(no subject)

Saturday, 13 December 2008 14:39
To everyone who had ideas on That Thing my students do, thank you! I have a lot to say about that in terms of wider issues of students' expectations, but I am busy as a busy thing in busyland at the moment, so it'll be a few days yet. Among other things, I have 80 first-year essays to mark in a stupidly short space of time, a job to apply for, a lot of organising to do about a postdoc funding application I'm trying to sort out at my current institution, Christmas shopping that probably needs doing at some point before oh, say, Christmas, and argh.

But life's really good right now, even if it's hectic. Yesterday night was a party where I introduced the Mad Scientist to a bunch of my friends for the first time, and while there were moments of weirdness (my ex-fiance managed to decork a bottle in such a way that the cork crossed an entire crowded room to hit the Mad Scientist in the shoulder, and, uh, I'm sure he wasn't aiming as such, but...) the evening mostly went really well. And oh, people, I am so madly in love with this man, I can't even tell you. But I'm so busy, and he's already been away for work stuff twice this month, and if January doesn't get here soon so I can spend some more time with him I am going to start eating first-years.

Starting with the one who just e-mailed to ask what her grade was.
1. Do your students do that "In the play Hamlet by the author William Shakespeare..." thing?

2. What is that? I used to think it was wordcount-padding, but I've got essays in that go way over the word count and still do that. So I give up.

It is one a.m. and I just found another semi-plagiarist, and I have put down my pen and the offending essay because it will help nobody if I just write 'FOR FUCK'S SAKE' in the comments section. Besides, it is not this student's fault that they are plagiarism case #4 and that I am tired. But. But.

The essay would not earn a good grade, whatever happens. It's too short and very, very rushed, obviously written in a hurry and probably taking about 38 minutes to finish. That said, the plagiarism in question isn't the kind that gets an immediate fail; the source is in the bibliography, and the student clearly hasn't copy/pasted massive chunks of it across, but has paraphrased and reshaped what's there. It's very derivative, and that needs to be slapped down, but it's not out-and-out plagiarism. I believe 'careless referencing' might even be a feasible excuse for this one. In fact, I think 'careless' might explain an awful lot.

It's so late and I'm so tired, and I'm tempted to just write a Very Stern Warning on the essay so I can just give the damn thing a grade and move on to the slowly-eroding stack of unmarked work. But no, this is just about bad enough that it needs to go to the Boss. Which means I will have to do all the detective work tonight, so that I can get on with the rest of the marking after seeing The Boss tomorrow morning, and is it wrong to want this student tarred and feathered? Really, is it?
Here's the plagiarism penalty at my university, for 'serious' plagiarism (anything in which the plagiarised passages make a 'significant' contribution to the student's work; a couple of lifted lines in an otherwise non-plagiarised essay would get a formal warning and a hefty grade penalty, with any cases after that counting as serious no matter what level they are):

First offence: Formal meeting with whoever marked the essay plus the undergraduate officer, Very Scary Warning, and a 0 for the piece of work.

Second offence: Same meeting, 0 for whatever class the plagiarised work was submitted for, and the student is barred from their final Honours year (this is a feature of the four-year Scottish system; students who only complete three years can get a 'general degree').

Third offence: University court, student kicked out.

In the batch of essays I'm currently marking, there are two cases of serious plagiarism plus one that's borderline. This is their first piece of assessed work at university, and those two students are now on their final warning if they want to graduate as BA(Hons). Honestly, I think a certain proportion of students - the ones who have grown used to copy/paste/paraphrasing work at secondary school, and who still think writing on literature means listing The Facts about the text - just don't get, at all, how seriously we take it here or how likely they are to get caught. 'Don't base your essay on SparkNotes' sounds to them like 'Don't write your essay the night before it's due' - you're not supposed to, but everyone does and nobody cares all that much. No amount of warnings, guidebooks, explanations or lectures on what's expected of them is reaching these students, although the Do Not Plagiarise, We Really Mean This talks are scaring the life out of the overly-anxious students worried about doing it accidentally.

What warning/penalty system do you consider fairest? And what would you do with my Student #3, who has vaguely paraphrased from two unacknowledged websites but who has clearly tried very hard to not just put that into their own words but to take what the website said and expand upon it in great detail? (Whatever happens I'm passing that one to the undergrad officer to decide upon after meeting the student, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.)

(no subject)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008 00:09
(Sorry for delays on replying to comments! I will catch up with things tomorrow; I'm still buried in a stack of first-year essays and trying to mark my way out.)

