Monday, August 22, 2005

It Begins

Classes started for the semester today, and I'm exhausted. (Partly from having arranged a schedule with everything crammed into Monday-Wednesday, so I can make Atlanta trips about once a month. You make your trade-offs. I do like saying "I'm done for the week" on Wednesday night to the guy in the office next to mine, just to be annoying.) I feel pooped. (And that's as a direct object.)

I really hate the first day of intro Calculus. Not so much for the material, which is moderately interesting, but because there is so much process to cover. I have all the usual stuff: this is how the course is graded, we'll have these quizzes and those tests. (If they are short quizzes, we can call them "little quizzies", but you should avoid using similar terminology for short tests.)

I have to send them to our online course management system to retrieve documents and assignments. (We're not supposed to photocopy handouts for class anymore. Budget cuts. So yes, that means we are passing even more costs directly to the students by asking them to, in essense, do their own photocopying.) We also have to tell the students how to sign up for an extra course meeting (at a computer lab) during the first week, and how all that will work. (This includes telling them how to find the computer lab.)

Additionally, the course is the standard math class for most math and science majors, so there are many sections. A number of the sections are taught by graduate TAs, who may be first time teachers. So there has been large scale standardization, including common time exams and a separate online quiz system for the labs.

All of the above has to be communicated in less than 50 minutes to first year students who are lucky to have found the classroom today, and who also have another 4-5 classes which are probably similarly overwhelming them. Oh, and I need to start on some calculus. I can't get behind, because have you seen the schedule we have to meet?

Speaking of schedules, we had some difficulty with schedules this time because the school finally has given the students Martin Luther King day off in the spring semester. (Which in Virginia, was Lee-Jackson-King day for a while because the legislature thought it would be a good day to use the day to celebrate General Lee and the Stonewall Jackson on the same day. Think I'm joking? Guess again.) The school has been under some pressure to recognize MLK day as a holiday, and has finally given in apparently. However, to balance the semesters, they needed to excise a day in the fall from the schedule as well. (This has been sort of a mess to plan for; a day has just vanished from the semester, but only for classes which meet on that day.) I find it interesting to note that the school has decided to avoid controversy by giving us Columbus Day off this year. I can't wait to see how this goes over.

All of the above notwithstanding, I count the first day as a sucess. No needed technology blew up, no major problems have appeared in my class schedule, I have yet to find whatever awful mistake or omission I found in my course contracts, and I'm still standing. And as near as I can tell, so are my students.

Goodnight to all.

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