Somebody Else’s Problem [A Writing I Post]

Note: The schedule says this, but here it is again: the SP2 is due this Friday (2/24) by noon. The LP1 is due in the workshop link by the usual time–one hour before class on Monday (2/27). Also, bring a LP1 printout for in-class peer review on Monday (2/27).

In Douglas Adams’s Hicthhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, he described many marvels that we may never see, or maybe we will. Vogon poetry clearly exists, only under another name, but the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster is legendary, but still fictional. Thanks to teachers, students, and the problem of just being human, the somebody else’s problem field is out there and ready to be harnessed for the power of good ….or evil.

This post is here to note the problem of twenty-two students or so milling about in online teaching space wasting perfectly good writing energy by assuming that it is somebody else’s problem if the readings threads for the week don’t get started. This post also intends to search for a solution, one that involves some degree of common sense and the acknowledgement of personal responsibility for one’s own education. That is the flaw with assigning students to begin the readings threads. Sure, in theory, it evens out the responsibility for getting things started, but in practice the threads don’t get started at least half the time because the students assigned don’t do it or I forget to assign the threads in the fifty short minutes we have f2f and then, you guessed it, no one steps up and starts the threads anyway.

When it’s Thursday and the readings threads are still not started, there is a simple solution, one we discussed in class. If you are someone who has yet to start a readings thread, start it. I know this breaks the high school norm of keeping your head down and never doing something that you don’t have to, but college is voluntary and learning is a series of voluntary acts. Take a risk. Start a discussion in the forum, especially if you intend to participate and no one else has done it. SInce this class is themed around the readings text’s subject of connectivity, the discussion of the readings can only help you come up with ideas and connections that will be helpful for your writing.

I have followed the generalized syllabus for Writing I by quantifying participation and describing drafts in a very quantified way, one that I normally would not use. If the points method continues to be ineffective, I will revert to my normal method, which involves assuming that all students are capable of doing the work needed simply because they want to do well, not because there are “points” attached to every single action involved in the writing process. That, to me, is the problem in breaking down the entire semester into points. Student get the idea that success in writing can be quantified and that if they simply do all the actions on the points chart, an A will appear. That, of course, is not true. There are two flaws in that idea. First, it is possible to do everything in the chart, but with competent results instead of superior results. Competency means a C. The other flaw is more subtle. By naming many small acts that gain points, the other, less quantifiable acts are seen as not necessary. So, stepping up and starting a discussion thread on the forum is not given its own points. Thus, the idea becomes unthinkable. Doesn’t that seem a bit, well, crazy? (Yes. Yes, it does.)

I prefer to have percentages without a points breakdown. That way what is expected is expected and not seen as the culmination of a disconnected tally. I will think some more about this and let everyone know if the complex points table is going to disappear. At this point, I think it might. If it does, you will know it, and it will be replaced with a method that is much more clear and able to be tracked on the online grade book, something that is not possible in the current system.

 

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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