Houston to Space Cadet: D’you copy?

And we don’t mean “plagiarize.” We mean “is there ANY sign of life out there? Anywhere?”

LOL! I spoke too soon the other day, as the semester seemed to be winding to a peaceful close. I’m now done with grading papers for three endlessly entertaining sections (some of whose classmates, to my delight, are doing exceptionally well; some of whom are going to survive if it kills us all). Grades are due on Friday. Though in theory all papers are in and graded, experience suggests that’s unlikely to be the case. So I’m waiting till Friday a.m. to post final grades with the Distric t. Gives the little things a chance to review their scores and squawk if they have any questions.

As it develops, ’twas a wise move this semester. What should pop up but a dismayed email from one of my beloved pups: Eeeeeeekkkkk! Why am I flunking when I turned in every single paper on time ogodogodogodogodogodOOOOOOOPUHLEEZE GET BACK TO ME AT THE SOONEST POSSIBLE MOMENT LIKE RIGHT THIS FREAKIN’ VERY INSTANT!

Hm. Why are you flunking? Well dayum. I don’t know. Do you s’ppose it’s because you haven’t  turned in a whole passel of the papers? Our honored CMS, Canvas, records not only whether you submitted a response to a given assignment, but whether you did NOT do so. Canvas claims you failed to post eight of the eleven assignments. Baaaad Canvas!!!!

So, what could be going on here? Several possibilities present themselves:

1. I can’t read Canvas’s messages, the ones that say “No submission.”
2. Beloved Pup did not actually submit anything and now is trying to wangle an incomplete so as to evade a failing grade.
3. Beloved Pup DID submit most of the papers but for some reason they didn’t go through.
4. Beloved Pup is crazy.
5. I am crazy.

My guess is that 1, 4, and 5 do not apply. Let’s discard those as likely FAILS.

So, what we have left as choices are a) our student is trying to pull a fast one, or b) our student is not trying to pull a fast one.

We have evidence, real and presumptive, in both directions.

a) What? Are you KIDDING me? This is the freaking END OF THE SEMESTER and you haven’t even checked in to see what your grades were or what comments and advice Your Distinguished Professor might have offered to you?

Okay, that’s hyperbolic. But isn’t it a little odd that Beloved Pup didn’t even check in to see his grades and gauge my response to his efforts (if any)? An online course is not a hole into the ground into which you pour assignments. There’s a certain amount of back and forth going on, y’know. You fool around with trying to get the assignment right. I fool around with trying to help you get it right. Sort of like that. It’s circumstantially suspicious that Beloved Pup never noticed the absence of any acknowledgement of his efforts, or even that no grades were posted for said efforts, allll semester long.

On the other hand, anything’s possible. Stupidly assuming that students would KNOW responses to their papers would be posted in Canvas, I naively failed to post Announcements to the effect that papers were graded and comments were online. So…yea verily, if this is the first online course Beloved Pup has taken through Canvas, it may not have occurred to him that he, like a grownup, needed to proactively check in to see what, if anything, was going on.

On the other other hand, Beloved Pup is a grownup: he’s on active duty in the Middle East.

But on the other, other hand, that doesn’t mean much, does it, given the general state of grownups in America.

b) Beloved Pup is stationed overseas. It’s not even faintly out of the realm of possibility that this fact bears heavily on the case.

To cut a long train of thought short: I am not even faintly interested in having to read an entire semester of work, not even for one (1) student no matter now deserving s/he may be, at a point where I believe my work to be done. This is not fair to me for a number of reasons:

1. I am not paid for overtime;
2. Adjunct teaching is a side gig for me; I have bigger fish to fry;
3. Those fish are surprisingly demanding, being denizens of the  Real World;
4. Even in the absence of any such fish, I am not interested, even in the faintest way, in having to read an entire semester’s work of worth for some guy who was the one person out of 47 who could not figure out that he needed to check in to the course every now and again.

Hevvin help us.


Selling It: The Term Paper Vendor

Of interest: A message that will soon  be posted to the vast crowds who inhabit my online freshman comp courses this semester. Feel free to pass it along to your own students.

Here’s something that you should know about.  The e-mail below came in to my large, monetized blog.

From: Elizabeth Moss
Request for Guest Posting at Funny-about-money.com
Date: January 29, 2015 3:33:51 AM MST
To: fam@gmail.com
Reply-To: Elizabeth Moss

I am looking for some blogs that accept guest posts. I am working with an organization that supports students in the academics. I would like to write for blogs and wish to get it published. Your blog looks good and I loved the way you have maintained it. I would like to write on any topic that suits your blog. If you are interested in guest post by me, please let me know it.

