Anyway, after a while along came a student with a different sort of question. And now I will just say that you know I never write about the things individual students do and say, positive or negative, but in this case I feel the making of an exception is appropriate.
The student wanted to know how we break down assignment marks - what percentage goes on expression, what percentage on research, on ideas, argument etc. We don't do it that way and I told her so.
What?!? Huh? Why don't you. You should. Other departments do.
Well, we don't think you can separate 'expression' from 'ideas' in that way. That's kind of what we're about. Form and content depend on each other.
You can separate them, of course you can, and I can't believe what I'm hearing. Ridiculous. So how am I supposed to know what I did wrong?
Well, it's not ridiculous. And (beginning to get a bit warm now) even if you could separate them, why would assigning a separate number for each hypothetical category make a more meaningful grade than one overall number, plus the very detailed comments you will get on each essay? The comments will tell you what you did well and suggest ways to improve.
It's not scientific.
I agree with you. English isn't all that scientific.
Then it's all arbitrary, is that what you're telling me? And are the essays anonymised? Does the marker know the name of the writer?
It is NOT all arbitrary, we are very experienced at this, we use criteria that everyone is told about, and we cross-check with other markers in the department. Why do you think breaking it down into sets of numbers would be any less arbitrary?
Are they anonymised?
So it's the person who gets marked, not the essay?
No, it's the essay.
We need to know the writer personally so we can judge whether the essay might be plagiarised.
I don't see how that would help you see if it was plagiarised.
It's the only way to get an idea of what the writer is capable of.
I still don't see how it would help. And I can't believe you don't break down the marks. That's incredible and bizarre.
Well, you are very welcome to take it up with your course co-ordinator.
Oh, I'll be doing that at the first opportunity.
And that was the end of the conversation. As she left, the semicircle of students waiting behind her rolled their eyes and made various other grimaces of extreme irritation. The two girls next to the table explained how much they hated that sort of behaviour, assured me that they grasped the concept of different sorts of assessment in different subjects, and expressed their strong desire to never be in a tutorial with someone who didn't know when to shut up.
Actually, I don't mind being pressed to explain the logic behind institutional processes (though it's never fun trying to negotiate how to do that when the process in question actually IS a bunch of ill-thought-out rubbish) and so what I said to these girls was something to the effect of 'it's all good, airing that sort of challenge is a big part of what going to university is about.' But thinking it over, actually, no. Another at least equally big part of going to university is about holding your tongue long enough for the new information to make its way into your brain. If only in the interests of not shitting fellow students to tears. There's actually no student behaviour I loathe more, not even plagiarism, than when they display their irritation/boredom with one another's tutorial performances. Nobody ever comes out looking good from that sort of scenario.
While we're on the topic of epic fails, there is another reason the o-week questioner should have listened to my answers and here it is:
Yes, I am apparently a La Trobe Lecturer of the Year finalist, and all I've got to show for it is this certificate with its spectacularly grating example of the illiteracy I hate most, i.e. deployment of 'singular they' when the subject's identity and gender are not only known, but are actually identified in the very same sentence.
The other La Trobe certificate-recepient I know of was a person in Philosophy who the students call 'groovy Jack'. It was apparently some sort of student-voting popularity contest organised by a higher ed job recruitment firm, and I didn't know about it until it was all over, obviously, or I'd have told my classes to vote for me. The winner, someone in Queensland, got a trip to Fiji.