Sunday, October 18, 2015

The End of Summer Days

From: limburger
To: oph
Cc: trahana, stilton
Subject: URGENT!! Re: Fwd: Re: Advanced Hamster Thermodynamics

Feta's sabbatical went through so I made the executive decision that you'll cover her fall section of thermnemonics. Sorry to spring this on you like this but to make it up the course site on the LMS will be built while you're still on vacay by Trahana from IT and I.

From: oph
To: limburger
Cc: trahana, stilton
Subject: Re: URGENT!! Re: Fwd: Re: Advanced Hamster Thermodynamics

That's great! Feta's long overdue for a sabbatical. We had planned for this eventuality before I left for vacation, and I'm already on board. Thanks for your offer but don't worry about the course site; I'll just copy it from the last time I ran it and update content as appropriate.

From: trahana
To: oph
Cc: limburger, stilton
Subject: Re: URGENT!! Re: Fwd: Re: Advanced Hamster Thermodynamics

You don't understand. We have implemented a new template on the LMS this year so you can't just copy Feta's course. It looks like you have a quiz on the first day, Team Readiness Test? I need to know in order to set up the LMS right.

At this point, dear Readers, I switch to screenplay dialogue mode to save space.

OPH: I'm pretty sure I do understand. Feta and I co-developed the new template and I even beta tested it when I ran AHT myself last spring, so I would be copying my course, not Feta's older course. I would still prefer to set up my new course myself as Feta and I had planned. Really, it would only take me twenty minutes.

Trahana: Limburger and I went all through Feta's site for hours to plan how to put it into the new template and will be meeting again to create the new site and make it live in a couple days. Enjoy the rest of your vacation!

OPH: OK, if you spent all that time then I guess the new LMS is not the same as I thought it was. When's your meeting?

Limburger: Tuesday at 3PM. Call us at that time in case we have questions.

OPH: Tuesday is perfect: it's the first day of the term and I need to email the class about their first assignment, due Thursday. I'd have already called you about this by now but there's no landline or cell service here. I'm filching WiFi from my neighbor who gave me his password because I fixed his well pump, but it comes through his satellite TV and it's low bandwidth, no voice. Here's what I need on the LMS for the first class meeting. [List of eleven items redacted to save space.] If I don't hear back from you sooner, I'll be at my computer at 3 on Tuesday. Also, I was already expecting to be back Thursday for the first class meeting, but I'm leaving earlier to arrive mid-day Wednesday so that I can come up to speed on the new LMS.

Two days pass, during which I cannot escape a sense of foreboding. The car is packed, hotel reservations made, and 3 PM Tuesday arrives.

Limberger: How do I make a new content area in the LMS and make a new menu link to it?

OPH: Isn't Trahana with you? If neither of you know how to do that, I can do it in a couple of mouse clicks. Much simpler than writing directions.

Limburger: We'll do it. Feta gave 2 quizzes on the first day. Which one goes first?

OPH: NO. MY course will use MY quizzes. They're all explained in the syllabus on my AHT site from last spring.

Trahana: I got the new folder made in the Course Info section. I didn't know what name to use so I just called it New Folder.

OPH: It should be called "Week 1" and it goes in the Content section. That was spelled out in item 2 on my list but that's OK, I can fix it later.

Limburger: The gradebook is now populated and the course is live.

OPH: Isn't the gradebook populated automatically anymore?

Trahana: Of course it's always been automatic. Again, it's just a new template on the same LMS.

Limburger: OK, you can take it from here.

OPH: Wait. You haven't really done anything. Am I supposed to do all 11 items in my list?

Limburger: That was always the plan. First we needed to see if the new template worked.

OPH: It worked fine when I used it last spring.

Limburger: But I hadn't seen what it looked like for myself, and now I have. So go ahead and do your thing now.

Whereupon I log onto the LMS and within ten minutes copy my course to the new site and update a few content items. This being ADVANCED Hamster Thermo, the students need to hit the ground running: they are to arrive for the first day's session having already completed an open-book, take-home quiz. For good measure, I send an email to the class alerting them to this.

I walk away from the laptop. An hour later, as I am about to pack it away, I open the laptop to check my email a last time.

Reply-To: stilton
To: HATHM_427
Cc: oph, limburger
Subject: First Assignment CORRECTION

Students of Advanced Hamster Thermodynamics,

Please disregard the earlier email regarding the Self-Directed Readiness Exercise. You will be taking the Team Readiness Test at the end of class on Thursday.

