Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Professor Poll. (Is "Like, whatever..." an option?)

Hi CMers,

I just got an email from a student in one of my online courses. Today the online course began week three of an 8 week course. This morning, I received this email:

Is "Like,
an option?
Hello professor!

I am so sorry I have not been in class. Thank you for your understanding but I was married on January 12 and then I was in a terrific accident. I am just grateful to be alive. I need to focus on healing right now. I am asking for you to give me a few weeks to get better. Then I will finish the course.

Thanks professor!
Marriage Mike

I received two emails within the hour, one from the Dean about ensuring our students are successful even in the face of life challenges (may or may not be related to this email; it's unclear) and one from the student rep asking me to please take Marriage Mike's request seriously.

Here's where you come in! Do I:

a) Give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him to start an 8 week course at the beginning of Week 6 (three weeks from today)
b) Make a deal for the extension if he completes Module One as a good faith measure
c) Tell him that only an idiot starts an online class 10 days before getting married and that life is clearly too much for him to handle right now and he ought to withdraw
d) Ignore his email entirely and hope he gets the hint to fuck off.

Side note: we are not allowed to ask for medical notes, as such a request was deemed "an invasion of privacy" by the Chancellor. Looking forward especially to Beaker Ben's response here.


  1. Make a deal for the extension -- he probably won't do it anyway and then you can say you tried to help him out..

  2. Strelnikov solution:

    Drive to his house at night when he is sleeping.

    Fling dynamite at it.

    Drive away as it explodes.

    Three years later, piss on the family's grave.

  3. My first thought would be to pressure people at the admin level to put their money where their mouth is and allow the student to withdraw with a full (or nearly-full) refund of tuition, so he can start with a clean slate next semester (or quarter, since it sounds like you're on 8-week segments). That's the kindest and most pedagogically sound approach.

    In the (highly likely) event that they don't go for that, then, yes, an approach that offers him a time-limited opportunity to complete the class successfully while also CYA if (okay, when) he doesn't (and involves the least extra work for you) is the best bet. That's probably something in the general area of a) or b).

    Another approach which also CYAs: email back the student rep and ask for advice/options (e.g. what options are available if Mike is predictably still behind at the end of week 7 or 8? For instance, does he qualify under your institution's rules for an incomplete (he wouldn't under my institution's, but I also wouldn't be pressured to somehow help a student in this situation "succeed," at least not in this short-term way).

  4. I'm with Cassandra with respect to withdrawal. If this doesn't work and, assuming Mike would FIRST be in class at week 6 of 8 - adopt the Strelnikov solution. There's just no way he really learns under those circs.

    By the way, the spellchecker flagged a slight misspelling of Strelnikov and suggested Kalshnikov. Sometimes everything makes sense.

  5. Don't you sometimes wish that there were a way to force the Dean or student rep to hire such students for an important job that will really mean something in the Dean's/Rep's life . . .

    (let's see ..... oh yeah, critical care nurse, that'll do!)

    . . . after such student has been helped to be "successful even in the face of life challenges" (read: not held accountable to standards)?

    Some of the graduates of my program go on to work at the nearby nookyooler power plant. We are downwind of it, lucky us. I keep this in mind every time I am asked (explicitly or implicitly) to grade easy or dumb down the content, or cut students a break.

  6. Please to note, the whatever graphic and the snotty subtitle of the post comes from a jaded and terribly PMS-ing moderator. (And it's NOT Cal.)

    1. It's your own fault for being a girl. You'll get no sympathy here.

    2. I don't know, it sure sounds like Cal....

  7. The first think I would say is it sucks to be you, because obviously your adminstrators have been chemically neutered somehow.

    Within the restrictions under which you must work, the only choice is to give Mike the rope he needs to hang himself, and then sit by and watch when his neck doesn't break and he chokes to death. I have done this before and there is a certain satisfaction in this.

    I can tell you that Mike will not be able to complete the course in two weeks. He will either abandon all hope entirely or just turn in stuff too shitty to pass. It's extra work and headache for you, but again, not without reward.

  8. Does anyone really consider anything other than a variant of C a serious option? There's no way I would let a student miss even the first 4-6 classes, much less weeks.

  9. Wouldn't you record his grade as "incomplete" at the end of the term? My online campus strongly discourages incompletes, and has stringent rules about who does and doesn't qualify for one. Skipping six weeks of a course would definitely fall in the "doesn't" category, and the admins would be all up in my grill about granting it.

    1. Surly, at my university, "incompletes" require a lot of paperwork and a commitment of 28 days of unpaid instruction. Of the incompletes I have granted (dozens), only 3 students have used them to pass the course.

      I now only grant them for things like getting in a car accident on the last day of class and needing to take the final.

