Thursday, 5 March 2009

You're doing it wrong!!!!

Last week I staffed the English information table at some sort of O-week session for Arts students. It was fairly monotonous, in the main, if eye opening; all the questions were variations on the same theme, namely, what are the books for the subject I'm doing? Which is interesting inasmuch as it implies that a lot of enrolling first-years (and it's the motivated ones who show up to o-week things) don't read even as far as the second paragraph of the course description. And that makes me wonder how they decide what subject they're going to do? Not a completely idle wondering since one of the two sem 1 subjects has drastically more students enrolled than does the other, for no good reason that i can deduce. (The names are very similar, so that's probably not it.)

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.


Captain Sweetiepie. said...

Wooh!- you betcha! As a past recIpient of your lectures I know your efficacy!

-Captain Sweetiepie.

innercitygarden said...

Congratulations. Shame you weren't able to rustle up a few more votes with some well-placed tutes at the pub, or the honeymoon would be taken care of.

w/v quatener - a person who insists on dividing into categories that which is perfectly reasonable when whole.

Armagnac Esq. said...

Well done.

And as for the social scientist, tell it to go study economics with the other quants.

lucy tartan said...

lol at the quatener.

Much as I love getting congratulated, I should also point out that this is just totally random and strange.

It's quite probable that it was just one student's vote that brought this on, because publicity about the contest seems to have practically nonexistent.

nat said...

I fully agree with Armagnac. That person is not going to enjoy studying literature AT ALL. She really needs to hot tail it to physics or engineering or something now, before she gets a step further.

Captain Sweetiepie The Undeleted said...

You are a marvellous teacher, truly.
It's your life not your living. You'd do it for nothing.

Zoe said...


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I've got a solution! Divide the 1500 word essay up into 1500 discrete assessible word-long components, each worth 0.066666666667%.

I'm wondering how this numerophile would do in a pass/fail subject.

David said...

I think you deserve the certificate for putting up with that conversation and keeping a level head throughout. I love it (read: hate it) when students (or anyone) assumes that 'arts' or social science material for that matter, based on argument/ hypothesis whatever is therefore arbitrary. I love (read: also hate) when people say 'but that's just one person's opinion'. Mind you, that student will go far, with their attitude and the mental (i.e crazy) affect it will have on the poor cringing just-want-herbal-tea-and-a-foot-rub small L liberals in any arts faculty, anywhere. It's alright for me to say that because I, without those specifics, are very much like that myself. I always grease a squeaky wheel, with the result that my less pushy students no doubt have to do without my attentions. It's probably not such a bad thing for them, and serves the squeaky ones right. Is this an example of a First Week of Teaching paragraph?

M-H said...

Distressingly, I had almost this exact same conversation with a staff member from Medical Education about a year ago. She was explaining to me why they were removing the writing essays from their curriculum. Apparently medical students don't need to be tested on their ability to do joined-up thinking, only on facts and deduction (symptoms to diagnosis to treatment). And essay marking isn't scientific and has be shwon not to be consistent, even when done by the same person, and therefore has no place in a medical faculty. I do despair sometimes.

Helen said...

Oh well done!

And IN YOUR FACE, bossy student!
-I don't know whether you read this blog, I've seen Pav in the comments there. Awful students galore! I hope you don't get Pineapple Boy!

(wv - plead, which is what Whatladder seems to get a lot.)

Miss Schlegel said...

I can't believe you didn't actually win! I spent a fortune voting for you on the Channel Ten phone lines!

Also, what David said, I mean, that's just his opinion.

Bwca said...

of course BossyBoots needs 'anonymised' work - if she alienates a marker right from O-Week. sheesh!

and what David said.

Winter Olympics Freestyle Skiing Tickets said...

I love getting congratulated, I should also point out that this is just totally random and strange.
love your Blog .