Category Archives: marking

Covert Genius Offers me a Deal.

So.

My Covert Genius who was butthurt when I didn’t recognize his writing ability from the half-formed ideas he wrote in his emails, or the entitled ponitificating he did in his blog style journal entries, finally turned in his essay.

You know where this is going, right?

It was full of pontificating, and assumptions about groups of people, and his MLA was all up the wazoo, which, he informed me, was my fault because the library handout which 90% of students find perfectly comprehensible wasn’t good enough for him, nor was the MLA section in his textbook, so he had to MAKE UP his own style which included putting random words in brackets. It was also full of subjective language, and pronouns, which I had already warned him about when he told me his topic (typical snowflake, he wanted to write about his own generation and how awesome they are).

In short, it was pretty much dreckitude, as Andre Leon Talley would say. And because of his previous displays of butthurt, I was very kind when I marked it, and polite in my comments, and gave him an overly generous B-. Which, I should know better.

Man, if I thought he was butthurt before, you should see the level of butthurt now. It is like this much:

This is the worst mark anyone has ever given him! (I believe this. He is a browbeater, and I think a lot of his previous profs have probably caved.)

I suggested that he needed more evidence to support his claims, and he responded that evidence would “clutter up his argument”. His argument is WAY more important than any actual facts in the case. (Are you smelling a snowflake?)

I criticized his use of overly emotional language and hyperbole. In a research paper. OF COURSE HE IS EMOTIONAL! HE CARES ABOUT THE TOPIC! YOU KNOW WHY? HE IS WRITING ABOUT HIMSELF!

He’s really mad that I don’t recognize his previous award-winning genius. He’s not asking for 100% (although it is clear he thinks he deserves it), but he will offer me a bargain. I am to give him an A, and in return, he will… wait for it, this is awesome… take my feedback seriously.

Needless to say, I am an ungrateful asshole who rejected his offer out of hand. I did offer to let the subject co-ordinator mark it for him, but given that said prof actually SHOUTED with laughter when he read Covert Genius’ email to me, I don’t think much of his chances.

Fuck you. Fuck all you all.

I nearly went over the edge today. I know you want to hear about it.

So, I am in class, explaining to the class my marking rubric, which I have used for several semesters now, where I let students use the rubric to predict their grades and they get a bonus if they get a bulls-eye.

As a pedagogical exercise, this is designed to show students what I am valuing and how I am marking, and also to get them to do a bit of reflection and self-assessment. Of course, it’s also a way in to having a “what makes a good paper” discussion in class. Generally, it works pretty well, and between 3-6 students a class actually manage to get the bonus.

Today, I explain the bonus and go through the rubric, and then this giant asshole puts his hand up and says “Yes, but how do we know you won’t look at our score and then change yours?”

EXCUSE ME? I looked at him and said “Are you sure you want to be asking that?”, to which he said “Yes, it’s a legitimate question.” A few lesser assholes chimed in. One wanted to suggest that I give the bonus mark if they got within the ballpark: no, because that is way easier – you have to earn the damn bonus. Then Asshole 1 and his buddy start going on about how they think they need a “guarantee” that I will stick to the rubric.

I have to admit, I was at the point of being so angry I wasn’t coherent. “This sounds like you are accusing me of cheating,” I said. “I presented this rubric as a way to help you understand how I am marking.”

Yeah, they understand that, but profs mark differently (DUH, I just gave you MY rubric, you moron), and how do they know I will stick to what I said?

Well, I dunno? Trust? Understanding that I am a professional? I said if they thought it was some kind of trap, they could opt out of the rubric exercise, but no, that wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted, I think, a promise that they could have the bonus. Which I wasn’t going to give.

I suggested that the way they were talking made it sound like they thought I was out to get them, and that their assumption that I would act unprofessionally was unfounded and unflattering, but there were at least 4 of them who insisted that voicing this kind of distrust was not disrespectful.

What it came down to, for them, was that “all profs mark subjectively” and that any moves I was making to make my approach as transparent and objective as possible was somehow suspect. IF YOU REALLY BELIEVE I MARK SUBJECTIVELY, WHY ARE YOU PISSING ME OFF? I screamed, in my head.

