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Lessons learned: teachers need organizational skills, too December 19, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: , , , ,

I have now developed a greater understanding of a strange professorial quirk that I observed over the years. I had at least one professor each term who would get visibly annoyed if you tried to give them an assignment at any time other than the first thirty seconds of a class period.

My understanding is due to that fact that I have recently become eligible to join the Super Secret Society of Teachers Who Have Lost a Student’s Assignment.  (I’m suffering from a cold, so I was unable to come up with a snappy acronym.  Please feel free to make an effort on my behalf.)


When I was teaching geology labs, I was usually teaching four sections each week in a different building. I found that the best way to keep track of student work was to have four plastic filing envelopes. Each envelope was a different color, and I always knew which one to grab before each class.  At the beginning of class, I’d hand stuff back.  At the end of class, it would all get filed away in my envelope.  This was straight-forward, and I never lost any homeworks this way.  The labs were done in class and handed in at the end.  If they had to hand something else in, it went into my mailbox, which was in the same building as my office (but different than the labs).

This semester, I had 90 students in four classes, in three buildings.  My mailbox was in a different building than two of my classes, and all of them were in different places than my regular office.  I usually had two of my envelopes with me (two classes were on Tuesday and two were on Thursday).  Students also had the option of submitting homeworks online, as much as I hate grading those.

What I hadn’t anticipated was running into students who would randomly hand me homeworks between classes, leave them at the department with the admin staff, or all sorts of other unexpected things.  And, as it happens, I ended up misplacing some homework.  In fact, I went through and filed everything on my desk, and still never found it.  I believe it has ended up in the same place that unmatched socks end up…except that paper always ends up falling back out and will likely be found in the spring of 2013 or some similarly odd time.

If I end up teaching this class again, I think I’m going to make it a policy that homeworks be handed in online.  Sadly, this means that I can’t use the stair distribution when grading:

(Thanks to Concurring Opinions for the image.)

I hate grading in front of a computer screen, but I have to admit that it significantly reduces the organizational demands required to keep track of all the assignments.  Lurking in the back of my mind, however, is the idea of having to teach a very large class where homeworks simply must be dealt with the old fashioned way.  (And no, I’m not talking about burning them.)



1. Jen - December 19, 2011

Until there’s unexpected (documented) downtime on the course management website and then some of them email you the assignments and some forget that they had trouble and never turn them in.
I am a big fan of “homework is due at the beginning of class and goes in this pile or it never happened.”


2. Vicki - December 20, 2011

I’m with Jen. Homework is due on a certain date during class, and then, only when I ask for it. And I only want to collect one assignment at a time. I date stamp it, three-hole-punch it, and put it in a 3-ring notebook. I have explained to my students that ADD requires that I do this, or I will guarantee that I will lose papers. The only other way I accept them is under my office door *when I know to expect them*. Not my mailbox, not to my admin assistant. Under the door. There’s no place for them to go once they’re under the door.


3. alison - December 21, 2011

Eek! Electronic submission. I had to do this as distance grad course student last year (so did the campus students). Since I went to school in the Dark Ages (the 90s), this new system was totally foreign to me. Seems fine for programming courses or turning in English papers, but not so great for hand-calc engineering papers where you have to hunt down a scanner just to create an electronic copy. . .

Even worse was that our prof would randomly post the next assignment. Class was Tues-Thursday, and you might get notice Sunday morning that there was new homework. I missed the old days when the next problem set was scribbled in the upper lefthand corner of the chalkboard at the beginning of class. Yes, CHALKboard.


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