The assignment required no external research. It was based only on reading that they had already done (or, at least, were supposed to have done) for class. Not only had we already covered the reading, but we had also discussed in some considerable detail the very issue that they were being asked to write about. I had essentially given them most of the answers they would need to write the paper.
I posted the assignment on the LMS a few weeks ago, and told the students to read the instructions and to come to class, or to my office hours, with any questions they had about the requirements. For the next few weeks, I made an announcement in almost every class reminding them of the paper, and asking if anyone had any questions. A few students asked basic questions, such as whether they could write a bit more than the required length, and then we moved on.
And then came the due date, and the emails.
Less than twenty-four hours before the paper was due, I had three emails complaining that they didn't understand what the question was asking. Here, in a nutshell, is the main part of the question, with historical place and time period changed to guard my identity:
Some historians have argued that the industrial revolution provided opportunities for poor people in England to improve their living conditions by moving to towns and cities and undertaking new types of work. Based on your reading of Chapter 6 of the textbook, is this an accurate assessment? What were the main challenges faced by the new industrial working class, and were some types of workers better able than others to benefit from industrialization?As I said, this isn't actually the historical area we are dealing with in my class, but the substance of the question is very similar, and you can take my word for it that the 30-page chapter of the textbook deals with the main issues explicitly and repeatedly.
One email, received on the day the paper was due, said:
I don't know exactly what this question is asking. Could you explain it a bit more? What do you mean by accurate assessment?It's not so much the question itself that I find infuriating, because it's a question I would have been happy to answer if raised in class, or in my office. It's the fact that the student has evidently completely ignored the assignment for the past three weeks, despite my exhortations, and apparently hadn't even read the instructions until the day before it was due. Sorry, but your procrastination does not mean that I'm going to sit down on the weekend to write an explanatory email.
The best emails, though, were more straightforward and yet even more lame. For example:
Hello, I was wondering where we should turn our essays in? Do you want them on turnitin?Here, verbatim, is the relevant section of the instructions, under the heading "Submitting your paper":
Submit your essay using the Essay Submission link on the class website. You will receive a numbered receipt from TurnitIn. Make sure you record the receipt number.
I showed them the relevant link in class. Another student concern:
I was wondering if you could tell me how many pages the paper should be?From the instructions, under the heading "Length":
Your paper should be about 3 pages long, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins (approximately 750-900 words).Jesus Christ on a goddamn crutch, people! Read the tea-partying instructions, will ya, or the only questions you'll have to confront in your own work lives will be, "Are you on fryer or grill today?"