Sunday, October 2, 2011

Is It Just Me?

Or do they simply not care?

Friday I waited in my office,
for 14 individuals,
lovely lads and lassies
who had signed up for meetings
to discuss their projects.

"More personal," they had said in class,
"one on one," they had cried.

I acquiesced.

I had tea and lemon,
some stale cookies,
a sheet with their names,
and the times they had requested.

1:00 pm passed and no sign of Jessie.
1:15 pm passed and no sign of Mark.

But at 1:30 they arrived simultaneously.

"We knew you'd be waiting," they said.

2:15 pm's visitor came at 2:26. (Not that I noted it.)

The last person was Leander; he of the comical 3:07 pm time.

At 3:15 pm I left my office, closed the door,
and headed to the parking lot for a trip home.

Leander spied me crossing the quad, I noted it was 3:22 now.

"But," he said, "Where are you going?
You promised me a conference!"

"Yes," I said. "I did. It was 15 minutes ago.
I had the meeting for both of us. It did not go well."

"Huh," he said.

"Exactly," I said.

"I don't understand," he said. "I thought you wanted to help us."

"Do you imagine I'd just sit there indefinitely, waiting?"

He paused, and then said, "I didn't know you'd have anywhere else to go."


  1. Wow. And no, it's not just you. I have gone to having [optional] conferences for the final research paper--because when I required them, students would sign up, then (a) not come, or (b) they'd arrive with nothing to conference about. So now, the ones who really want help have an opportunity to get it, and the rest are left to "work" on their own during those class times I've set aside for conferences.

  2. I dig Burnt Chrome's idea. I've been burned by conferences before. When students show up with actual work to discuss, these meetings are fantastic. But usually I just leave my office hating them, my college, and myself.

  3. Oh, my lord, I know. They seem shocked that I go out on a regular basis, that they aren't the center of my world. (spoiler: they aren't. Christ, they aren't.)

  4. I'd probably stay for the full 15 minutes, and then regret it, because Leander would show up at 14:59, then stay another half hour (because I don't have anyone coming in after this conference, right? That's why he chose it), finally freeing me to hit the roads just as traffic seizes up and adds another 15-30 minutes to my commute.

    I'm still doing required conferences (not that I chase them down and ask to reschedule if they don't show up), but I've stopped requiring that they hand in drafts beforehand. Those who want written feedback can meet a deadline 3 days to a week before the first conference; those who are happy with oral feedback alone can bring a draft to the conference; and those who just want to "talk about their idea" can come with nothing (I don't actually explicitly offer this option, but some of my students, like BurntChrome's, take it anyway). I'm sure there are some who would write stronger papers if I required a draft from everyone in time to receive written comments, but, for the most part, I'm writing comments for students who may actually read them, and spending no more than 15-20 minutes on those who are less likely to do so. It's not perfect, but it's an improvement.

  5. I think THEY think we live in our offices or classrooms. They seem to have no concept that professors might actually go home at some point or that others might be inconvenienced by their behavior. I've seen students appear startled to see me out of my office (say... at the store, or at a sporting event).

    I don't collect drafts ahead of time. I make them read their papers to me during the conference and I offer feedback then, in written form, on their essays as they read to me. Most of them show up for conferences with me b/c I attach points to the drafts they bring with them. This motivates most... but a few still forget or show up late or write on my evals that I never made the effort to offer one-on-one feedback because THEY didn't show up for any of the three conferences I schedule.

    Richard Tingle, PhD, I hope you did something appropriately celebratory this weekend to reward yourself!

  6. @Dr. Tingle: I've always wondered about your avatar. Is that a ponytail or a shadow? Or a weasel nestled cozily around your neck? You're not going to tell me, though, are you? I'll just go mad not knowing. Unless... perhaps you're willing to schedule a 3:17am conference to discuss the matter?

    Back to the matter at hand:
    I used to return the students' big exams (graded) at their scheduled conference times. They had to come to their individual conferences in order to receive their grade, so they usually came. One by one. And to each one I then said that s/he had my full attention and that I would be glad to help hir: "And is there anything at all I can do to help you with the coursework? Anything?"

    If they missed their conference time and wanted their graded exam at the next class, then I told them the exams were back in my office and that they should stop by during office hours.

    I'm hoping it's a ponytail. But a weasel would be cool, too.

  7. A proffie near me has a huge line outside his door every week at office hour time. No advance time reservations allowed. Show up before the office hours end (which is when new entries into the line are stopped) and you'll get in. He works the line until it is gone. Once a week. Waiting time typically in excess of 90 minutes, even for those who show up early to get an early spot. It's horrifically inefficient, but it only wastes their time, not his.

  8. I noticed that no matter how many times I'd e-mail them this or that to look at, to read, to check, my online students were missing things. Important things I could show them in a face to face meeting and they'd likely never forget. Or fewer of them would. And of course my very accommodating CC would never do something like require online students to do a face to face meeting at the beginning. That would be intrusive to the little darlings who signed up for the class because they are busy, dammit.

    So I had this great idea to offer five extra points onto the assignment of their choice....and there are some major assignments they could use, folks. IF they come in for a face to face within the first two weeks. I had one student come in, and she was an old veteran of the online world. So I heard from many others....Professor Bella, if you would only make your offer something we could take advantage of, but NOOOOO, we all work, etc. So me, being the asshole that I am, scheduled a night at work. I have two teenagers, young ones. They need me all the time, and their father too. We are always running around with them, going two different directions. I DON'T do nights at work. But I did it. I scheduled a latish night, with 10 appointments. All very grateful. All very happy to meet their online teacher.

    One showed up. One.

    I'll never do THAT again.

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  10. @ Bella - Something like an epiphany came over me recently when I discovered that the "conference statistics" function in the online classroom can show me not only how many conference notes of how many words the students have _written_, but also how many conference notes in the classroom they have read - or at least clicked on. Under 10% of the total is quite typical. So given any particular piece of information in the online classroom, your students are not likely to have read it. The percentage is probably higher for e-mails you send them, for conference notes or class announcements that you, the prof, write. But if the total for the class is 10%, the total for any particular message, regardless of how important it is, is probably under 50%. Some subset of that 50% represent that content matter that they understand and retain.

    Perhaps I can surmise that if they don't read and retain what is said online, they probably don't really pay attention to what they themselves write online either. So based on the numbers we used for their passive participation, let's assume that they know about 50% of what they themselves write. So the 10 with appointments were actually about five people who _really_, in their conscious minds, had appointments that they were aware they made. So I'd say you're more at something 20% attendance than the empirically demonstrable 10%. I hope that's encouraging.

  11. Bella - I hope you told the class the result of this experiment. The nine who didn't bother show up deserve to be ashamed.

  12. When I read this post, I hear it in my head in a gravelly beat monologue over a sixties jazz riff with walking bassline, and ice cubes clinking in glasses at the next table....

  13. @Dick: Leander might be nothing more than a teenage brain, malfunctioning in a not-uncommon way. The October 2011 issue of National Geographic has an interesting article about the teenage brain, I highly recommend it.

    Still, that so many of the others didn't show up on time, even after they whined about wanting this, we might attribute to yet another of the evils of the totally supervised, helicoptering parenting style so common today. They simply cannot imagine that you have anything else to do but wait on them, with baited breath.


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