Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Paper paper?

Over at Easily Distracted ("More on Email") Timothy Burke notes that papers sent by email can tend to get lost from the rest of the pack, especially if you're shuffling them (or whatever the term would be for something that doesn't exist in paper form) between computers. Some of his commenters mention commenting on papers in Word, using WebCT or Blackboard or Turnitin to download them, with some preferring to mark up the hard copies instead. I often put them on a central server or on a flash memory stick.

It's true that having an electronic copy can make checking for plagiarism easier. Electronic versions also have a few other benefits.

1. If students ask you to write recommendation letters for them and you've commented on the electronic version, the paper is right there on your computer. Since some grad schools, law schools, and places of business ask about (or want to know about) communications skills, your letter for the student can speak more specifically to his or her strengths.

2. When student awards time rolls around, you'll have a copy of the paper to submit on behalf of the student, if that's how the process operates in your department.

3. For those of us who are more apt to lose a paper copy than an electronic one, it's a nice backup system.

One commenter mentions getting .pdf files and marking them that way, presumably in Adobe. That's only for the gold-plated-with-a-ribbon-on-it full version of Adobe, though. Although it'd be nice if that version were available to everyone, those who
have to make do with Adobe's free reader don't have that option.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

What is this e-mail thing of which you speak?

Last week an article in the New York Times decided to take up this vital question ("To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It's All About Me"), but the Chronicle of Higher Education has weighed in on the subject twice lately, too, once on IM in "The Professor as Instant Messenger" (registration required)and once a few months ago when it found that "some professors said they felt pressure from students to be even more responsive online" ("Professors Give Mixed Reviews of Internet's Educational Impact," 8/12/05). The responses on blogs have been interesting, too (example: thread at No Se Nada).

Disclosure: having had an e-mail address since 1989 or so when we chiseled out the letters on stone tablets and sent them via Bitnet, and being on IM for students for at least the past 5 years, I haven't seen this level of entitlement expressed by students. Ever. I have seen questions about grades, and a few years back a student would IM before class to snark obliquely about whatever s/he didn't like about the class, but the solution was simple: I turned off the IM client. The "24/7 professor" model could get to be a problem, as could demanding students, but are they really that demanding? When I can answer a question about an assignment in a 2-minute IM exchange, isn't it just easier to do so?

And why is the Chronicle (at least in its First Person columns) determined to feature only people who treat technology as if it had cooties, to use a fourth-grade analogy?

Tortoises and Hares

Dean Dad's hilarious and dead-on sendup of a comparison and contrast essay has made a lot of his commenters talk about their own reactions to this kind of writing. What it made me think of was the way in which writing classes--and indeed undergrad classes generally--have to be structured so that we don't favor the hares over the tortoises and vice versa.

You know the hares--some of your really excellent writers who have their minds in Sartre instead of whatever "writing about writing" 3-page essay is the topic du jour. Sometimes they have attitude to burn. Sometimes they see multiple revision workshops as a needless exercise for their papers--and sometimes they're right.

You know the tortoises--earnest folks who write the kinds of essays Dean Dad has parodied. Revision can help these essays, but sometimes it can only help a C- essay become a B- essay. The ideas, style, and the rest just aren't there as they are in an excellent essay. "But I worked on this for hours!" you hear them say. Well, I could practice skating for hours, too, but that isn't going to send me to the Olympics. Just about everyone can improve with practice and revision, and most papers will be the better for it, but that doesn't mean that the end result will be excellent.

This isn't to say that all good writers are hares and weak ones are tortoises, but sometimes this is true.

What to do? You can't put an A on a solid but uninspired paper unless "solid but uninspired" is at the top of your list of criteria for excellent writing.

Most of us probably have a solution that includes both: some work that is purely a reward for effort and conscientious behavior, such as reading quizzes (yes, yes, I know that quizzes aren't "authentic assessment"), points for turning in revisions, or journals/weblogs, and some where the merit of the work has to speak for itself, as in the final draft of a paper.

You try to be fair, but the dual-credit process doesn't make listening to a tortoise's "but I worked for hours on this!" or "my roommate's an English major and she said it was great" any easier, nor does it make watching a head-in-the-clouds hare flame out (despite warnings) any more pleasant.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Just for fun

Your #1 Match: INTP

The Thinker

You are analytical and logical - and on a quest to learn everything you can.
Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge.
Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat.
A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.

You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.

Your #2 Match: ISTP

The Mechanic

You are calm and collected, even in the most difficult of situations.
A person of action and self-direction, you love being independent.
To outsiders yous eem impulsive, surprising, and unpredictable.
You are good at understanding how all things work, except for people.

You would make an excellent pilot, forensic pathologist, or athlete.

Your #3 Match: INFP

The Idealist

You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.
Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.
It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.
But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.

You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Blog(lines) addiction

Bloglines is addictive. Even with the trusty Invisibility Cloak, it's all too available. I should be more selective in reading blogs, but as of now, I'll read anything that addresses
  • academics, students, etc.
  • blogs that talk about how hard people are working. Works like a guilt pill: it gets me started again.

    Blogposts I don't read:

  • Call me Jack D. Ripper, but no posts about bodily fluids (the details of the effluvia generated by colds, sick kids, and intestinal complaints seem to inspire bloggers to wax poetic--not a great idea).

    This is churlish, though, because I'm grateful that others write blogs (unlike this one) meant to be read by lurkers like me.
  • Sunday, February 12, 2006

    How long does it take?

    Academics are fond of pointing out that they do much more than cruise into class for three hours a week and read from their yellowing notes. The most common estimates range from 40-60 hours a week for academic work, at least in the humanities.

    We all know that terrible papers take a lot longer to grade than excellent ones, and I've seen estimates of grading times ranging from 6 minutes a paper (now that's FAST) to 45 minutes (for martyrs who spend more time than the student did).

    Has anyone ever quantified the amount of time that some other common writing tasks take, especially the usual reports, abstracts, recommendation letters, and the rest?

    An hour for an uncomplicated, 1-page recommendation letter for an undergrad student? Half an hour?

    Three hours or so for a tenure review letter (just the writing of the letter; this is AFTER you've read all the materials, made notes, etc.)? More? Less?

    How long does it take?

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    First post

    First post of the new blog.