Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: March 2009

Intersecting Interests

There are certain kinds of family interactions that I sort of wonder: how often does this happen in other households?

My five-year old son has been playing tonight with some whiteboard markers and an eraser I brought home from university. A few minutes ago, he plonked his whiteboard down beside me and asked: “Mummy? Can you please draw me a Venn diagram?”

Uh… sure?

So I drew two circles with some overlapping space. Next question: “Do you like puppies?”

Uh… yes?

“I like puppies too! How do you draw a puppy?”

I drew a puppy – having been directed to a marginal space on the whiteboard, not close to the Venn diagram. My son then painstakingly drew a puppy inside the intersecting space. He proceeded to ask whether I liked other things. If I liked them, and he didn’t, they went into the non-intersecting bit of my circle alone. If he liked them, and I didn’t, they went into the non-intersecting bit of his circle.

We did have a conversation about Venn diagrams a few days ago. I just hadn’t been expecting that the concept would percolate, and come up again in quite this form…

The Things You Don’t Expect

One of the things that keeps teaching interesting – and, occasionally, makes it a little too interesting – is watching the often truly bizarre and unpredictable things that happen to the best-made plans, once they are let loose into the wilds of the classroom… Read more of this post

Email (mis)Management

I’ve just spent the better part of the last three days answering student emails. I’m responsible for some large courses this term and, due to the last-minute finalisation of my teaching schedule, my name is also attached in various ways to courses I’m not teaching, so I’m the proximate target for several hundred students trying to get their term organised and off to a smooth start. At a staff meeting yesterday, one of my staff members teased me that I’ve taught half the catalogue in my time here, so students reasonably think they can contact me about any course on offer… ;-P

Student emails have cycles. One of the things that always strikes me about mails at the beginning of the term, is how many of them operate under the clear assumption that the only thing I do, is whatever I would do in relation to that particular student – that I teach only one course (and so the course doesn’t need to be specified) or that I only teach (so it should be obvious the mail relates to me as a teacher, rather than to me in various other roles). I spend hours sending out requests for additional information: who are you? what class are you taking? are you already registered? what are the details of your registration? This step then doubles the interaction, since they’ll reply, and I then need to respond to that. Sometimes we have to go round the bend again, if their response isn’t particularly forthcoming…

I’ve spent so much time on this, this term, that I’m seriously considering putting an auto-responder in place next term, that advises anyone who emails that I will need specific information before I can help them. This would prove mildly embarrassing when it responds to colleagues who are emailing for other reasons. But at this time of year, colleagues are perhaps 2% of my incoming email traffic – and presumably they can judge that I’m not demanding extra information from them before I’ll reply… ;-P

I’ve occasionally considered writing into my course guide that certain kinds of emails should never be sent. These are the ones that come later in the term: the ones that ask “Did I miss anything important today?” If the first type of mail causes me to want to go into Taylorist, assembly-line, auto-response mode, this second kind brings out my anarchistic tendencies – I’m always tempted to reply, “Well, there was a pop quiz worth half the course mark…”

But all this aside: I think mainly I’m just sort of shell-shocked at the quantity of email traffic generated while I am teaching. My inbox fills up – exceeds its capacity and starts bouncing messages – if I don’t log in and trim it every few hours… I type extremely quickly, but it still takes immense amounts of working time to slog through the backlog. There must be some better way of managing this… What do other people do?