Saturday, August 06, 2011

My Crystal Ball

The university is trying very hard to convince the freshmen not to choose one of our most popular courses of study on campus, namely the one-year program in sports spectatorship with a concentration in beer. As part of this, they are running a mini-class, Freshman Book Club, to get the students in an academic frame of mind.

As I can not help but get involve with meddling and because I am especially drawn to meddling in the academic lives of clueless freshmen, I signed right up for this. It is open to all faculty and staff, and they of course took me because they have a shortage of people willing to do it.

The students were assigned to read a book. Yesterday they had to electronically submit a "creative response" to the book. Next week they are going to see a talk by the author, followed by a one-hour discussion in small groups. I am a small group leader. As part of being a group leader, I get to grade their creative responses to the book. These vary quite significantly in quality.

I can already tell you that the eight (of roughly 30) students who didn't turn it in are probably going to struggle with adjusting to this campus. The ones who came up with very lame half-ass attempts are going to be pretty typical students. The few who actually did presentable work are going to need some advising on how to stay out of the most soul-crushing of the gen-ed courses on campus.

And because I treat the students better than you think that I do (yesterday I was at Starbucks and someone who took my class in 2005 thanked me for all I did for her when she was in my class), I sent out a nice note to the non-completers of the assignment:

Dear Student,

Welcome to [this university]! I hope that you are as excited as I am for the start of the fall semester!

You should have been receiving emails with reminders about the [freshman book club] creative assignment. I am looking forward to reading these and to meeting everyone in our discussion group.

When I checked on Blackboard, your assignment did not appear in the submissions folder. These assignments were due yesterday. If you are having trouble with this assignment or with the online submission, the [freshman experience] team is ready to help you. Should you have any questions, please refer to the [freshman experience] FAQ on Blackboard. If you cannot find an answer there, feel free to email the [freshman experience] team directly at [their email address].

As [freshman book club] is a required, Satisfactory/No-Credit online course for all first-year students and will appear as the first thing on your transcript, please take the time now to ensure that you get off to a great start at [this university]. We do understand that some students take some time to get settled in at [this university] and to become comfortable with the online systems that we use here, so do not panic if you are having trouble. The [freshman experience] team is very eager to help you get your freshman year started right, and they can steer you in the right direction so that you can submit this assignment.


Dr. Hirta

And I am such a nice person, that I will not tell the freshmen that the world would be a better place if PowerPoint did not have any tools for adding text to slides. I did, however, tell this to the Good Intern in our group. The Powers That Be made him give a very short talk on his research this summer, and he showed me his draft slides. I told him to print what he had to use as notes, delete all the words on the slides (and delete the words-only slides), to make the important graph fill up the whole slide, and spend most of his time talking about the cool science that went into the creation of the important graph.

I can already predict that Freshman Book Club is likely to be highly entertaining.