I looked at my course evaluations again this week. Week six of the semester is a strange time to check evaluations, but I had to compile summary evaluations as part of my annual review. Now, the utility of evaluations are deeply mixed in that they often reflect a combination of what the students believed that they should have earned and how much work they believe that they should have put in to earn whatever grade they did receive. I also find that any course policy that deviates from whatever normative practice the students are familiar with is liable to be met with polarizing opinions, which results in some combination of angry and enthusiastic comments.
My favorite ever comment was from a student who said that they should give me a raise.
Polarizing is how I’d characterize the response to Specifications Grading. A lot of students reported that it was challenging, but in a way that was both fair allowed them to do their best work in learning the material, which is exactly the intent. Others found it grossly unfair, either because they had to put in more work to earn the high grade they wanted or because it “prevented” them from receiving their high grade (presumably because they didn’t want to complete optional revisions).
This has led me to mull over whether Specifications Grading is the best match for any class with papers. I am committed to the system at least for this semester and it undoubtedly results in the students honing their skills. But it also requires me to give copious feedback if I want the students to be able to meet the higher standards in their revisions, and this is hard to do at scale. However, I also don’t want to give back either the expectations for what students should be able to achieve by the end of the course or the flexibility that students unused to my teaching style sometimes find disorienting (yes, the extension is free, there is no trick involved). At the same time, even while acknowledging that no one professor can resolve the deep structural issues that lie behind the student mental health crisis, I hate to feel like I’m contributing to making the problem worse.
Then again, I had a handful of comments that explicitly commented about how I made things better in this respect so I must have done something right.
This week’s varia:
- Javal Coleman writes in the SCS Blog about being the only Black person in a Classics Department and how that isolation makes one question their belonging.
- This week in Pasts Imperfect, Matthew Canepa writes about the god Mithra, who will be the subject of an upcoming conference on the deity, along with the usual roundup of projects (including a very exciting mapping project on Cahokia). This conference looks excellent, particularly in its focus on undoing the damage done to our understanding of the god through obsession with identifying a “pure” tradition or conviction about unchanging religions. This was also the focus of Canepa’s excellent monograph, The Iranian Expanse (2018).
- Arie Amaya-Akkermans writes a letter about the devastation at Antakya. He reports a particularly powerful opinion that the Turkish government will likely rebuild some of the antiquities to demonstrate its diversity and sophistication even while allowing the people to suffer.
- Another earthquake struck Hatay province, already devastated by the earthquake that killed tens of thousands several weeks ago. I have no words.
- A school resource officer found a loaded gun in a fourth-grader’s backpack after it was reported by other students, to whom the student was showing the gun.
- Florida is considering a “Classical” Christian alternative to the SAT, in the latest of DeSantis’ aggressive attacks on education. My worry about this sort of thing isn’t so much that it will work—as long as parents are looking to send their kids to top schools elsewhere in the country, they’ll continue to take whatever tests those schools require, and whether the tests are worthwhile is a separate question—but that the actions of DeSantis and the people around him are rapidly pushing the Overton Window about education in a way that empowers people not just in Florida, but around the country, to indoctrinate and bully students.
- Roald Dahl’s publisher is aiming to release revised editions of classic books that sand away the rough, insensitive edges to the man’s writing. The move is an entirely absurd reaction to the so-called culture wars, in my view, and disingenuous. Give context to the text as was if you want to account for changes in culture, but moderating everything to obscure an author’s politics and make a cash grab at making a sanitized version for use in school does a service to exactly nobody.
- The office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College used ChatGPT to produce an email sent to students about the Michigan State shooting last week. The message was predictably cold and lacking in any specific guidance on resources to help the students who, unsurprisingly, are not amused. I’m not at all surprised that university departments are using AI this way, given the widespread misconception that AI text generation can replace actual writing even as many of these same schools are considering draconian consequences for students who submit AI-generated work. We’re way past irony on this topic already.
- The Science Fiction magazine Clarkesworld has been overwhelmed by AI-generated short story submissions—all unpublishably bad. The magazine’s editor Neil Clarke speculates on the reasons for this trend in a blog post that also points out in an update that he suspended accepting submissions while working on a solution since the first three weeks of February saw nearly five times the submissions of January, which itself was twice the volume of December and that had been the highest on record to that point. John Scalzi also points out that SFF magazines are vulnerable because they still pay authors.
- NPR is the latest journalism platform to announce layoffs, noting a 20 million dollar drop-off in sponsorship revenue and pessimistic outlooks for a bounce-back in funding levels. I have my issues with some of how NPR chooses to cover politics in particular, but it is an absolutely essential part of the journalism apparatus given its mandate to cover events in every state. The erosion of journalism in this country is a disturbing (and accelerating) trend that is already showing consequences in the likes of George Santos.
- The New Yorker Profiles Itamar Ben-Gvir, the poster-child for Israel’s recent swerve to the hard, hard right and an activist for Jewish extremism. Worrying stuff.
- After the bizarre saga that is Twitter Blue, Zuckerberg has decided to one-up Elon Musk with a paid subscription plan for Meta platforms for the low, low price of $11.99 a month. Unless you are using Facebook on an iPhone, in which case it’ll be $14.99. This is under the guise of ID-verification systems to help people build their brands. This latest move makes me glad that I deleted my Facebook account more than a decade ago. I still use Instagram, probably more than I should and would miss some interactions if I were forced away but let’s be real: the Instagram timeline is practically useless already. I assume this decision counts on Facebook being indispensable for millions of people, and a go-to platform for many types of interactions—as I have been annoyed by on more than one occasion. At least Meta is actually going to verify identifications.
- The “He Gets Us” series of commercials touting Jesus’ humble humanity is bankrolled by a right-wing evangelical organization that has donors from the likes of the owner of Hobby Lobby. Unsurprising, but wiping away the patina of respectability and inviting questions about motive.
Album of the Week: Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park (2013)
Currently Reading: Dan Saladino, Eating to Extinction (2021)