Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blame It On Blackboard

I'm teaching an online course for the fourth consecutive summer. This summer I'm having a problem I haven't seen before. Several students have submitted work late in Blackboard or sent it late by email (despite a syllabus statement telling them not to do this), claiming that "something was wrong" with Blackboard and that they couldn't submit their papers on time. So naturally they expect to get away Scot-free with late submission.

I took this up with our Blackboard guy, and he wouldn't say that it couldn't happen.

Naturally, I am skeptical, but if it's true, I can't legitimately hold students accountable.

What are your policies/practices on this?

30 comments:

  1. Students can e-mail me their work if the course software's "drop box" feature isn't working. Bottom line, it needs to get to me on time or it's late.

    If there's a legit problem, the online campus e-mails the instructors and tells us what's going on and who/what is affected. I therefore assume that individual "problems with the drop box" are bogus. I'm considering requiring them to submit a screen shot of the error message they get when they claim to have a "problem."

    Lately, I've had a rash of students "accidentally" submitting blank documents instead of the assigned work, and thus earning some extra time to "get me the correct file." I suspect this is the updated version of "forgetting" to sign the check you sent to the utility company so as to buy yourself more time before they cut off the lights.

    I get so tired of all of this shit. The last few years, I've taken the summer off completely (and I know that I'm lucky to be able to do so) just to get away from the sleaze for a while so I don't go completely cynical.

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    1. P.S., I didn't mean to sound callous there about the utility bill analogy. I've been that financially desperate many times and am entirely sympathetic. The "sleaze" I meant to refer to was that of the lying, conniving students.

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    2. I'm seeing the blank-file problem (or the mysterious-file-format problem) pretty frequently, too.

      The irony of the utility-bill check analogy: the check might well go through without a signature these days, with the whole scan-to-deposit thing.

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    3. Tell them, up front, that they are responsible for making sure that their file uploaded OK, and on time. Students (in Moodle, and I'm sure in any other halfway-decent CMS) are able to download their own uploads for that very purpose.

      A file that I can't read is treated as a late assignment.

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    4. Yep, I just tell them that if they can't upload it to Wackboard, they should just email it to me *before the deadline*.

      I always tell them, "Find ways to get the work done, rather than looking for reasons *not* to get it done." And then I vomit at my own self-help-speak.

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    5. I don't teach online classes (thankfully), so I get around that by just not accepting anything other than a hard copy, due at the *beginning* of class on the due date. There are tons of computer labs with printers on campus, so I don't accept any excuses about printers not working or anything like that, because if the student printer in our building isn't working, then there are two in the building next door and I don't even know how many in the library and other computer labs. They just need to find a way to get it done.

      If I were to accept electronic submissions, then I'd have similar guidelines--the work is due at some specified time, in the correct format and location, and it is their responsibility to make that happen. I do love the screen shot of the error message idea, though. If I ever do decide to accept electronic submissions, I will definitely be making use of that.

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  2. I do a required test of the system before grading kicks in. You have to submit a document proving you know how to do it and that you know better then providing me with a file format I cannot open.

    After that, any emails claiming problems must be accompanied with screen shots showing the problem.

    I check all files as fast as possible to make sure I can open them and that they are the correct file. Students who make a boo boo are emailed that the late penalty is in effect and to get their shit together.

    All of that is said, one of my teens is taking a summer high school course and after two days of emails and phone calls with the instructor, a problem was solved. The teacher was informed that he needed to hit a button so students could get into the on-line class.

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  3. I haven't disputed anything with an undergrad since Clinton was the president. If an undegrad even gets within 10 feet of me, one of my lab kids takes them down.

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    1. Hmm. . .do you (or your "lab kids") hire out? There are days when I could use such protection.

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  4. At the moment, I've got a policy on my syllabus that says that they're responsible not only for uploading the file, but also for checking that it uploaded, that it opens, and that it's the file they meant to submit. That somewhat solves the problems Bastard mentions above. In fact, I flunked a student who failed to turn in the take-home final exam (blank file) last semester. He was supposedly a graduating senior; I simply cut and pasted the syllabus language with a brief explanation that I couldn't change grades after they were filed. Either he accepted it, or he hasn't quite accepted yet that the diploma is *not* in the mail, and the problem will pop up again later in the year. Either way, I think I'm covered.