Also I need to have one link from your blog to my website, http://nnnnnn.com/, either in the content or in author bio.

Looking forward to the reply.


Elizabeth Moss

What “Elizabeth” (undoubtedly not her or his real name) wants is to submit a paid guest post that will contain what is known as a “paid link.” The link, which I’ve redacted here, is to an outfit that provides term papers in exchange for cash.

“Elizabeth” is a low-level freelance writer who works for outfits that do black-hat SEO: they use questionable strategies to raise the visibility of a website in Google searches. Most of these strategies violate Google’s terms of service; Google deploys bots that seek out paid links, and when one appears, Google will simply drop the offending site from its search results. If you have a money-making site, this will destroy your business.

Buying paid links is a very sleazy practice, especially when you pretend that all you’re trying to do is publish a guest post for the purpose of publishing your innocent little site. But when you go to the link she wants to post, you find her client is a term paper vendor: they hire bottom-feeders like “Elizabeth” to write papers for students, for a stiff fee.

Don’t buy term papers from creeps like this – or from anyone else. What they produce is garbage. You may get a C on such a paper, but that is not worth what you will pay for the thing, and it certainly is not worth compromising your personal integrity.

Notice that this writer is not a native speaker of English. S/he is probably Eastern European: “supports students in the academics” is a dead give-away. And “to write for blogs and wish to get it published” would not be literate in any language.

What you get when you pay for one of these things is bad writing. Often the same content has been sold to someone else, making it vulnerable to TurnItIn’s software. That in turn makes you vulnerable to a failing grade in the course. Some schools go so far as to expel students for cheating of this nature.

Funny about Money does not publish black-hat SEO (at least, not knowingly). Normally I forward requests like this to my advertising agent, who either finds a way to extract a substantial amount of money in exchange for something that will fly past Google’s radar or tells the solicitor to go away. In this case, I told “Elizabeth” to take a flying *** at the moon.

That’s exactly what you should do if you are ever approached by a vendor who tries to sell you a term paper.

The Blackboardization of Canvas?

Ugh! I hate the new gradebook in Canvas. They’ve gooped up what used to be a simple, easy interface by adding new layers of nuisance pointing-and-clicking…just like Blackboard.

It used to be that when you finished grading a paper in Word (I use Word’s track changes to show edits and enter comments), you could go to the appropriate cell in the grading spreadsheet, click on it, enter the grade, and straightaway upload the graded paper as an attachment. That was fast and easy.

You had an option of using the Speedgrader pane, which allows you to read the paper in Canvas but which does not offer the kind of sophisticated mark-up you can do in Track Changes — all you can do is enter comments, which means instead of showing a student where an apostrophe should go, you would have to write out an explanation: “Enter an apostrophe before the ‘s’ to make this possessive.” Right. We’ve all got lots of time to do that over and over and over again…

In the old Canvas grade sheet, you didn’t have to do that. Now, though, to enter a grade and upload a file, you HAVE to click through to Speedgrader, even if you don’t use it.

Consider what this does to your workload.

1. Click on the cell for the student’s assignment
2. Click again to go to Speedgrader
3. Enter student’s grade
4. Enter a message to the student
5. Click to upload file
6. Navigate to file
7. Select file
8. Upload file
9. Submit grade and attachment

Nine actions for every grade; that would be 225 mind-numbing actions for any given class with an enrollment of 25.

Something similar happens when you copy a course into a Canvas shell and then go to change the due dates to fit the new semester. Just to change a date…

1. Open an assignment
2. Select “options”
3. On the calendar icon, click through the months from the spring semester’s due date to the fall semester’s due date: that’s 5 clicks
4. Do the same for the “make available” date: 5 more clicks
5. Do the same for the “make unavailable” date: 5 more clicks
6. Click “Update”

The English 102 section I just prepped for the fall semester asks students to write 11 “reading reviews,” 3 full-length papers, and two extra credit projects, for a total of 16  assignments to enter in the course shell.

16 assignments x 18 steps = 288 mind-numbing steps

And all you’re doing is inscribing the new due dates in the website. It doesn’t include writing the weekly announcement, posting dates for those (16 weeks x 6 clicks per announcement = another 96 steps!).

It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re talking about 384 steps — assuming you don’t make an error and have to back up and do something over again — it gets to be quite time-consuming. And I use the term “mind-numbing” advisedly.

That doesn’t include writing the required 26-page syllabus with the required redundant calendar of due dates that repeats the list of assignments with their descriptions and due dates. It doesn’t include sitting down with a hard-copy calendar and figuring out when these things should come due. It doesn’t include designing the assignments in the first place, or writing and posting t he auxiliary course materials, or writing and posting the rubrics.

