Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hungry Hungry Hippocampus Sends In A Big Thirsty On The Never Ending Journey to the Unbeatable Syllabus.

Today I am adding the following to my syllabus: “Like any other written work, essays on exams must be in your own words (or properly marked as quotations).”

I am adding this because I saw a plagiarism charge almost overturned based on the ludicrous argument that it might not be obvious to students that they cannot simply memorize a brief quote from a Wikipedia entry and write it down as their answer to an in-class exam question. I never would have imagined having to write something like that on a syllabus—but here we are.

Q: What new thing(s) have you added to this term’s syllabi that you never thought you would have had to spell out?

My favorite of the 3 alternate BT graphics.


  1. Jeez Louise, where to start with this one. This semester, some little shit in the upper-level Observational Astronomy class who wants to become a patent lawyer is pulling the classic "I DID hand it in" as a computer file on his disk of images when in truth he didn't hand it in at all, so the syllabus has a new line item that in addition to the images on disk, all write-ups must be turned in as typed or computer-printed (since no one has used a typewriter in many years: they print papers out from computers) copies on paper. (Modern students draw a blank on the word "hardcopy.")

    My favorite from the intro-level, general-ed course is:

    Do not ever recycle Scantrons in Astro 101. Anytime any kind of Scantron form is used in Astro 101, whether for homework or other assignments or for exams, it must be a new Scantron at the beginning of the Astro 101 assignment or exam. As always whenever using Scantron forms, use pencil to write on and otherwise fill out all Scantron forms. Any assignment that uses a Scantron that does not include the students' name printed legibly in the Roman alphabet on the Scantron will receive no credit.

    This was the result of some heavily tattooed, pierced, shaved-head business-school denizen who insists "I'm a good student" turned in a Scantron form with the answers filled in on the back of the form. He insisted he was encouraged to do this by one of his business school professors.

    And yes, I have recently put explicit instructions for students to write their names in Roman characters on every assignment and homework.

  2. I can't find my tweet at the moment, but I briefly considered adding something like "Your instructor is a human being. Please adjust your expectations accordingly."

  3. a reader sends this in:

    My newest addition this term is the following:

    If you miss a lecture, it is not an Instructor’s responsibility to repeat the complete lecture to you. The steps to get caught-up are as follows:

    Confer with a classmate and: 1) Get a copy of the lecture notes, and 2) Get a briefing from that classmate on what transpired in class.

    If, after the above steps are taken, questions remain then make an appointment to meet with me. You must bring a hard-copy of the lecture notes from the missed class session for this meeting.

    A word of advice: If you anticipate missing a class, do not EVER ask if you will be missing anything important. Everything covered in class is important.

    I never anticipated that some percentage of my time would involve dealing with students who spend more energy finding loopholes in a syllabus than trying to learn the material!

  4. I've gotten to the point where I require that students not use any direct quotes whatsoever. Syllabus requires that all text must be their own words. Even if it is properly cited and in quotation marks, it still loses 5% of paper value - and gets much worse from there. Just tired of fighting the "I didn't know how to do this" argument....

    1. I'm going somewhat in the opposite direction: I encourage students who are having real struggles with paraphrasing difficult material (often L2 -- or 3 or 4 -- learners) to quote more than is ideal, while making it clear that the amount *is* more than ideal, and will incur a grade penalty, but avoid plagiarism, which is a more serious problem. Maybe I'm shirking my responsibility to push them to develop their paraphrasing skills, but many of them are struggling with just reading and understanding scholarly articles at the point I get them, and selecting appropriate quotations seems like a step in the right direction.

  5. Oh, plus my 2 page limit on particular papers has been amended to "no more than 1000 words" after a particularly bitter issue with a paper submitted in 8 point type face and.9 line spacing. Syllabus had other specs re: type face and spacing but he/she, by God, got the 2 page limit.

    And, not surprisingly, the extra words in that paper did not help one bit.

  6. Nothing happened last semester to make me add another clause to my syllabus, but I wish I could add this, from a magnet I bought in the Alcatraz (former prison) gift shop:

    "Regulation # 23. If you make GROUNDLESS COMPLAINTS for the purpose of creating dissatisfaction and/or stirring up trouble . . . you will be subject to DISCIPLINARY ACTION."

    1. I like that one. Maybe you need a t-shirt, or a button?

  7. I teach high school, but I do have a syllabus. After this semester, I'm adding a line that You can not eat or drink anything in class, and if you have a documented medical need, then your food/drink must be consumed outside.

    I WANT to add (after today's incident), a line about not consuming food or drink from others, especially if you don't know what it is. YUCK.


  8. 1. "Students must be physically present in class for attendance to count." I had some students trying to FaceTime or Skype in last quarter. Their friends would connect with them and they'd attempt to participate in class discussion electronically. This was not for any special circumstances. They didn't want to leave their dorm room in the rain.

    I did have one kid once refuse to sit at a desk. He wanted to sit on the floor. I didn't bother to put that in my syllabus because I've never had anyone else be adamant about sitting on the floor because "good energy."

  9. My syllabus has stabilized: two pages in Word, just basic course and grading policies. If anything, I made it shorter this semester. Students in my classes have more to worry about, and they realize an attempt to find holes in the syllabus would go nowhere. Somehow they get that vibe from me early on, so there are never complaints, either.

    On the other hand...I'm not even collecting homework this time, just testing if they did the problems by repeating them on quizzes. Every class has at least two quiz problems, so they have to come (or forfeit 30% of the grade). In general, the idea is that everything that's graded is done in class, individually, in real time, without electronics: pen and paper (and brain). I feel lucky that I teach math, so this is possible. Tenure helps, too: some of them will hate me, but they'll learn the stuff.

  10. My addition this term is that they're responsible for checking their own plagiarism-checker results, and for fixing/asking questions about any problems, whether or not I notice the problems. Ideally, I'd be checking all of the results myself, but (1) there's a benefit to having them run more things through the the plagiarism checker than I can realistically check myself (given the fact that the percentages alone aren't very informative; one has to look at the actual report, which takes time to load, etc.), and (2) even if I tried to check all the results, I'd be forever hunting for stragglers, and there's likely some correlation between late work and work that is more likely to have problems.

    I do check the results on the larger assignment into which all the little assignments feed, but there's some danger of students insisting that if I didn't catch the problem at the little-assignment stage, it should somehow get a pass.