Dec 27, 2017

Christmas Thoughts of a Part-time Academic

This is our cat, Lucia, who has learned that if she rubs her cheek against that golden ball, the lights turn on and off. This has nothing to do with the blog post except that it is my favorite 2017 holiday photo!
When you are an academic, the holidays are always fraught with anxiety because it is also the end of the semester. Spreadsheets must be created, and grades calculated. This year, that task was complicated by Microslop's Windows 10. You know Microslop, publisher of the sloppiest code on the planet. Windows 10 has managed to affect the interface of every application I use, including Excel . . . but no more on this subject, otherwise I would have to title this post "Holiday Rant."

Computing and submitting student grades on time is complicated by online grading—and the mysterious practices of tech departments. (When I began teaching undergrad classes, there were no tech departments.) I have taught at four colleges since the advent of online grading systems, in two different states and, without fail, each December and June, the tech department schedules upgrades to the "system," either right before the grades are to be submitted or during the week when they are due to be posted for students. At one college, my department required midterm exams (not a usual practice in film or literature), after which professors were given 5 days to submit a midterm grade—just before Thanksgiving break. On the second day, we received an e-mail from the tech department stating that the "system" would be down for an unscheduled but minor "overnight" upgrade.

The upgrade erased everyone's password. It took several hours for all of us in the department to realize that we were not experiencing the usual problems of forgetting our password, or using an outdated password, or having our number lock or cap lock on—the error message was, in fact, the fault of the "system." Since people in different academic departments rarely talk to each other, and there were only a half dozen beleaguered students on the Help Line, and all of us got a busy signal when we called them, the entire institution was in meltdown until we received a second message from the tech department at 2 PM telling us what we already knew . . . But only a select few received that message because we had been clever enough to give the tech department our private e-mail addresses. Without a password, no one could access their college e-mail.

I am too pragmatic a person to be nostalgic; as a woman, I rarely feel that any aspect of my life was better in the past than it is now . . . but I have to admit that I miss the practice of each professor posting grades on their door (by the last four digits of every student's Social Security number). When I was a student, that end-of-term ritual of visiting professors’ offices, where they were required to be at their desks, often yielded informal conversations that, as an undergraduate, one simply did not have with professors outside one's major. For instance, I have the most wonderful memory of an astronomy professor I had as an undergrad.