All of it is free labor. Adjuncts at my school are not paid for course prep and grading. We’re paid solely for our presence in the classroom.

The syllabus writing and the assignment design and the calendar-juggling, of course, can’t be blamed on Canvas or on Blackboard. But the clumsy, unnecessary web design that requires click after click after click of everyone, even those who desire not to use x or y feature, certainly can be. Especially since we’ve seen, in an earlier version, that said frantic clicking is unnecessary.

Guys! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Paranoia in the Classroom

Nice timing: the hideous events in Connecticut occurred as I was filing final grades for the last composition classes I’ll ever teach.

When the news came down, a selfish and unworthy thought entered my mind: thank God I’ll never have to walk into a classroom again!

You know, one doesn’t obsess about it, but concern for the safety of one’s students and oneself does enter every teacher’s mind. La Maya and I were talking about this yesterday. She says the Great Desert University West has jimmied the classroom doors so faculty can’t lock them.

They used to be lockable. When I taught there, I checked — I wanted to be able to lock the classroom door in case some poor unhinged soul decided to come a-visiting with a semi. And my students told the tale of a faculty member who became so irked by students wandering in late that he took to locking the door at the appointed hour, so late-comers couldn’t get in at all.

Some punkins! :roll: Why on earth would you care if the kid shuffles in 15 minutes late? This isn’t high school…missing part of your lecture is the kid’s problem, not yours. Oh well.

At Heavenly Gardens, none of the doors lock. What’s more, each classroom has only one entry. GDU’s computer-equipped classrooms have two: one near the front of the room and one near the back. So, if someone who meant us no good did come in one door, at least a few students would be able to get out the other. With the Heavenly Gardens set-up, everyone in the room would be trapped.

GDU also had phones in every classroom. At the community college, the only phone is out in the hall. Apparently it doesn’t occur to the administration that 80% of the school’s faculty don’t earn enough to pay for a cell phone.

Neither school has a very simple and obvious expedient: a panic button at the instructor’s station. How likely is it, when someone charges in the door shooting, that you’d have time to dig a cell phone out of your purse and call for help? GDU installed panic buttons for the admins after one menacingly disturbed faculty member had to be fired (they cleared out part of the building before sending the chair, accompanied by several DPS officers, to his home to tell him he was canned). There’s no reason they couldn’t be installed in every classroom.

Lockable classroom doors and a panic button in each room seem so simple, so obvious, and so inexpensive. What is the matter with administrators that they don’t provide them?

Some remarkably foolish things have come out of the hysterical national conversation surrounding the horrific event. One is the bizarre idea that there’s a direct connection between Adam Lanza’s alleged Asperger’s and his breakdown.

That’s absurd. People with Asperger’s are just like other people: they can be angry, they can be calm; they can be happy, they can be sad; they can be smart, they can be dumb; they can be mentally healthy, they can be mentally ill. Asperger’s syndrome is not a red flag that you’re going to become violent.

I’ve had two Asperger’s kids in my junior-college classrooms. And yeah, they’re different. Sometimes they can be a little difficult. With the right kind of accommodation, they can be successful and rewarding human beings.

The idea that screening every gun buyer will prevent events like Newtown is pretty pathetic, too. The shooter didn’t buy the guns: his mother, who was regarded as a stable member of the community, bought them. Like anyone who wants a semiautomatic weapon, the shooter found a way to get  his hands on them.

It’s way, way too late to take guns out of Americans’ hands. As we scribble, Arizonans are cleaning out the shelves of local gun stores, as they always do every time a new gun control flap arises. Prior stupidity that made it possible for civilians to buy military-style weapons and load them with cop-killing bullets has ensured that we will never be able to take the things off the street. The country is pretty well flooded with high-powered weapons, and there’s no way gun owners will obediently turn them in to government agencies.

Particularly not the ones who think the world is going to end on Friday.

Meanwhile, we need to find ways to keep our public spaces safe, and that does not include arming teachers and administrators.

Classroom doors should be lockable and hardened so the locks can’t easily be shot off. Every classroom should be equipped with a panic button. Every classroom should have more than one exit.

Sales of semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons need to come to an end. Today. Now.

And most important: access to quality health care, including mental health care, must be made available to every American, rich or poor. That is the only way we can bring a stop to the staggering losses the status quo is causing. We’ve lost more than 20 little kids and eight school faculty. Adam’s and his mother’s lives were wasted, too.


Countdown to Freedom: 10/9/2012

w00t! For a change a mistake I made redounds in my favor!