Some of it must have shown on my face, because a student in the front row said, “Can we move on?” Which was a nice lifeline. So I tried to move on, but I found myself close to tears of rage. I had to leave the room. I’ve never done that before. Honest to god, I said “I need a minute,” and went out into the hallway.

A couple of the female students came out to see if I was okay. I wasn’t going to cry, but I think they thought I might. I said “I just need a minute so I don’t yell at everyone,” I told them. So I counted to 10, and went back in, and ignored the assholes who were snickering, and pulled up my damn big girl pants, and taught them about editing their papers.

But I feel like I went somewhere new today. Not even Pineapple Boy made me feel this kind of despair.

In which I fail to be developed, professionally.

I am about to shock you, readers; brace yourselves.

I got into a heated discussion, nay, an argument the other day. I KNOW! You are bewildered as to how such a thing could have come about. Let me lay the details on you.

Against my better judgment, I decided to go to a professional development seminar. I am sure you are aware –  in fact, you probably have encountered these weaksauce assholes at your own institution – that universities have a special little corner they shove the least able teachers, who have tenure, but can’t possibly be let in front of students: this is often called the Academic Development or Faculty Development Department/Unit/Centre. (In my experience, the universities that have a “Centre” have much the worst development staff.)

The faculty in these places have fuck-all to do, and often try to schedule meetings with people who are doing actual work like teaching and developing courses. The couple of weeks before and after semester see them crawling out from under their rocks and spamming invitations to encounter groups, and development round-tables, and all manner of bullshit time-wasting exercises. Most of them, you get one sniff of and sensibly decline to attend. Occasionally, though, they target you with a cunningly-named event targeted at something that appears relevant to your interests. You think “this sounds like it might actually be useful”. Of course it isn’t going to be, but guilt at the number of these invites you have ignored, and the spectre of the Chair asking what professional development activities you have attended this year start to niggle at you, and so you end up going.

It becomes apparent within 5 minutes that this is bullshit. I went to an online teaching seminar, and most of the other people there appeared to be unfamiliar with computers, and had fucking PAPER AND PENCIL with which to take notes. Goddammit.

I enlivened the proceedings by betting with myself how long it would be before I said something that would prompt the PD sloths “leading” the seminar to tell me I should be running it. They are all sycophants who are full of politically correct mantras about every contribution being worthy, and how you should always give feedback that reflects the questioner’s question back at him or her, so it hardly ever takes long, if you aren’t some kind of snivelling social retard. This time it took 35 minutes. Not a personal best, by any stretch.

It became increasingly apparent that what this session had been designed as a lengthy infomercial for Blackboard, and I tolerated that for about 5 minutes before I started grinding my teeth. Most of the infomercial was all about how you can get Blackboard to automagically count student posts on Blackboard forums as graded participation. Really! Blackboard can automate this for you, making the process of massaging snowflake egos that their every little verbal burp has meaning and worth! It only takes one click!

Luckily for me, some of the other victims of this scam started meeping about their misgivings about some aspects of Blackboard, which opening I quickly grabbed in order to talk about the alternatives. One of my major issues with Blackboard is that it really is an arcanely complicated electronic gradebook, and its focus is the prof and how he/she is going to produce the grades. (There are SO many things wrong with that, it just makes me foam at the mouth, but let me reel this in just a touch.)

Squeezing into the opening provided by someone who students are frustrated by having to recreate their profile in Blackboard for EVERY SINGLE course they take, I mentioned the portfolio software I (and a few others) have been using for the last few semesters, which has, as one of its advantages, the fact that students keep their portfolios from semester to semester. Since this software is sanctioned by the Learning PodPeople, some discussion of it was allowable, but then I pushed the envelope by mentioning that I was intending to teach with twitter, and possibly Google Wave (if it still exists in a week).

This caused consternation. Why? Well, because unlike Blackboard, none of these alternative methods would give students constant 24/7 access to their grades.

This is where the arguing thing got going.

“I don’t want students to have 24/7 access to some arbitrary numerical score,” I opined.

