time, although that’s probably because I do it badly.  The main benefits I get from grading this way are two: Students can read my comments, and I get sick less frequently during the semester.

Some crucial points:

  • I take files in just about all formats.  This is probably a mistake, for two reasons: First, as far as I can tell, no one application opens all file types, and so I’m always switching  apps.  Second, I have to adapt my grading based on the file type.  For example, between 10-20% of the papers in any section arrive in Microsoft Works format.  With documents in Word (or Pages, or Open Office, etc.), I can grade using the “Track Changes” functionality.  But not with Works.  That makes things slower.  It’s my understanding that other faculty specify a file format.
  • I both use a rubric and offer copious marginal comments.  This only gets worse when I get behind, because then I feel as if I have to justify taking so long by offering super-detailed marginal commentary.  This is stupid.
  • I don’t have any macros, templates, or text expanders set up to automate stuff I type all the time.  This is stupid.
  • I used to have a somewhat complicated rubric that depended on math. This turned out to be counterproductive, because, instead of grading faster, I spent more time trying to game the rubric so it matched my judgment of what the paper should get.  But I liked the categories and descriptions, so I’ve kept the rubric as a checkbox, and just assign the grade the paper should get.
  • All told, it probably takes me about 30 minutes a paper for short ones, and as much as an hour for longer ones.

So, to recap.  If you would do online grading successfully, do it as differently from me as possible:

  • Be strict about file formats.  Even naming conventions end up making a difference–I’m *always* spending a few minutes going through and changing all the files named “Paper1.doc” to something more helpful.
  • I’d use a rubric, or something comparable, but if you do, minimize interlineal comments.
  • Help your word processor help you: Figure out what comments you write over and over again, and set up a macro of some sort to insert that text automagically.

Here’s an annotated list of links with more information about various approaches. If anyone has shortcuts or tips, I’d be glad to hear them!

Update the next morning: I woke up with the same thought Tom had (in comments): monitors matter.  I’m a *lot* more efficient on campus, with my dual 24″ monitors, than at home, on my MacBook.

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