I'm marking an essay. It's six and a half pages long. I'm slowly working my way through it to track down plagiarism, and at the end of page two, I've traced about 90% of the essay to a couple of unacknowledged internet sources. (And go student, for paraphrasing and swapping phrases around enough that Turnitin only picked up on a little bit of this!)


In a way, though, essays that are almost all plagiarised are harder to spot than essays that are half the student's own work and half lifted from Sparknotes. I get the impression that plagiarising students think this is the other way round - the more of their own work, the less likely we are to spot the plagiarism - but this is because plagiarising students fail to recognise how very, very obvious it is when the style clearly shifts between their own writing and that of someone else. And this I really don't get, because... honestly, even if they aren't so good yet at spotting stylistic patterns themselves, what are they thinking? "Hey, my tutor will never spot this! The transition is so smooth you'd practically need a PhD in literature to notice OH WAIT."
I don't think the first-year essays are giving me toothache. But at the same time, I can't quite bring myself to write it off as a coincidence.
eye_of_a_cat: (River)
Sonnet 144:

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still
The better angel is a man right fair
The worser spirit is a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And, whether that my angel be turn'd fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell.
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

This is the last one I taught, Sonnet 138 )
1. I'm trying to cut down on f-lock. It's a bad habit.

2. Needed a repeat prescription for one of my migraine medicines, and since I was there anyway I asked the GP to refer me to the genetics testing people, which is something the consultant of a few weeks back suggested and I said I wanted some time to think about. I've thought, and now I'm thinking I would like to discuss the pros and cons of this with the people in charge of that sort of thing (for it is my understanding that they do not so much seize blood on the first meeting as make sure you understand what such testing involves and what the consequences are for you). So, that's in motion. And I'm in a weird compound state of being suddenly freaked out by the reminder that why yes I do indeed have a rare condition that can be tested for and might mean bad things, and being irrationally grumpy because [Big City]'s miles away, damn it.

3. There may be a new boyfriend-type-figure soon. Not right now, but soon. Possibly. Online dating site, been talking for ages, get on really well, trying to meet up and we'll see how it goes. He's not currently looking for anything serious or long-term, which suits my current situation fine. (Dr Recurring Headache is currently off angsting at a mountain or something.)

4. I love teaching first-years. I really do. I get a bit grumpy when I don't get to teach anyone else ever, but mostly, I love it absolutely to pieces. Anybody wanting to donate first-years can leave them in my office pigeonhole and I will teach them too.
I'm still thrilled about getting to supervise undergrad dissertations, and I'm still loving teaching, but dear God am I feeling snowed under with work at the moment. Being effectively off for a couple of weeks with an evil flu thing put me much, much further behind than I wanted to be in terms of teaching and my own work (I still taught in my time 'off', but wasn't planning ahead beyond the absolute minimum necessary) and *FLAIL*.

Also, I have 65 essays of around 2500 words arriving in my inbox on Thursday. By my calculations that's two PhD theses worth of first-year undergrad literary criticism, which all gets commented on in meticulous detail because it's their first piece of graded work. As my good friend Dr K has pointed out, though, the most difficult essays to mark are always the first four, and it gets easier once you're in The Zone.

All right, it's 6pm. I have two more student e-mails to answer, and then the rest of today is devoted to writing my damn article.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008 10:22
I'm teaching at 2, and until then the day is mine to use as I will. Which is good, because I have a lot to do. But!

- If I plan my class for the first-year students, I'll feel guilty because this class shouldn't need much more planning and I really should be spending the time on the third-years instead

- If I write a lecture for the third-years, I'll feel guilty because I still haven't chased up some third-year-related material I need to get from someone(s) else in the department

- If I chase up department people who have yet to get back to me, I'll feel guilty because that's wasting time on ephemera when I'm teaching the first-years at 2 and need to be getting on with their class

- and whatever I do, I'll feel guilty for not getting my own article written.

Plus I need to take a form in to the letting agents. Plus I keep sneezing. And plus, it's nearly half-past ten and I'm not even out of pyjamas yet. This can't be a good start.
There are no words for how much I loathe doing teaching-related admin right now. There are gestures and mournful shrieky wails, but there are not actual words.
I'm teaching next semester. Yay, &c. Now, my department is changing TA pay to a different system next semester, so that instead of the flat-rate £X amount per group of students per semester, we will get paid per hour for every hour we're actually teaching. Essay-marking will be paid per essay; office-hours originally weren't going to be paid at all, but after some protest ("so, I'm contractually obliged to spend blah hours per week helping students with their work for... free?"), office hours will now be paid at about half the rate paid for teaching time. 