This was countered with the infuriating “But it makes them more comfortable” argument.

Okay, apart from me not really caring what makes my students comfortable, at least in opposition to what I think is pedagogically good for them, I think this is a crock. The argument is that if students know their numerical grades, they will understand what this means in terms of a final grade for the course.

COME ON. We all know at least a dozen examples where this is is not true. Students who know they have 79% come in begging for that one extra mark; students who know numerically that they are failing believe in the power of prayer; students who have poor math skills are startled by Cs at the end of semester. A couple of semesters ago, when I took over a class for a colleague, I had a student who was sure she was getting a B, despite having no grade higher than a B- all semester. Having the marks accessible is no anodyne against student delusion.

My other objection here is more philosophical. I don’t believe in giving grades without context. That is, I think students should see a grade on a paper next to a substantial number of comments about what was good and bad about their work. Maybe I’m deluded, but I want them to learn from the process, and not just be fixated on the number, or the letter.

I expressed these opinions to the Professional Development Chooks, who were still bok boking about how I could use the gradebook in Blackboard, even if I wasn’t using Blackboard for any other purpose (I know, WTF). “No.” I said. “I don’t play that game.”

This resulted, not in a spirited debate about grading, which might have been useful, or at least interesting, but in an immediate backdown. “We didn’t mean to suggest that any of your methods were WRONG,” they chanted, resorting to their mantra. “Whatever you feel comfortable doing is fine.”

This is exactly why these teaching support people suck the balls of the donkey. They are so fixated on politically correct educational theory that focusses on massaging egos and being careful of professorial self of steam that they will never offer cogent or practical advice that isn’t so obvious it is useless. “Face the class while lecturing.” Even in extreme cases of stupidity or contrariness, they won’t really give advice. “It might be an idea to put pants on when you go to class, but only if it doesn’t cramp your style.”

Looking at it glass half full, I only wasted 90 minutes, and bothering to go on to campus meant that I lucked into FREE BEER at the Dean’s reception, which hilarity I described on College Misery.

Tosheroon

A tosheroon, “as any fule know, chiz chiz” is the gold piece that sometimes turns up in the sewer. Likewise, in the flood of verbal crap which constitutes the majority of my marking, there are, very occasionally, little gold coins. I offer you the following.

What originates as the character’s physical journey to her childhood home turns into a mental journey into her physique.

I had to ponder that for a bit, but I think he meant “psyche”.

I have also been entertaining myself with making my students play the lottery. That is, I give them a grading rubric, and ask them to use it to predict their grades. This is generally hilarious, mainly because of the ones who give themselves 99% when I end up giving them 49%.

This rubric is in the form of a sheet they are supposed to attach to their essays, but some morons cannot manage this. Such a one is the guy who emailed me, saying “I forgot the sheet, but I typed it out and here is my prediction of my grade.” He gave himself 99%, including 10 out of 10 for “grammer”.

I could not resist emailing him back to ask if he really meant to give himself 10 out of 10 for “grammer”. He replied “i think i did good on this essay, i tried real hard.”

Another perfectly good life ruined.

Hot on the heels of the King of Flakes, I have a new saga.

So, the other day, I am marking essays, as is my wont. And I come to this essay written by a student who attends class but doesn’t talk, except to the girl she sits next to. Her work so far has been fine, so I figure the not-talking in class is just shyness. It happens.

This essay is okay, but there’s something a little off about it, because it is written in this weird directive voice. “You should note 3 things about the theme of the story,” which, we have talked about in class as being not the way to go about writing an interpretation. It kind of sounds like a middle-school teacher explaining the story with a “here is the correct answer” type of approach, rather than a student saying “here is my interpretation”.

Now, the student has previously handed in short assignments which were better written, so now I am confused, and I decide to give the old google a whirl, just to see what happens.

After an intensive search lasting an exhausting 30 seconds, I find that half the essay is the product of an answer (by someone identified as a teacher, oddly enough), on enotes. A further 30 second search finds the second half of the essay in another enotes answer.

