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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Who'd a thunk it.

The Truculent Plagiarist from the SF class kinda pissed me off in class today--but he sorta made up for it after class. I started class by stating that I needed to give the "don't plagiarize" speech. I explained that as faculty we can tell when someone is cheating on purpose: I may not be able to tell this B student from that B student, but if either one suddenly starts writing A++ papers or papers that sound like they came from a grad student, I'll know. He tried to argue that I couldn't possibly tell on a first assignment (which was his argument about his plagiarized statement of self-defined goal), and I said, "I've been teaching longer than most of you have been alive, and I've been a grad student. I know what even the top top top undergraduate student can produce and how it's different from what a grad student or professor produces." I also talked about "accidental" plagiarism, and how dangerous it can be. At the end of class, I returned homework, and The Truculent Plagiarist was one of three students who had plagiarized homework. (One of them wasn't in class today, but they all got--or will get--variations on the form letter.) He hung around after class, and wanted to argue with me about it.

Me: "I will not talk to you until after the weekend. What does the first sentence of the letter say?"
TTP: "'Read this letter carefully and consider what I say here over the weekend before you contact me."
Me: "Right. So I won't talk to you until after the weekend."
TTP: "But I read the letter."
Me: "And I won't talk to you about it until after the weekend."

But then...
TTP: "But I need to talk to you about the paper, 'cause I don't know what to do."
Me: "Ah! That, we can talk about."

He asked if his grade could recover from the plagiarized homework. I explained that the answer is in the letter--but I went ahead and told him yes, it can. We started to talk about the essay, but he had a class coming up, so I told him he should contact me to set up a time when we can meet.

If he really does want help with the essay, and if he actually follows through and contacts me for an appointment, I'll be happy to work with him. I'll be surprised, I have to admit, but happy. Still, the fact that he even thought to ask for help about the paper--and didn't simply blow a gasket about the plagiarism and storm off, either to complain to Bruce and Cathy or to disappear (or withdraw) is somewhat encouraging. I'm not holding my breath about his ability to do what he needs to do to pass the class, but if he will at least try his best, I will revise my judgment about him.

The rest of the class discussion was great. We got into a rabbit trail conversation that went rambling through the underbrush about how an android is different from a robot is different from a humanoid is different from a cyborg... but once I got us back on track, some pretty esoteric ideas were coming up. I brought up the idea of the singularity, for instance--and we discussed that this idea of whether something humans build can be truly considered a separate living entity. I'm blanking now on the idea brought up by one student, an idea that nailed a motif in SF generally, but it was cool to be able to say, "Yes: that's an idea we see over and over in SF."

I think the class is developing some interesting chemistry, and I'm very happy that some of the more silent students have started joining the conversation, asking good questions, raising important issues. That's always a good sign. I think this particular novel is grabbing their attention pretty well--and there are fewer confusions about it than I remember from the last time I taught the course.

Of course, there are still far too many bodies in the room: I'm rather dreading collecting that first essay. One student officially withdrew today; he'd enrolled late, missed a few classes, came in already behind and instantly became overwhelmed, not surprisingly. He was smart to withdraw. Another three or four students should withdraw, as they've missed some classes and are falling behind. But that still leaves me with about 27 students, which is about 7 too many. I suppose it's a good thing, though, that I wouldn't want to have to pick who else "should" go: most of them are hanging on well enough that I'd feel bad if they gave up. What would be best for me versus what would be best for the students....

After class, rather than marking student assignments, I worked on the Distance Education Equivalency form for Nature in Lit and sent a revised version to the VP for distance ed. I'm hoping to get her seal of approval on it ASAP, so I can take it through the rest of the steps knowing she'll append her signature with no quibbles. I haven't started working on the development course: the Blackboard space set aside for me to start actually creating the class the way I'll teach it. I will need to do that at some point in the not too distant future (in part because doing so is required for me to get the remainder of my stipend). I'd like to hold off until I know whether it's going to get approved in time for spring, but I really can't: not only do I have to have a good start on it to show the VP before we get much further down the road, if it does get approved for spring, I am going to want to have as much pulled together as possible, as soon as possible, so I'm not frantically trying to get it all up and ready over the winter break.

Now, however, I intend to engage in some noodling: something that feels like (at least marginally productive) work but that doesn't require too much thought nor become too absorbing, as I am meeting Scott for dinner and Atwood tonight. I'm looking forward to hearing his take on Oryx and Crake, and why he initially found it difficult to apprehend/comprehend. If a colleague whose smarts I trust and admire found the book challenging, I need to know why so I can help my students over the initial hurdles. I was stunned when he said that he was struggling with it, but that's informative: it reminds me that the reading I take for granted as super-easy, someone else may find a slog, and vice versa. Someone highly intelligent, too: I can't just dismiss the difficulty as "our students can't read."

Well, a lot of them can't, but that's a different issue.

In fact, continuing my reread of Oryx and Crake may be the perfect noodling activity. That or alphabetizing 102 assignments prior to marking them. Whatever. It's lovely to know that I'll be able to sleep as late as I like the next four mornings in a row. I will have to hunker down and do some serious marking in order to return assignments to all the classes next week--because all have essays due the class after I return their assignments--but I may also take some time this weekend to play around with a PowerPoint presentation about mentoring, which--maybe--we can get up on the campus website...?

That's something else to talk with Scott about. It'll be a fun dinner.

I am blessed beyond belief with magnificent colleagues: smart, fun, real... I may bitch about this place, and with good reason, but many of my colleagues are the bee's knees.

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