The final lap

The final projects from one of my classes were not very portable. Pictured here is a Menger sponge made out of sugar cubes, and several large posters.

The final projects for one of my classes were not very portable. Pictured here are a Menger sponge made out of sugar cubes, and several large posters.

Winter semester just ended here at Bates, and it has been a crazy couple of weeks (as perhaps evidenced by my absence from the blogosphere). Since there has been little else on my mind recently, I will just share some thoughts and lessons from this latest end-of-semester crunch, in no particular order.

  1. Flexibility is nice for the students, but not nice for you. This semester was not my strongest, as I mention in a previous post, in particular because many life and family distractions prevented me from focusing on my job as much as I should have, and in particular delayed my grading quite a bit. I decided that since I was asking the students for a lot of patience towards my tardiness on grading, I would offer some flexibility and patience of my own. Basically, if they needed more time with their homework, they could hand it in later, and I also allowed them to make corrections on the homework but gave no deadlines. Of course, as some of the more experienced readers will have already surmised, this meant I got a giant pile of homework on the last day of class. This on top of the final project, which was due on the last day also. Needless to say, it tok forever to finalize the grades, not because of the big things (like exams and finals), but because I had to grade many homework assignments, different for each student, and remember what grading scheme I used in the first place so it would be fair and equivalent to the ones I had already graded. How would I do this in the future? You can turn the homework in as long as I haven’t handed it back. After that it’s late and I won’t grade it. And do what I have done before (but didn’t do for this class because I wanted them to turn things in) which is just drop the lowest or two lowest grades, depending on total number of assignments, because that saves a lot of hassle in the end. Any other ideas, dear readers?
  2. It’s not a great idea to schedule travel before the semester is officially over. I scheduled a few talks and visits for the end of the semester, because I thought I would be less busy, but I should remember that “end of the semester” means “after you have submitted final grades”. Of course, this rarely every happens, since other than our summer break the breaks between semesters are really short and that is the ideal time to travel. What usually happens is I end up grading on the airplane/airport/hotel/my parent’s house. This is OK if you have papers and exams (especially if you ask them to submit papers online). Exams are very heavy, though, and can give you a backache (I’m also paranoid about luggage getting lost with all the exams inside, so I carry them in my backpack or carry-on). Even worse, some final projects are not portable (as in the image above), and you need to grade them in your office or else.
  3. You will always have a lot less time than you think. I am now teaching a new class. The Bates schedule is a little different, with two twelve-week semesters (Fall and Winter) and one five-week term in April/May we call Short Term.  I thought I would have all this time in between the end of the last semester and the beginning of this one. I’m not really sure why I thought that, but it might be the same time-telling disability that makes me late to everything. Anyway, my students had a final exam on the last day of Finals (a Friday), we got a one-week break, and then classes started again on the following Monday. That does not give one much time to grade 42 finals and prepare for an intensive course.

Fortunately, in the end, I managed to get grades in on time and prepare my class (at least for this week), but there was a lot of stress and late-night grading. I think this is how semesters usually end, so there’s not much point in over-analyzing this. Except for maybe the homework thing, which I will never ever do again (famous last words?).

So, dear readers, any anecdotes on your end-of-semester crunches? Any thoughts or suggestions you may have on making the end of semester smoother? Please share in the comments section below.

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1 Response to The final lap

  1. Andrew Gillette says:

    This semester I am using an online grading system called Pandagrader that is in development by a group based at UC Berkeley. The service lets the instructor or students upload pdf scans of work which the instructor(s) can then grade through the Pandagrader website. I have found this enormously useful on occasions when I have to grade while traveling: I don’t have to bring the physical exams with me, and once I’m done grading, all the students can receive their scored work electronically to review before class meets again. Students seem to like it too since they have all their work stored electronically in one location. I hope that the service continues to grow – I believe it can help a lot with the time crunch issues that Adriana has mentioned!

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