Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hardass time--with bonus newsflash!

Every quarter I warn my students that while I seem to be pretty laissez-faire and relaxed about the course, I'm actually a hardass when it comes to grading. I inform them that the average grade on writing assignments is usually a B- or C. I tell them there are no rewrites. I do give them opportunities to come to me for help.

Usually I don't get to see the train wrecks of their writing assignments until midway through the quarter. However, here we are, week 2, and I'm already getting to see the loveliness.

Their assignment: Write a blog entry on a topic of their choosing related to the 1890s (I provided a list of recommended topics). Take an American Studies approach. Doesn't need to be an essay or have an argument, just interesting and informative.

I provided a sample blog entry. I told them (in writing) how many sources to use. I told them (in writing) their sources must be reliable. I specifically forbade them (in writing) from using Wikipedia. I told them (in writing) that if they weren't sure what an American Studies approach is, they either need to drop the class and take a lower-division American Studies course or come to my office hours to chat. I told them (in writing) that they needed to turn in their blog entries 24 hours in advance of class.

You can see where this is going.

So far, about 80% of the students have cited Wikipedia. Others cite Thinkquest or Geocities pages that themselves have no documentation of sources. Many are turned in late. They're riddled with misspellings. They're little history reports, drawn from encyclopedias. There's little interdisciplinarity in them. If I ask you to write a blog entry, for example, on X city at the turn of the century, and I ask for an American Studies approach, and I ask you to narrow the topic using your discretion, I don't want to hear about its chief industries and its population count. This isn't a friggin economics course! (I must admit I have received a couple of pretty good entries, including one on vibrators and sexual anxiety in the 1890s, but the majority are disappointing in one way or another.)

So today I get to kick butt and take names. I don't like to do this, but better now than later. In fairness to those whose blog entries are due later in the quarter, I will give those who already turned in their entries a chance to add new sources and an American Studies flair.

I'm thinking of disallowing online sources entirely (except for maybe a select list that includes the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress) for their essay assignment. And I'm going to make that assignment much stricter than I usually do.

Why, WHY do students think it's OK to sign up for an upper-division American Studies course without taking any American Studies prerequisites? They wouldn't do this in physics because they know they'd get their asses handed to them.

I used to be one of those highly accommodating instructors, scheduling copious additional office hours, reading entire student paper drafts (even when I wasn't teaching composition or lit), answering e-mail at all hours of the day and night. Once, when I was a TA for a particularly clueless professor, I held THIRTY additional office hours to help students make sense of a garbled essay prompt based on poorly presented course material.

But no more. I'm happy to go out of the way for students who are clearly engaged, have done all the course reading, and are appreciative of my assistance. But I just can't deal with the sense of entitlement anymore, the assumption that anyone can waltz into my class and expect to do well because the topic concerns everyday life.


Today the student newspaper reports that my university is specifically targeting "underrepresented students, including high-achiveing, transfer, educationally disadvantaged or low-income students." Ha! I love the idea that high-achieving students are underrepresented here. And this is at a university that only accepts the top 11-12% of high school students from the state. What the hell is going on in high schools these days?!?


Queen of West Procrastination said...

Two points:

1. You mean there isn't a required prerequisite for your course, like "Must have taken one of this list of American Studies courses"? Is there any way of requiring that in the future?

2. My online source policy (especially because I do history, and especially because I do the sort of history where there is SO much online garbage): I only allow online sources from scholarly journals available online (to be considered a "scholarly" secondary source) or from primary source databases, such as the Internet History Database. That's it. It's a lot easier that way.

I'm probably also a hardass. (Considering how grumbly I was because the prof for whom I was TAiing was reeeally hesitant to fail students.)

Leslie M-B said...

Your Royal Highness,

There is a prereq, but the registrar's office lets the students register for this course anyway. Bastardy online registration system!

I told the students to use reputable sources, but apparently they had no idea what that meant, even though I provided LINKS to some such sources (Smithsonian, Library of Congress) from the class blog.

Today I showed them how to access the databases through the university library website. Many of them appeared not to know they could access the databases from home, and some seemed surprised to see such resources at all.

Needless to say, tomorrow I'm calling the library to see if we can get an appointment with an instructional librarian in the main library's computer classroom. I used to take my first-year composition students to orientations to the library (the librarians will tailor them to course content--yay!), but silly me, I thought upper-division students would know how to use the library.

I don't know exactly why I thought this, as I have helped a few fifth-year seniors use the library databases for the first time. Argh. Argh argh.

Breena Ronan said...

I'm being a hardass too. I gave the students who came to my review section a vocabulary list but no definitions. Instead of giving them an outline of facts to know I gave them a set of questions to know but not the answers. I think they were disappointed. It seems straight forward to me, but they seem expect the answers fed to them.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

My new school's online registration system has a tendency to do that, too. And so, on my first day of my German course (where this HAD to be your first course, because it was meant as an overall introduction), my prof asked for a show of hands for who had taken 100-level German courses within the past decade. About half the class raised their hands.

"Well, that means you can't take this class," he informed them. And then he directed them to the department, where they could choose a more suitable course.

I wonder if I'd have the guts to do that?

This is why I loved my old school's registration system: you took a form to an office, and someone entered it in for you. And, if you didn't have the required pre-requisites, or if you were taking any 400-level courses at all, you needed appropriate signatures. It prevented all this mess.

Seeking Solace said...

Three is nothing wrong with being a hard-ass!

I limit the number of Internets sites that students can cite to two and absolutely no Wikpedia. I tell them that they will lose points if they do not follow that instruction.

Leslie M-B said...

Yes, usually I, too, forbid internet sources. But since this is a class BLOG, I thought, what the hey, let's see what they do with the links and whatnot.

But noooo. . . They just don't get it. Just. don't. get. it.


I don't know how I'm going to grade these.

Breena Ronan said...

Why is it so hard for students to understand different types of sources? It doesn't seem that complicated to me. Also, I'm upset by the number of students who think that they can complete a research paper without going to the library. Maybe if they went to the library a librarian would explain some things to them! I'm starting to think that all students should spend more time in the library. If you can't elvaluate the source of information than the internet is just a big mess, chimps with typewriters.