    2. I don't give incompletes any more unless requested to do so in writing by the Dean. Here's why: the last time I gave one it was because a student who had been hospitalized for 4 weeks of term came to see me and begged for an incomplete. She was a good student, and had clearly been really in hospital, but I still thought her best solution was to get a compassionate W. Because she begged, I gave in.

      She never did the work.

      Months later I got all kinds of paperwork from on high because of a campaign by the student's mother who said I had "forced" the student to take the incomplete, even though I should have known she was in no medical condition to complete the work. Should have known. About a medical condition I am forbidden to ask about. The mother threatened to sue me personally and all kinds of shenanigans.

      Ever since then, absolutely not. No incompletes. You are that desperate? Get someone to overrule me. In writing.

    3. Exactly: I thought the incomplete route would be a way for AM to circumvent an intrusive dean. If the rules for incompletes are clear, and the student doesn't qualify, then it's a closed deal. Of course, if "I"s are at the instructor's discretion, then this strategy wouldn't work.

    4. So, at the end of the course, when he hasn't finished any word, would you then be asked to grant him an Incomplete, seeing as how you were willing to accommodate up to that point?

  10. Do what the student rep said-take the request seriously.

    Then drop him and ignore any further emails from idiot student.

  11. If the course requires interaction with classmates - discussions, chats, etc. - then missing this much class means the student cannot possibly successfully complete the course material. And you would so much prefer that he withdrew, avoiding a poor grade on his record. He can, then, appeal to the powers that be, asking for a full refund, and the powers that be can take it from there. I always apologize, word things very sympathetically, but say it just isn't possible. They may not like the outcome, but they can't claim you were mean to them.

  12. AM, I am pleased that you ask for my opinion but flattery gets you nowhere. You created this problem so now you're stuck with it. If you can't see this, let me spell it out for you:

    1. Does your syllabus include a marriage followed by terrible absence clause?
    2. Did you specifically tell students that a reasonably appropriate salutation in an email would not automatically entitle them to three wishes (including more wishes)?
    3. A mean, cheap bastard like you probably didn't send him and his beautiful bride a wedding gift. Given that your insult probably weighed heavily on your student's mind, leading to his accident, I have only one more question:

    How in God's name do you live with yourself?

    1. All kidding aside, don't get bent out of shape about the illness with no excuse. Your admins have set a policy in which there is effectively no need for written excuses. Given that anybody can drop in and drop out of the course - all the while you are bearing almost complete responsibility for their success - you can only offer so much help. Focus on covering your own ass, as others have suggested.

      Send the student many emails, asking how he is doing and gently encouraging him to start his work. As the admins for their advice. Insist they give you specific solutions ("Given your experiences helping so many students be successful, ...") and try to follow it.

      In my experience, the admins don't totally buy the crap they try to sell us. Deep down, they know these kids are idiots. But, they are idiots with money so the job of the admin is to push the faculty up to the breaking point in order to squeeze out every penny. When the student fails and you've documented all your valiant but vain attempts to help him, they might show mercy on you, knowing that they've collected the tuition and made your life a little bit more unbearable. That's the gravy for them.

    2. Ben, I hoped for your advice in particular because of your tried and true mantra of not caring more about a student's education than the student does.

      This is a kid who was in my course for 10 days by the time of him marriage. He was already almost 2 weeks behind. That says to me that he's a lazyass who does not deserve any extra work from me.

      I shall give him a task. If he completes it, I'll let him stay. Otherwise he goes.

    3. Given your administration's favoritism towards students, I think you might want everybody to think you care a lot. All the while, don't give yourself any additional work - one little assignment for the student and a bunch of "I'm here to provide help at the drop of a hat" emails (which the student doesn't respond to) doesn't seem like it should be too time consuming.

      In situations like this, I'm beginning to think that everybody is playing a game. The student, you and the administrators know that the guy is a loser. The student pretends to want to learn, the administrator pretends to believe that the student can succeed and you're supposed to pretend that your teaching alone can make this all happen. The first person to stop pretending gets blamed. Make sure the student gives up first, either by withdrawing, admitting that he won't do the work or showing beyond any doubt that he isn't involved in the class.

  13. There's an app for that. Works for Deans as well.

  14. But what is wrong with 'c', phrased a bit more delicately: You seem to have a lot on your plate right now, take some time off to recover and we'll be happy to welcome you back when you are ready.

  15. StewJanuary 17, 2013 at 1:17 PM
    As others have suggested, push him to approach the college for a medical withdrawal and refund.

    If they refuse, then stand firm. Option C, but with diplomacy.

    This is assuming there's something about the course structure that means he fails automatically if he doesn't show for the next few weeks. If that's not the case, settle for laying out the reality that it is nigh on impossible for anyone to pass when starting that late and strongly urge that he withdraw.