Monday, December 20, 2004

End of Semester Observations

I had to take the past week off from writing this blog to concentrate on grading papers and posting grades.

While my systems for managing the workload ran very well this semester, they were strained by the, not unexpected, end of semester rush. Three of my classes are self-paced courses and I have always had a policy of letting the students set their own schedules for doing the work. I do provide them with a suggested schedule for turning in work in a timely manner and cite examples of past students who have attempted to do everything in the last week or two and end up with a D or an F for a final grade. But, every semester there are a few of what I call "sleeper" students who wait until the last minute and hand everything in at once.

I had a fair number of sleepers this semester but a number of them "woke-up" two to three weeks before the end of the semester and seemed to put in considerable time and effort to produce quality work. Most of these ended up with an 'A'. Although, one did miscalculate and did not allow time for the mid-term (the mid-term and final exams had to be taken at the college testing center, but could be taken at any time). This student got near perfect scores on all of the assignments and a high score on the final exam but the loss of the 150 point mid-term resulted in a 'B' rather than an 'A' for the course. Of course, there were the usual ones who did not wake up until the final weekend and the 'D' or 'F' they received reflected the quality of their output. Finally, some have yet to wake up and they account for a large portion of the 'F' grades I gave out this semester.

I had two couples enrolled in the same course in two of my classes. I didn't hear anything from them until about Thanksgiving when they began submitting some assignments. All four of them handed in the majority of their work during the last week and it was included in the large pile of work I was handed when I came for my office hours on Monday night. If nothing else, these two couples (one couple in the macro class and the other in the micro class) appear to have grasped the concepts of division of labor and use of capital. While reading an assignment I would suddenly have a sense of deja vu – I had read this before, about five minutes before. Sure enough, digging into the pile of corrected assignments there was the same assignment from that person's partner and the only difference was the student's name and formatting of the text. The answers were the same word for word – one partner wrote and printed it and the other changed the name at the top and changed the line spacing and re-printed it. It turned out that one couple did this about half the time and the other about a quarter of the time in the pile that I had received on Monday evening. Submitting someone else's work (even when that "someone else" is your spouse or significant other) is what has traditionally been called "cheating" (see Student Code of Conduct), but, rather than giving zeros on those assignments I decided to give them a break. All of their other work and closed book tests were good quality so I decided this time to let it go. But, I couldn't let such a stupid mistake pass without comment – after all, if you are going to cheat at least make an attempt to cover your tracks by handing the assignments in at different times. So, when I came to the second copy of the assignment rather than grading it and making comments, I just made a note in red at the top telling the student to see his/her partner's paper for the grade and comments.

This semester was the worst in terms of volume of last minute assignments and this was magnified by the fact that, with the new on-line grading, my window for grading papers and recording the grades is effectively narrowed to about four days. Worse, in addition to having to work at my regular, non-teaching, job during the day, my time is further limited by the fact that I only have a few hours after work to access the computer to post the grades since the Banner system is taken down every evening from 10 p.m. Until 7 a.m. So, starting next semester, the deadline for turning in work will be moved back to at least a week before the end of the semester.

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