    I haven't really got a policy for when Bb isn't working. If it's a global issue, I'll send out an email saying "wait until it's up again," since I don't need my inbox bombarded with assignments. Most other problems with our version can be solved by signing out and signing back in to the browser, or perhaps by trying a different browser and/or computer. I'm generally fairly relaxed about deadlines for the first 24 hours or so after the deadline, and I require online students to have a backup online access plan, so that takes care of most problems. But I like the email w/ screenshot idea (just don't actually send me the work, please). When I give extensions on online assignments for other reasons, I usually ask students to write a brief note at the bottom of the assignment saying something along the lines of "remember we discussed why this is late" (that way, they don't have to share details with other students who see the post, but I remember not to assess a penalty).

    Unfortunately, however, Bb really does malfunction. At the moment, the "needs grading" indicator is apparently not functioning correctly for a couple of students in my online class (they've submitted the work; I can see the work; but I can't see a "needs grading" indicator). I emailed once with tech support, got a less-than-entirely-satisfactory answer (they're usually pretty good), and, since it isn't urgent, decided to wait until after the holiday weekend to explore it further.

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    1. I forgot about the issues when BB is down. At my uni that seems to be a little too often.

      How often is the conversation, when work is returned, started with "why did I get that grade?" The little lovelies are so concerned with that mark that the can't seem to remember to open the file. I often put a 1% in the grade box with an announcement that all grades are at the end of the returned assignment. The excited emails are priceless.

      Fine, I can't figure out how to set up the assignment page so I can give a letter grade while have a weight for the assignment which has to be done as a percentage. (And really, I'm beyond caring.)

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  5. As untoward as it might feel, try to befriend one of the Bb support drones, preferably the tier 2 support (i.e., not helpdesk) type. Cultivate the relationship with them & it could well pay off with inside scoop on gaming/working w/Bb on things like this.

    Bb is a temperamental beast, no matter what pedigree you've followed to get to Learn (e.g., "pure/real" Bb or the WebCT/Bb Vista clusterfuck). As Bb has corporately become evermore like Microsoft, so has their flagship product - i.e., an overcoded, overcomplicated monstrosity that generally works, but you're not quite sure how/why.

    And something always could be going wrong.

    And just as quickly "fix" itself...

    Wanderer: After getting the exact date/time/browser info from your students, I'd get up w/your Tier 2 support/Bb admin to ask them to look at the logfiles to see if the students did log in or not. If you're in hosted Bb, I believe this is something that is a pretty standard feature/service that Bb provides to their hosted clients. That all said, checking/tracking through the logfiles like this isn't something that Bb has totally moved out into the higher cost Reporting add-on (yet).

    It's not perfect or necessarily easy, but it can give you some good solid info for laying the smack down on their flakie asses!

    Fwiw, where I am (soon to be was), we work to assure instructors that they will be notified about any/all outages (planned & unplanned, including start/end times) so that they can be properly informed & prepared for the inevitable onslaught from studentflakes. There's just way too much that can go wrong between where the "official" Bb system ends (e.g., the commodity internet, the studentflake's computer, their ISP, etc...) for it to be automatically blamed on Bb.

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  6. I agree with Surly that the student should be smart enough to send you the essay by e-mail if there really were a problem. I also agree Cassandra's policy as stated in her first sentence. I still have something similar on my syllabi pertaining to hard copies of essays: students are responsible for finishing their papers in enough time to find somewhere to print them if they have printer problems, for ensuring they have paper and toner, and for making adequate backups so that they will not lose much work if they have serious computer problems, etc. I state clearly that computer problems per se are not an adequate excuse for handing in an essay late.
    As for Blackboard and Moodle, I don't use them on principal.

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    Replies
    1. Oh yes, as for other excuses, they're also responsible for ensuring that their family members say healthy and safe during the course.

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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      Delete
  8. In my smaller class (n=30), I get them to email me a backup copy, and tell them that the sent time on that email serves as proof of on-time submission for work, should there be a problem with our version of blackboard.

