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How to Procrastinate, Dawdle, and Waste Time While Reading Student Papers

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love students. And I’m thrilled to meet the 52 new and returning freshpersons in this semester’s composition courses. But let’s be frank: reading student papers is something that causes one’s attention to wander. Easily.

It’s the brain’s self-preservation strategy: focus on this stuff nonstop and your synapses clog. You fall on the floor beneath your desk, unconscious. Inexorably, the attention wanders, the Internet beckons, the fingers wish to occupy themselves with, ohhh…knitting or paper-doll construction.

Blackboard, that all-but-ubiquitous collegiate course management system, is one of the great time-wasters of all creation. Feeling bored with reading student writing? Turn to Blackboard. There’s nothing like watching a page load for five minutes to instruct you on what boredom really means.

BB’s endlessly meddling administrators took it upon themselves to install new “blog” software (the function doesn’t really mount blogs, but it apes them in an oblique way). Was anything wrong with the old “blog” function? No. They just wanted to add a little bloatware, complicate our lives, waste a bit more of our time. Mission, we might add, accomplished.

After having strained every gut to get my spring courses built and online by the end of fall semester, what do I find when I reopen my BB courses by way of revving up for the first day of class? Yes. They’ve disabled all my blogs, which form a central part of each of my three courses. To get them back online, I have to sit through an endless “synchronizing” process…for each and every separate single individual goddamn redundant blog! Over and over!

Okay. Did that a week ago.

Get online today and find…what? Every blog I open goes through the same endless (“This may take a few minutes”) process…AND once the execrable things finally do load, there’s no way for users to create the entries they need to build for their assignments. So, send an inquiry to the admin who has been assigned to struggle with this program for us.

Go back to reading student papers.

Brain boggles. Cruise the local Play-Nooz sites, killing time by clicking thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the commentary. Gratified to see that Gabrielle Giffords is improving beyond what anyone could imagine.

Re-engage Blackboard on the blogging battlefield. Finally force it to bring up a “New Entry” button. Write new instructions for how to use the blog function; post these on all three course sites. Over and over and over again…

Read e-mail. Review the 46 college & district messages MacMail has already relegated to the trash; find that MacMail is right about all of them.

Learn from BB admin that now you have to instruct students to “save” and THEN “save and submit” to post a BB blog entry. Rewrite and repost instructions. Over and over and over again.

Begin reviewing intro papers and entering attendance and participation scores. By way of speeding the interminable grading process, I’ve learned to make a hard-copy notecard for each student, listing all the assignments with places to enter their scores. This is much easier and faster when you’re plowing through a random set of papers than trying to plod up and down BB’s endlessly reloading pages (which take you back up to the top of the grade sheet, over and over and over again…never stop saying you’re bored…). Once you’ve finished reading all the papers, all you’ve got to do is alphabetize the cards (easy to do when you’ve also numbered them) and then enter the scores quickly from top to bottom.

Problem: This entails handwriting 12 assignment titles 52 times; that would mean writing the same 23 mind-numbing words 624 brain-deadening times.

But wait! I recall I have a ream of heavy card stock, liberated from the Great Desert University when I abandoned ship. If I can recreate a set of 3 x 5 cards with a table, I can enter the semester’s assignments once and then just copy them to create a page of identical cells, which can then be printed out 26 times. It means I’ll have to cut these things apart with scissors, but somehow that seems less onerous than writing 23 mind-numbing words 624 brain-deadening times.

A lot like cutting out paper dolls.

Persuading Word to build a table with cells that measure exactly 3 inches by 5 inches without dorking things up is not as easy as it seems. Mind-numbing.

Enter in Google the following search string:

I hate Blackboard.

Dozens and dozens of sites come up. I quit scanning them after five pages of hits.

Enter in Google the following search string:

I love Blackboard.

Three sites come up, one of them titled “I love Blackboard—NOT.” One reports the results of a poll asking people whether they love or hate Blackboard; 7 percent report they love it, implying that 93 percent hate it. The third emanates from a site called blackboard.com.

Take scissors and cut out 52 notecards word-processed onto heavy stock. Fill in names and scores. Alphabetize and number cards. Enter students’ scores in Blackboard. Discover that in each spreadsheet, the endlessly redundant, space-and-time-consuming unwanted columns I marked as “hidden” have all come “UNhidden.” Click “hide” again. Over and over and over again (never stop saying you’re bored…). Hit “enter” to submit a grade and what happens? All the hidden columns get UNhidden. Again.

Other first-rate procrastination strategies: Google “evil Blackboard,” “useless Blackboard,” “frustrating Blackboard,” “annoying Blackboard,” “fu¢king Blackboard” (fill in the obvious character there), “farking Blackboard,” “godawful Blackboard,” “demonic Blackboard,” “accursed Blackboard,” and so on.

At last, you finish your work. A two-hour job has only taken you about five hours.

You have now killed a substantial part of the day. It is unclear whether you have wasted more time trying to do your job with an impossibly clumsy tool or whether you have wasted more time trying to distract yourself from the tedium of trying to do your job with an impossibly clumsy tool. Whatever. It’s time to get up, feed the dog, fix dinner, and go to choir practice.

One dares not reproduce this fine graphic, for fear of lawsuits from its creator or, more likely, from the megacorporation that promulgates Blackboard. But it expresses one’s sentiments nicely, after a day of educational time-wasting:

Snakes on a Blackboard.

Admirable. If you teach college courses, if you go to college, don’t miss it.

4 thoughts on “How to Procrastinate, Dawdle, and Waste Time While Reading Student Papers”

  1. As a student, Blackboard is nice sometimes because you can find course materials online , like a syllabus or study guide, if you’ve lost the hand-outs. But also it can be a pain because if you accidentally click “submit” instead of “save” and you’re not done with your paper, it won’t let you send the final draft. And sometimes it loses things.

  2. Mr FS was given an online course at the last minute–Friday for start-up Monday. He’s never done one, and is groaning about BB too. Maybe we should have bought STOCK in BB!

  3. Oh, dear, I’ve managed to avoid BB, but when I’ve sat in on “how-to-use-it” workshops, I’ve noticed that it seems terribly complicated. PeopleSoft is another system that generates lots of complaints.

  4. @ frugalscholar: They dumped an online course on him with no prep and no training in online course design? Eeeep!!!!! Well, it’ll be an interesting semester.

    Online teaching is weird. First time you try it, you think you understand the principles and you think you see the difference between f2f and online, but you don’t really GET it until you’ve done it a couple of times. It takes a semester or two of experience to figure out how to handle it. The trick is minimalism: simplify and clarify everything as much as you can. This is easier said than done.

    @ SewingLibrarian: Blackboard is really not all that difficult, at least for basic functions. The problem is, it’s unintuitive. The commands and procedures you use to operate it don’t correspond with any other program, anywhere. And they’re not consistent — right now, for example, the infuriating new “blog” function” has you “save and submit” to post an entry, which is different from most (but not all) of the other functions, and the button to accomplish this is in a different position from the “submit” button on all the other functions, and it has another option, to “save” only, whose use is unclear. So you have to start from zero to learn the thing. The BB user manual is huge, badly designed, and extremely difficult to use. If you don’t know what THEY call a function (nevermind what the rest of us might call it), you’re out of luck. The techs they hire to staff their 24-hour line often have no idea what you’re trying to say when you explain what you need to do (usually something very ordinary that you naturally would use in teaching), and so they don’t know the answer to your question because they also don’t know what the manual would call it.

    PeopleSoft…don’t get me started. What a fiasco that is! At least no one loses their paycheck because of Blackboard.

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