Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Random opinions

You're probably expecting a pithy, contrarian comment on the Royal Baby from me.

Nothing doing. I have so little interest in the affairs of the hereditary rulers that I can't even be bothered to work up any outrage. It all reminds me of Diana's death. There I was, momentarily saddened by the death of a complete stranger who couldn't be bothered to use her seat belt, surrounded by ordinarily calm and reasonable people openly crying and lamenting the loss of someone they only every knew through the distorting lens of the media. I prefer to save me grief and joy for those I know, and for those less privileged. I'm a little embarrassed that the country has (at least according to the media) regressed to the 13th century simply because someone has managed to give birth.

So moving swiftly on. Other momentous events are afoot. I was all poised to collect my shiny new bike, but the day-long thunderstorms have reduced my enthusiasm… maybe tomorrow. I also got a cheque for £100 today - all for expressing my slightly unhinged opinions of R S Thomas's poetry in the latest edition of Poetry Wales. I don't know if anyone's told them, but the New Media age involves people writing for free while the outlet coins it in. Just look at the Huffington PostPW is a small, beautiful literary periodical, not a globe-bestriding news maw, so it probably has an excuse not to pay its contributors, particularly as we academics are used to publishing for free (and in science, paying to be published). So hats off to Poetry Wales: old-school and lovely.

I was going to give you the gist of Paul Uppal's latest letter. After he voted against a carbon cap on the grounds that it wouldn't, er, cap carbon, I asked him to comment on the news that the UK's carbon emissions have gone up. Needless to say, his letter entirely fails to mention this. If I can face it, you can have it tomorrow, and I'm going to send him an even simpler letter, and one after that ad infinitum until I extract a single true, relevant and non-evasive sentence from him. Or until he's sacked at the next election, whichever comes soonest.

Finally, some bossy and exasperated advice to some students.

I'm sorry you're disappointed with your grade. I'm sorry you feel you've been treated unfairly and I'd like to talk to you about why this might be the case. Simply handing in an essay or a re-sit essay doesn't entitle you to a passing grade. Nor does putting in a lot of effort. Lord Lucan put in a lot of effort to bludgeon Sandra Rivett to death, but nobody thinks he should be given credit for it. It's what you've written that matters. But please don't throw accusations around until you've collected your work and read the comments. Don't tell me that your friends think it's a good piece of work: I've taken four degrees to qualify me to decide that (similarly, don't ask friends when work is due in: look at the module guide we give to every one of you). I still get things wrong and that's why two of us look at your work. We want you to pass, but it would be dishonest and a disservice to you to pass any work you hand in just because you think it deserves a pass. Essays aren't judgements on you as a person: there a means by which we assess how far you've got. We aren't out to get you, but we do ask that you pay attention to what's required and assume our good faith.

Rant over.


organic cheeseboard said...

Linked to the discussion of grading: I've been struck this year by how many students, on looking at their overall degree breakdowns, have suddenly decided at the very last minute that pieces have been 'graded unfairly' / deserve to be 'bumped' for some reason, long after the deadlines have passed. A lot of my third years seem only to have realised that they were averaging 57 after all their submisssions were in desite it having been the case for all three years of study and having certainly been the case for the first half of their 3rd year.

So an extra piece of advice would be - make use of feedback earlier and think all the time about how an individual piece of assessment fits into the overall degree structure. doing a very small amount of work on a piece worth 0.05% of a total degree is a better idea than doing a very small amount of work on something you might find difficult but which is worth 15% of your overall degree.

The Plashing Vole said...

That's really good advice. Collect your work, read the comments, come back to us and talk about it. We actually LIKE it when this happens!

organic cheeseboard said...

Indeed. And again I'd stress to students the need to be thinking all the time about their development as thinkers and the relationship between their grades and the amount of work they've put in - and to stress how hard it is to break out of patterns of behaviour. I know a lot of students get too hung up on grade classifications, but still.

The problem is that it's hard to get the less committed to do any of the above without getting them to fill in PDP-type forms which annoy the more motivated ones and which the less motivated tend to fill in very non-self-critically.

and it's even harder to do this when there are seemingly no penalties for absence and no time for lecturers to follow anything up tutorially.