The OC (Week 14)

This post is part of an ongoing series.

I mentioned it in the last post, but we’re done with lectures and mostly done with the tutorials (more on that in a minute). That just leaves presentations, and the final.

We started the presentations this week, with four presentations a class period over four periods (in two weeks). Two of my four presenters on Tuesday had skipped the assignment that had them sign up for a presentation spot (on Google Docs), so they found out about it for the first time when I sent out a reminder email on Sunday.

To their credit, they both did surprisingly well.

Honestly, I haven’t seen a presentation yet as bad as mine would have been (and, in fact, was, back when I took the class). They’re farther along with their semester projects than I really expected, too, which is encouraging. I’m looking forward to seeing their finished products, so I’m glad to see it’s not all going to be last-minute stuff.

Empty Seats
Thursday’s lectures were a little better, really — which is to be expected, given that they had more time to prepare, and got to learn from the presentations that went before. Unfortunately for the presenters, though, there weren’t nearly as many people around to be impressed. We had right at half of our class show up.

That, too, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, it was the first time all semester that we’d met in class on a Thursday. To be fair, I warned them about that on the first day of class, and before Thanksgiving break, and then I sent out an email last Sunday (as I mentioned) reminding them about presentations this week.

I had a brief bout of guilt, worrying that my own attitude about the last couple weeks (being so much easier on me, since I’m just listening to presentations) had been conveyed to my students somehow, and they were slacking off because I was. Then I remembered the Thursday thing, though (and got emails from a couple of my students citing exactly that), and I let myself off the hook.

Textbook Execution
One thing I had been slacking off on was their final tutorial. All of the rest had to be done by specific dates, to match up with their assignments. There was one last one that I’d promised them, though, that didn’t really map directly to any work they were doing. Way back in week 9, I did a big presentation showing them how to build an automated Table of Contents and generally take advantage of all the extra work we’ve been doing to build a powerful, long-form document. I flew through the process in class, though, and gave them no exercises or anything to reinforce it. Instead, I said, “This’ll probably end up as a tutorial at some point.”

I’d meant to get that to them the week before Thanksgiving, but it was the week before Thanksgiving, so I didn’t. I kept thinking about doing it during Thanksgiving break, but I was on break, so I didn’t. Whenever I started feeling guilty about that, I reminded myself that my students didn’t really care.

Then Monday morning I got an email from one of them asking me how to make a Table of Contents, because she needed it for her semester project, and I immediately felt like a super jerk. I sent her a quick answer, and then got to work writing my tutorial.

It was a complicated one, though, because I had to walk through some of the more advanced tools in Word. Not only that, I had to handle some pretty nit-picky exceptions to make it come out perfect, but I was trying to express how simple the whole process really was, even while explaining why those exceptions were doing what they were doing. Then I needed screenshots to illustrate it, and I needed to put together all the resources they would need to follow along with the tutorial, and make those available on the website.

It was a real task, is what I’m getting at, but I finished it last night. The title for the tutorial was “How to Build a Book,” and it took all the tutorials I’ve made all semester and bound them together in a single textbook. It ends up looking pretty nifty, and it tops 100 pages even without the lecture information and assignment descriptions (that I would definitely include in it, if I were making it a standalone book).

Anyway, I have no idea if that will actually be useful to any of my students (since the one who asked me about it presented her document yesterday, and she’d clearly figured the ToC out using just my quick email), but I’m glad to have it done.

Final Thoughts
The only other issue I’ve been dealing with this week is their Final Exam. I’ve been told I need to have a Final Exam period, but that a test isn’t really necessary. I told them early in the semester that they would have an option of building a wiki instead of taking the Final Exam, just because a big ugly test doesn’t really mesh at all with the way I’ve been teaching the class.

As I really started thinking through the logistics of it, though, the wiki alternative seemed unrealistically complicated, and any test I would have (for those who didn’t want to take the alternative) would be just a huge waste of time. There has been no memorization in this class at all (it doesn’t make sense in tech writing), so I would have just made them show up in class to read a bunch of questions, flip through their textbook for answers, write those answers down, and then go home. I wrote their textbook, and it’s way too straightforward for any of that to be a useful experience.

So I finally decided to nix the original plan, and instead I told them all to show up for the Final Exam period, and we’re going to build a single wiki as a group project. That should be a lot less stressful for those who would have built individual wikis, it should be a lot more useful for those who would have taken the test, and I think it could actually be a fun experience. We’ll see.

Between now and then, though, I’ve got eight more presentations to grade, and about a bajillion pages of papers to grade.

More next week.