From: oph
To: stilton
Subject: Re: First Assignment CORRECTION

Stilton, et tu? Why are you dipping your fingers into my pie here?

From: stilton
To: oph
Subject: Re: First Assignment CORRECTION

Limburger must not have told you I'm covering Feta's Special Topics in Hamster Thermo. Welcome to the fray, comrade! He came to my office all flustered about how you were away on vacation and had therefore sent an email based on the wrong schedule. Then he left and Trahana showed me page 2 of the syllabus, and I'm sorry, but they're right. Somebody had to send a correction, so I did it. Limburger also said he'd be there at your first class to make sure it goes smoothly in light of this glitch.

From: oph
To: stilton
Subject: Re: First Quiz CORRECTION

You got taken. They showed you Feta's syllabus from last year. Mine has the schedule on page 3, which I know because I wrote it. Welcome to the fray, indeed! I have much to tell you when I get back, but for now, I need you to do me a favor. Download MY syllabus. Replace my name with Limburger's. Take said document to him and explain that the only way he gets within 100 meters of my classroom is if he puts said document on the LMS and does everything that so doing would entail and imply.

I slap the lid shut on the laptop and step outside. The colors of the scenery are all wrong and my head is not right. I flop into the car's passenger seat and tell my wife I'm not fit to drive. She locks the cabin door and we take off.

Two hours later, we are in cell phone range, and I turn on mobile data. Five new emails come in, two from students. I open one: "Professor, I'm confused. I'm supposed to do a team readiness test instead of the take-home quiz but it isn't in the syllabus? Please get back to me and let me know."

I smile at the idea of a student reading the syllabus and turn off my phone for a while. Arriving at the hotel an hour later I discover the empty spot behind the driver's seat that would typically ensconce my laptop, which is now three hours farther away from home than I am. 



  1. As the credits roll, OPH trades a meaningful glance with his wife and tosses his cell phone out the window. She smiles, shifts into gear, and floors it, blowing right past the turnoff to Southwest Central Rennet State College.

    1. You came disturbingly close to blowing my pseudonymity with that institutional name. You also came close to writing the outcome; problem was that I realized that I paid for the cell phone out of my own wallet.

      The laptop, however, was school issued. I showed the email trail to my department chair, who informed me that my ability to work during off hours is of utmost importance and as such I should be issued another laptop forthwith, and that if the requisition is submitted sometime soon, there is an excellent chance that I might receive a new laptop sometime in the third or fourth month of the new calender year, with due apologies for not being able expedite the process, but budgets and earmarks, you know, wink wink.

    2. You must admit it's an excellent institutional pseudonym, however.

      I'm relieved to learn (I think) that Limburger (another excellent pseudonym) is not your department chair, as I feared was the case. Judging from available evidence (i.e. the tags), I'm guessing he's a deanlet. The administrator who doesn't really understand the LMS, but has suddenly realized, 5-10 years after the fact, that it's central to the institutional mission, and decides to figure it all out by "fixing" someone else's course, is a real nightmare (reason 1001 why dean(lets) should teach on a regular basis; let 'em fool with their own class sites!).

    3. Limburger is indeed a deanlet. Both he and the chair (to be named in some later instalment) rose from the teaching ranks and still lecture on occasion, though neither runs a course anymore.

      Back when Limburger ran his own courses, he dumped all LMS duties on a member of the office staff, who has since retired. This led to the scenario of a deanlet who knows nothing about the LMS commandeering the services of a member of IT who can do certain things in the LMS but knows nothing about course design. Together they were probably convinced that their distributed brain was up to the task, but Kruger and Dunning showed that people in the lowest quartile of competence are similarly convinced that they are well above average.

  2. See, this is my problem with Hollywood and historical fiction. Real life, real history, is so much more dramatic than the stuff people come up with in writing rooms.

    1. Maybe in real life, people can be more subtly stupid than in fiction.

  3. Oh my God, this was so stressful I had to skim it. OPH, all the whiskey for you.

    1. I couldn't even skim it. I might look at a little more after I've had more of my own tipple. Bourbon this month, I think, but at least it's good bourbon.

      That said "I smile at the idea of a student reading the syllabus" is a good note to close on. I think I'll imagine that for a while.

    2. I'm starting to think I should have posted this as a Twitter Essay.

    3. ...but Twitter Essays break hearts!

    4. Hearts will break with long-form essays as well.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.