Friday, May 6, 2011

The Ballad of Blank-File Betsy

Two weeks ago,
In the dead of the night,
Drafts were submitted,
In the screen's blue light.

Okay, that’s as far as I’m going to get in something resembling ballad form. Use your imaginations from here on.

2 weeks ago: full drafts of the final 10-page research paper in my online class are due to be uploaded to 2 places in the LMS: the assignment dropbox (from where I will download them to read before a conference) and the discussion board (where students read and critique each others’ work in small groups). On the same day, students are expected to consult a schedule of conferences, and email me with their top three choices of time.

10 days ago: having batch-downloaded the drafts and scheduled most students for conferences, I check the two lists against each other, and discover that, although Betsy has submitted a file containing a draft, she has not scheduled a conference. I email her.

7 days ago: Betsy finally emails back to schedule a conference, apologizing for letting it slide, and saying it’s been a very busy semester, but she’s ready to concentrate on the class now.

2 days, 3 hours ago: a few hours before the scheduled conference, I sit down to read Betsy’s paper (a little later than I’d planned, but, hey, just-in-time grading is a reality of conference week, and at least it increases the likelihood that I’ll actually remember something about a draft by the time the author shows up in my office). I open the file. It appears to be a single blank page. I fiddle a bit with Word’s settings. The page remains blank. I check the file size, and discover that it is, in fact, noticeably smaller than those of the other drafts. I go to the discussion board, locate Betsy’s group, and click on the file she has posted there. Same problem. One member of her group has posted a witty reply praising the draft’s “concision” and “transparency”; the other two have posted variations on “um, dude, I think your file’s blank.” There is no sign that Betsy has returned to the discussion board to post comments on her group members’ drafts, or to read their comments on her draft.

2 days, 2 hours, and 50 minutes ago: I email Betsy, pointing out the problem, and asking that she make sure we’ll have access to a readable copy of her draft during our scheduled conference.

2 days, 2 hours, and 30 minutes ago: Betsy emails back, terribly apologetic, saying she’ll bring the draft to conference.

2 days ago (just before our scheduled conference): another email from Betsy. There’s a problem. She’s on campus, the draft is at home, and her roommate isn’t there to send it to her. She’s “mortified” at the confusion, this isn’t like her at all, but she’s been so, so busy this semester; can we reschedule? I reply, mentioning that the same time slot is open two days later. Another profusely apologetic, profusely thankful email from Betsy arrives almost immediately, confirming the appointment and promising that she will send me the paper as an attachment as soon as she gets home that evening.

Over the last 2 days, I have read 3 dozen papers in various stages of completion, held 15 conferences, listened to 8 oral reports, distributed student evaluations, answered numerous email queries, and generally managed to avoid getting more than 4 hours of sleep a night. We have had violent storms and lovely sunshine. The temperature has ranged from the 40s to the 80s. The details of Osama Bin Laden’s death have been announced, discussed, corrected, and discussed some more. But I have not heard a peep from Betsy, who , as I finish writing this, is 15 minutes late to our 20-minute conference.


  1. I always get one student who insists on turning his/her paper in in a format I can't open or read. Despite numerous reminders that doc, docx, or rtf are the only ones I'm guaranteed to be able to open, and if they don't turn it in in a format I can open, they don't get credit. I sometimes wonder if they do it on purpose so they get a bit of extra time (or so they think). But then I remember that these same students can't figure out how to double-space or create a hanging indent. . . .

  2. @ Snarky -- There's a chance the students are trying to "slug" the file, kinda like how people use slugs (metallic substitutes for coins, not the squishy relatives of snails) in vending machines. Basically, the student takes a crap file of some sort, changes the file extension--say from ".jpg" to ".doc"--and then submits the file in hopes of getting a "can't open plz resubmit kthxbai" message from the prof, which buys the student a few more days to write the paper.

  3. @snarky writer: a common experience with me when I taught at the CC level. Lots of 1st year students with shiny new laptops, dashing off their work in the not-used-by-anybody MS Works format. They still arrived...even after pointing them to deeply dicounted Office suite the school offered or the FREE OpenOffice.

    @dr. mindbender: ya think?

    All of my online course materials are due by Sunday night. And I'm sitting in here in dread because my class of supposed "digital natives" will continue to demonstrate their lack of appreciation for anything that goes on behind the GUI .
    -"You don't have my work because I used "Save" instead of "Submit" " (hard to believe if you didn't log in for 12 days...yeah, I can tell)
    -"I went away to (southern state capital city) and for two weeks my laptop was left behind." Ya know: I don't do the Facebook for several reasons, but if there is ever a reason so self-report some personal might be now, so I could then ask how the sender's FB profile got updated when the laptop didn't make the trip. But that would petty.
    -"I just couldn't figure out where to post the assigment." (Shoot sweetie, post it *someplace*. I'll find it).

    Vonnegut was right:
    so it goes.


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