The entire essay is 700 words long, 670 words of which are written by these two people on enotes. There’s been absolutely no attempt to disguise this at all; no rewording, no cunning insertion of the student’s own ideas. At least she made sure the font was all the same. Total time the student took to “write” the essay, I would estimate at 10 minutes, including the amount of time it would have taken her to format it, and do the Work Cited (which, I note, contains no reference at all to enotes).

I go home and have a few stiff drinks. I admit it. Where is that WinePal button I keep meaning to install on here?

The following morning before class, just out of curiosity, I google the 2 mini-assignments the student handed in that I have not yet returned, and one she emailed me a couple of weeks ago, that I still have in electronic form. All three of them are plagiarized in the same way – copied and pasted from internet “help” sites; one of which appears to be pay per view only.

Why didn’t I google prior to this? Well, I had no reason to suspect. Who plagiarizes a 200 word mini-assignment worth 1%? How is that a good risk?

Anyway, I go off to class and tell the students matter-of–factly that I am not handing back essays in class because  I have caught a cheater, who needs to come and confess his/her cheaterly crimes (the Sarcastic Bastard gambit). I vary it slightly, telling them they can come get their essays from me in person because I want them to look me in the eye and say they didn’t cheat.

A few of them troop upstairs, including Miss Cheater, who looks me in the eye and says “can I have my essay back?” Fixing her with a steely glare, I ask, “is that all?” “Yes”. I ask her to wait outside until all the others have their work back. She does this, making sure to whisper to her friend about me before she comes back into the room.

“So, let’s start again, did you write this essay?” I ask, and “oh, yes” is the reply. “Oh, really? How is it, then, that all these parts I have helpfully highlighted match these things from the web I have printed out and helpfully highlighted?” This of course, is the preamble to a shitload of rigamarole.

First, it can’t possibly be true. Oh ho. It just so happens that the student has handed in another mini-assignment that day. I ask if I google it, right there in front of her, will I find that it is also plagiarized? She says that it is her own work, and I can google it “if I like”. I do like, and again, after 60 seconds of exhaustive searching, up it pops. She seems surprised. I cannot work out if she is a terrific actress or a terrific idiot.

I ask her if she understands the concept that she has used in the opening sentence of the assignment. She stumbles around, clearly unable to explain the idea. I ask again, “did you write this yourself, or did you copy it from the internet?”

At this point, which is the 5th time of asking, the student finally admits that she did use enotes for “some” of the essay. She also tells me she is an Engineering student, and better at math than English. “Okay, so, as someone who is good at math, can you tell me what percentage 30 words is out of 700?” She declines to do so, and instead goes to gambit #2 repeated apologies and promises not to do it again.

I indicate that we have gone beyond the point where apologies are a remedy. Her next move is the “it was an mistake,” which really pushes me over the edge, and so I then submit to her exhibits B, C, D and E. (This, along with the piece I just googled does indeed make FIVE, instances of plagiarism). Once is a mistake; 5 times is a concerted pattern of behaviour. This triggers approach #4: tears. Yes, yes, it is very sad. She “didn’t mean to do it” and “will never do it again.”

She then offers to redo all the work. Good God, no. I point out that that isn’t really an appropriate remedy. “Did you know this was wrong when you did it?” I ask. Okay, so this next bit is pretty unbelievable, but I SWARE it is true. She says “Oh, yes, you talked about it in class on the first day.” Got that? She knew it was wrong, but she did it. FIVE TIMES.

I boggle, and then recover enough to ask the obvious question. “If you knew it was wrong, why did you do it, so many times?” She says it is because she is taking a lot of classes and is pressed for time. That’s it. Needed to cut a corner, and mine was the one she picked. This is because, she says, she never wanted to do this class with all of its reading, but at least it wasn’t a History class. O-kay.

All of the conversation up to this point has been devised in order to help me decide the size of the book I am going to throw at her. Immediate, voluntary confession would have helped her, as would any kind of statement indicating confusion about what she did or her reasons for it; failure to insult my discipline might also have been helpful. So at this point my decision about the book is, we are going the full OED.

I explain my position, and then we go round and around and around on the subject. Let me give you some flavour, and you have to imagine that all of the student’s utterances are punctuated by tears and mutterings of “Oh, my god, oh my god.”