So here's the thing. Lectures. Until this year, it has been department regulations that TAs attend all lectures for the course they're teaching on. This clause has now mysteriously vanished from TA contracts. A group of the postgrad TAs asked the new head of department whether this meant they weren't obliged to go to lectures any more.

The answer: Yes, you all have to go to the lectures. But lecture attendance now comes under the department's new-ish professional development training thing for postgrads. So, you do still have to go, because attendance on training and development things is compulsory, but we're not going to pay you for going. (Yeah, you can imagine how well this went down.) But I'm not a postgrad any more, and I do not count under the department's professional postgrad training thing. Lecture attendance isn't going to be on my contract, either - but it will be understood that like the postgrads, I will attend all lectures, and that my teaching will be structured around these lectures. It will be part of my job. I will be seriously smacked on the wrist if I don't go. They're just... not going to pay me.


Almost free...

Thursday, 29 May 2008 15:25
1. I have an actual, official-looking, hardbound copy of my PhD thesis. I'm handing it in to Registry today, after which point - if all goes well - I will have at long long last done the last thing I need to do in order to call myself 'Doctor'. (I mean, I've got graduation still to come, but even if I ended up having to miss that I'd still get the PhD. But this is a degree requirement.)
1a) However, I very nearly didn't have a hardbound copy of my PhD, due to a very annoying issue at the book-binders that meant an extra few hours spent squelching round Glasgow in the rain. Oh joy. But! Fixed now! Okay now!

2. Of course, since it's the end of semester, I'm dealing with panicky last-minute grade requests and pleas for mercy by student parents. Of course. :(

3. My brother sat three seats away from David Tennant for the length of an entire play and did not once even try to get his phone number for me. Bah!

(no subject)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008 01:48
eye_of_a_cat: (restart/resume?)
Have internets at home. Yay!

Spent whole day alternately marking student essays and catching up on BSG. Have overdosed on both and am still not finished with either. Getting increasingly mixed up and now want to mark BSG down for failure to reference correctly and shout at students for irritatingly misogynistic tendencies. (More worryingly, am beginning to suspect it could work that way round, as well.)

Need coffee. Also sleep. But where sleep fails, coffee steps bravely in.
Dear Student:

If I am walking rapidly down a corridor wearing a coat, and I have a mobile phone pressed to my ear, and my general facial expression can best be measured as Category 5: Destruction of Land and Property Imminent, then this might not be the best time to stop me to discuss your essay. Just saying.

(no subject)

Thursday, 17 April 2008 22:26
Hello, and WELCOME to the final sprint of the get-the-damn-essays-marked-before-tomorrow marathon! I was going to find a way to make this sound like a fun spectator sport, but it is too depressing. Instead, send pity, and turn a tactfully blind eye to any rants I post at 3am when my sanity starts creeping away from its normal mooring posts.
Q: When is the following sentence capable of making one's tutor shriek in horror?

"Considering that [text] was written in [year], [author] had an eerily prophetic vision of the world we live in today."

A: When the year in question is 1985. 


DAMMIT STUDENTS. Why must you do the exact thing I carefully explained how and why not to do two weeks ago? In detail? At length? And made sure you understood? And gave you exercises and groupwork tasks to make sure you knew how to do it the right way? I KNOW you know how to tackle an essay question by constructing an argument that addresses the question asked. Why, when it comes to writing your own essays, must you return to reading every single essay question as 'Please say some stuff of your choosing about this text'? You are shooting your grades in the feet here. REPEATEDLY. Argh.
Still trapped in essay-marking jail. Send help/A-team/cakes with files in ASAP. But the stack of essays is calling, so the only things I'll say are that a) I was up until 3.30 this morning working on them, b) DEAR SWEET GOD PEOPLE FOLLOW THE DAMN STYLESHEET, and c) of the many things I might have been expecting in an essay on Henry V, a loving tribute to Franco was not exactly at the top of the list. 
I don't know if it's just me, but one would think that if you a) already had to repeat your first year because b) you handed in one essay that was a week late, 1200 words too short, and plagiarised, probably c) among a bunch of other stuff for your other units that I didn't teach you on, then you might want to d) TURN UP OCCASIONALLY to the second-year class you're now in. Second-year assignments are due in on Monday; somehow, I can already tell this one is not going to be glowing.

And yet, I am seeing this as a good stage in my TA development, because I'm neither angry or annoyed with the kid in question. You want to fail, off you go and fail. If anything, I'm sort of looking forward to what kind of grounds she's going to do it on this time.

(Although, to the rest of the students in the year: Stop asking each other essay-related questions on WebCT! Ask the staff who are paid to teach you and actually know the answers! Argh.)



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