Saturday, January 21, 2012
Oh, no! Not again!
Most of us in the teaching profession like to get to know our students and try to find ways to kickstart the process at the beginning of each new school term. One of my colleagues hands out a questionnaire. Another has the students take turns introducing themselves to the class. I usually give an e-mail assignment, which I call a quiz. The instructions are simple: send me a message that (a) includes the name of the class on the subject line (no blank subjects, please!), (b) tells me why you're taking the class in question, and (c) includes your full name (in case I can't tell who you are from the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address). Since it's a “quiz,” they get points for it.
Like I said, it's simple. I get some useful contact data and a perspective on what my students are looking for (although I can't be much help to those who are taking the class “because the voices in my head told me to”). I also find out which of my students are capable of following instructions, which happens to be an extremely important survival skill in any college class, but perhaps to an even greater degree in math.
Every semester, of course, there's a few students who just can't be bothered to earn a few easy points by sending their instructor a short e-mail message. I presume their lives are full of fun, excitement, and distractions. (I'm envious.) I reply to each message individually and then, after the submission deadline, send out a global message to the entire class roster: “If you didn't get an individual response from me with your quiz score, that means I didn't get an e-mail from you!”
I repeated that message in one of my classes this week. One of my students raised his hand. It was “Stan,” an apparently smart but disorganized student who was repeating the class, having flunked out the previous semester. He had earnestly assured me that this semester would be different.
“Dr. Z, I didn't get an e-mail from you.”
“Right, Stan. That's because I didn't get a message from you. Did you follow the quiz instructions and send me an e-mail message with the requested information?”
Stan paused for a moment before giving me a tentative answer.
“Yeah, I did. I sent you a message.”
“Okay, Stan. When did you send it? Before the deadline? It's possible it got sidetracked by the spam filter and I can search for it in my trash bin.”
“Um, last time. I sent it last time.”
I was confused for a moment, then figured out what he meant.
“Oh, you mean last semester?”
Stan nodded his head. I bit my lip.
“I think we have a problem, Stan. Doing it last semester doesn't exempt you from doing the assignment again this semester. You also took exams last semester, right?”
I let that sink in. Stan achieved enlightenment.
“Oh, so I should do all the assignments this semester even if I already did them before?”