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  9. I've had very few submission problems, though I do have access to the logs to see when students have accessed what. I'm not sure if they know that.

    I did have an excuse from a student, e-mailed about 10 minutes before class, saying hir'd have to miss class to take their (boyfriend, mom, mistress, cousin) to the (dentist, airport, election, funeral home). It aligned, quite oddly, with logs indicating hir'd been accessing course content on and (mostly) off since dinner the night before, and continued to do so for the first half of class time.

    Sometimes, students just confuse me.

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  10. I LOVE that I can track their Bb accesses!

    I had a Froshflake take off on me LOUDLY, in class, about what a piece of shit Blackboard was, that it hadn't been working for FOUR SOLID DAYS, and how could I expect ANYONE to get their assignments done, blah, blah, blah.

    The next class I handed Froshflake a printout showing that Froshflake's ID had accessed the course Bb site a dozen or more times during the FOUR SOLID DAYS. I suggested, although there would be a late penalty for the late work, I was quite willing to re-boot the relationship and forget the rude in-class behavior in expectation of a reboot of FROSHFLAKE's attitude and behavior.

    It was one of the few times it actually worked, and within a few days I received quite nice verbal and written apologies, and Froshflake turned into a decent student.

    I do agree with those above: they need to be more resourceful about technical issues. Maybe when the IRS takes "problems with the IRS website" as a legitimate excuse for not getting taxes submitted on time, maybe THEN I'll accept problems with Bb as legitimate reason to accept late online submissions.

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  11. I accept an e-mail attachment as a "date stamp," provided a) I can open the file, and b) the hard copy I require at the next class meeting matches the e-mail exactly. But I still deal in hard copy only. I want a stack of things I can take to a coffee shop, and my eyes are old.

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  12. I allow them a one time "the computer fucked me over" get out of jail free card. In my e-mail to them allowing this, I tell them it won't happen again, give them my campus (not Blackboard) e-mail address for the umpteenth time, and tell them to make sure, if they are having blackboard problems, to e-mail me their work on time via whatever e-mail system works for them.

    This has worked for me so far.

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    Replies
    1. If done well, this approach can be quite effective. Having that sense of despair is important though -- they have to realize how close to fucked they were.

      Delete
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  14. I've never used online submissions for nontrivial work. I always just work with hard copy. How do you usefully mark an online document?

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  15. I've never used online submissions for nontrivial work. I always just work with hard copy. How do you usefully mark an online document?

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    1. Two ways: either download it and track changes / add comments, OR use Turnitin.

      Turnitin is useless for plagiarism (seriously, it has too large a database and almost everything matches up somewhere), but it has a way for you to open the submitted document and insert comments on EVERYTHING: formatting, spelling, arguments, unsaid connections, nonsensical sentences. It's fantastic. And you can put that comment anywhere, so you can float it on top of the page number or mark off a heading or stamp it on the side. It's the only reason I like Turnitin.

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    2. I use the comment feature in Word----works like a charm and is much easier in many ways because I type MUCH faster and MUCH more legibly than I write. Also, for MLA errors I can link them to places on the web that explain how to do that kind of citation. Since I never correct MLA errors (only explain the rules over and over and sit with them while THEY correct it) this is a great thing.

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    3. Another Word user here. One can also program autocorrect to fill in frequently-used phrases (typing cfx in my copy of Word produces "check for and fix this problem throughout the paper" -- I only mark a problem the first time it occurs).

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  16. @Three Sigma -- I deal in pdfs exclusively, for a variety of reasons, but one is I find them easy to mark up. I used Adobe Pro for a while, it has commenting features that work well, your words appear in red outlined boxes, and you can draw lines, arrows, or highlight text. I've encountered a few free-ware pdf editors recently, Foxit comes to mind, that provide similar features at reduced cost (and program bulk).

    I strongly prefer not to have paper documents. Electronic ones can be returned via e-mail or BlackHole, I don't have to spend time or energy keeping track of papers or handing them back. A much more pleasant process all around. I also find having electronic text in front of me makes plopping said text into google to find where it was copied from a bit easier.

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