Me: I am going to give you zero for all these assignments, and on the report I am about to send to the Plagiarism Police, I am recommending that you get an F for the course.
(This, of course opens the floodgates.)
Cheater: No, no, no! You will ruin my GPA.
Me: How am I ruining your GPA? By catching you cheating?
Cheater: You will ruin my life! You have to understand that!
Me: I hope you are not trying to make me feel guilty over something you did wrong.
Cheater: It was a mistake!
Me: I agree it was an error in judgment, but if by mistake you mean “accident”, then I don’t think that is true.
Cheater: Yes! It was an accident!
Me: Once is an accident. Five times is a seriously bad idea.
Cheater: Let me do the assignments over! You should have warned me! You didn’t warn me!
Me: You just admitted I did warn you on the first day of class not to cheat. Plus, it is in your course outline: “All work submitted must be your own”. How many warnings do you need?
Cheater: You don’t have to report me. Let’s just keep it to ourselves. I promise not to cheat any more.
Me: So, having been dishonest, you are now trying to get me to collude in being dishonest? I am obliged to report you if I catch you.
Cheater: You will ruin my GPA!
Me: Well, you did a bad thing. You need to realize that there are consequences.
Cheater: What do I do now? What if I did the assignments over?
Me: That’s not an option.
Cheater: But I need a good GPA to get into the Engineering Program.
Me: Yeah, about that. I don’t think they want students who plagiarize.
Cheater: They don’t care about that! You don’t have to do good in writing to be an Engineer! You are ruining my life!

And so on. I filled out the report, got her to sign it, explained her options, and went over the issue at least half a dozen times. It took an hour to make it clear to her there wasn’t any way out, and I really do think this was the very first time she had ever been in that situation. It does, on one level, make me deeply sorry for Generation Snow: no one ever says no, or makes sure actions have consequences, until it’s too late, and the poor little flake is in Ruined My Life territory.

Eventually I got her to leave, still sobbing and OMGing.

Professor Birkenstock, who had been shamelessly eavesdropping from across the hall came over to tell me that it had been a masterful conversation. “The thing is,” he said, “is that you just did something really good for her. Not that she will ever thank you for it.”

Guess who spoke too soon? ME, THAT’S WHO.

Okay. You know how I was all mellow and feel-good yesterday? Well, fuck that noise.

So, today I go to work to mark the finals for this semester. Let me explain the whole final scenario. Because in this class, one of the skills that I work hard to hammer into students’ heads (think: HULK, SMASH) is critical reading and analysis of other people’s arguments, half of the exam involves requiring them to write an analysis of a reading.

Now, in my day, English exams were leisurely 3-and-a-half-hour affairs that came with what the powers that be were pleased to call “reading time”; which was time between entering the exam room (or rather, “sparrow-infested warehouse,” which is what it was, complete with wobbly desks which the white-coated invigilators would futilely attempt to stablise with little wodges of cardboard they carried in their pockets, and the occasional drop of bird shit on your blue book. One guy I knew just circled the shit and moved on: “as a comment,” he later said) and the time, 30 minutes later, you were allowed to pick up a pen and attempt to write a “very interesting essay on Jane Eyre” or similar. Reading time in literature exams was meant to give you time to find relevant passages, presumably, and you were allowed to write on the question paper during this time, make notes or a plan, get out all your lucky talismans,  enjoy a spot of bird-watching, or like my friend Lulu did, read novels as a sure-fire but undetectable way of failing your law exams so that you could say to your QC father, “I tried, I really did.” But I digress.

The modern North American examination contains no such foofery. In and out in 2 hours, in actual heated classrooms, not a sparrow to be seen, wham, bam, thank you ma’am. In such an environment, then, the only reasonable and fair thing to do is to give the essay about which the critique is to be written prior to the exam, which tradition decrees is done in the last class of the semester. It consisted a photocopy of a two-page essay from a book, which cunningly fitted on one side of a piece of paper. The back, I left pristinely white. Sometimes, when I am feeling frisky, I put a lolcat on the back, which both discourages attempts to write on it, and shows me as endearingly hip. This time, I did not.