I failed to account for Veteran’s day on the MWF class calendar. So, ô mirabilis, there’s no class on November 12.

Only 37 more days to go!

Countdown to Freedom: 10/1/2012

Forty-two more classes to go. Forty-two more drives on the flicking homicidal freeway.

Felt pretty good driving home—gastritis much calmed, that general sense of mild stage fright that puts you on edge in the hour or two before you have to get “up” to perform in front of a classroom had faded with the end of this morning’s class.

Then just as I was about to get off the freeway a craven moron decided to use the off-ramp to pass me on the right. I almost hit him. Swerving to avoid a collision, my vehicle fishtailed and almost flipped.

Since I was going 72 in a 65 mph zone, the bastard must have been traveling at least 78 or 80. Illegally.

What is the fucking hurry? What’s worth risking your life and everyone else’s?

Once these classes are over, I should hardly ever have to use the freeways. Most of my other destinations, except to meet my business partner or to visit SDXB, are easily reached by the surface roads.

Today I have to make an appointment to see the chair, so I can let him know I won’t be teaching comp courses next spring. Hope he’ll let me keep the online magazine writing course. But if he doesn’t, BFD: I’ll just have to net another $3840 next year, or draw it down from savings.

A Voice of Sanity about Blackboard

A year-old Blackboard rant at Funny about Money has brought me a tiny moment of fame: a link in a post at Jana Remy’s site. Jana seems less inclined to launch into fanciful flights of rage than I am, but she’s no fonder of Blackboard than any of the rest of us disenchanted users.

This site, whose proprietor appears to be a youngish academic (the Ph.D. from UC was granted in 20-aught-12), has considerable charm. Bears watching.


Finally Wrapping It Up

Thank god the semester is almost done. I’m not looking forward to two months without pay, but on the other hand, I do need a break.

Such as it is: got jury duty coming up on the 14th and then shortly after that have to go back to class. Between now and the end of the month, I’ll have to rebuild the summer course, and then after that will have to spend two or three unpaid weeks reconstituting and refining new Eng. 101 and 102 courses.

At the risk of redundancy: I hate Blackboard.

No wonder so few faculty use it. No wonder so few faculty want to put anything online, with a tool like that making our lives difficult every time we go near it.

Last night I went to transcribe my grades from an ordinary spreadsheet into Blackboard, so that my students could see their semester grades in MyGrades before they’re posted with the system. Started around 6:00 p.m., figuring it would only take a few minutes and I could surely finish before I got hungry enough for dinner.

It was ONE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING before I finished wrestling with goddamn Blackboard!

Every. single. score has to be entered in a process that takes several clicks and that often aborts and has to be done again. Each entry requires you to wait and wait while the system digests it. Make a mistake and you have to go back and fiddle with it some more, and then it demands that you confirm twice that you REALLY meant to change the grade. A couple of times my eye wandered from the row or column I was copying, leading to even more time wastage as I had to undo several errors and re-enter data correctly.

Then the semester grades didn’t jibe with the final scores in my spreadsheet. Turns out I’d failed to enter a “0″ as the total points available for one extra-credit assignment. It took some time to figure that out, and then I had to go into the column and fiddle with it.

Most annoying, though: in one section I’d failed to enter a column for an extra-credit assignment. Easy enough, it would seem…just build a new column for it.

Well, yes. That was easy enough. But I wanted the column in the same place in Blackboard’s GradeBook as it appears in my spreadsheet (three or four columns from the end), to simplify transcribing the scores and minimize risk of entering still more errors that would have to be tediously undone and redone.

To retroactively place a column where you want it (BB defaults to place each new column on the far right), you have to go into “Manage Columns.” Moving the column is easy. But…

Yes. But.

When I did that, Blackboard “disappeared” all the columns to the right of it! FOUR GRADE COLUMNS WENT AWAY.

Nothing I could do short of deleting the new column would bring them back.

So I ended up having to create a separate Excel spreadsheet for Each. And. Every. Student in the magazine-writing class and e-mail them individually to classmates. Fortunately, several have dropped, so there were only about 10 people to send them to. Still. Creating ten new spreadsheets is not without its time-wasting aspects.

Forty minutes later, I go back into BB to start entering data for a different class. Just as I’m about to close out of the magazine-writing class’s BB site, up pops a message saying “Success!! The columns are now reorganized!” And now, mirabilis! All the columns are visible.

Think of that. It took Blackboard FORTY MINUTES to accomplish a function you can do in less than three minutes in Excel or Google Docs.

But as we know, a college instructor’s time is worth so little anyway, who cares if BB wastes forty minutes or so pointlessly?