When I gave out these essays, I offered a series of dead duck style instructions to students. “You may make a few marginal notes, underlinings or highlights on the text. No writing on the back. I don’t want any question that you are trying to sneak a draft of an essay into the exam.” Astute readers will begin to suspect where this is going. All students are law students when it comes to exam instructions, so I also fielded a few questions about “how many words can we write?” to which I responded “a few notes; use your common sense.” The spirit of the law here being that the essay must be composed under exam conditions. This has never been a problem previously, I just want to state for the record. Previous classes of students, hundreds of them, have understood the guidelines perfectly well.

So, exam day comes and goes, and as I mentioned I sat and knit, and did a couple of turns of the room, during which time I confiscated the printed essay of one student who had written out her essay on the back of the paper. I gave her a clean copy, and let the “I didn’t know” go, although, COME ON. At the end of exams, I collected up the answer books, the question papers, and the copies of the essays the students had brought in. Mainly for recycling purposes, little did I know.

So, today, I am marking, and I come across one photocopy which has an essay, written in what must be 6 point font, cut into strips and pasted in the margins, header and footer of the original. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT. I leaf through the exam booklets, and sure enough, there is one that reproduces said masterpiece of cutting and pasting, word for word. This is not an accident by someone who made an error. This is a clear case of sneakery, because when you are doing a turn about the room and checking whether the students are obviously cheating by bringing in essays they intend to copy out, this one does not look significantly different. You have to get close enough to read 6 point (which in my case is very close indeed) to see what is going on.

Well. In cases like these, I am glad to have a Chair, especially one who happened to be in his office, which office also contained lollipops. “This is certainly ingenious,” he said, with a kind of horrified admiration. We discussed whether the entire essay had, indeed been pasted on and then copied out, which it had, and that I had sanctioned notes but not teeny tiny essays, which I had. “I think you have to call it cheating and give it an F,” he said, still kind of bewildered by the front of it. So, I went back to my office, and took out my feelings by giving the student in question a zero for her efforts.

Then I read the second part of her exam which was an essay on, of all things, her ideas about academic integrity. For srs. I gave that one a bad mark for being a pack of lies, and then further took out my feelings by kicking her participation mark in the taco. I expect a butthurt email about her astonishingly low grade any moment.

Okay. Well, that was unpleasant, but at least it was over, and I got back to grading the rest. Except. There’s another one. Who, instead of the high-tech 6 point and paste tactic, had chosen a more primitive “write incredibly tiny in very pale pencil” strategy. Points for penmanship, sure, but another big fat zero.

I feel violated. I mean, this was a class where students were doing reasonably well, I thought, through their own honest efforts, and now I am second guessing every grade I gave these two. How much of their other work, supposedly completed in in-class labs, had an element of cheatery to it? Vile.

And now, of course, I also have to add another set of instructions to my dead duck file. “Don’t write a teeny tiny essay and paste it in the margins of your handout.”

Sigh. I shall look on the bright side. It’s over. Pass me a G&T.

In which I am a genius of detection (aka Liveblogging my marking).

I caught a plagiarist yesterday. It took me all of 60 seconds. What tipped me off? The fact that there were chunks of text written in a totally different font to the rest of the essay. Look, if these guys weren’t lazy morons, they wouldn’t be plagiarizing in the first place. Part of me likes the challenge of finding a crafty cheater, but hey, I have 100 essays to mark this week, so I appreciated not having to make the effort.

In Pineapple news, he wasn’t in class yesterday. The reason? “I got a new job and thier signing the contracts today.” I am assuming, not a job in which written communications are prominent.

Back to marking. I will update you if I find any more gems.

Update: no gems, but what the heck is with starting an essay comparing two stories with sentences like, “since the dawn of time, when men drew pictures on cave walls,”  or “Throughout time there has always been some sort of a division”? History of the universe: do not want. Some student tried to explain it to me as giving some sort of context to the essay, or getting it into the ballpark. Yeah, but get onto the field, not down the road 2 miles from the carpark.

Marking makes my back hurt. Also my brain.