Posts Tagged ‘ deadlines ’

Getting seniors ready for work

After reading my previous post on deadlines, one of the students in my senior seminar expressed disappointment that I hadn’t mentioned her name among those who have been posting regularly to our class blog. She was the first student to post, she noted, and has posted every week. She added that she had put her disappointment aside to concentrate on catching up on her missed work — and on getting her name off our weekly “Work Owed” chart.

That got me thinking about the importance of learning to live without much praise.

I remembered when I was a young reporter on the business desk at New York Newsday — so young, it seems to me now! I was 29 or 30 at the time of the incident I’m recalling; certainly I was old enough to know better, and I knew that at the time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’d been at the paper for about a year, maybe a little more. I was meeting with my assignment editor, Steve Zipay. I don’t recall what made me say this, but I clearly remember complaining to him, “No one ever tells me I’m doing a good job.”

He fixed me with a mildly exasperated yet kindly look. “Barbara,” he said, “at this level, no one’s going to tell you you’re doing a good job.”

It’s assumed that you’re going to do a good job, he went on. Occasionally, someone may remark on it, and if you do something really terrific, you may get some brief recognition. But day to day appreciation? No. People are going to tell you what they need. Everyone is busy, and everyone is thinking about the next thing that has to get done, the next deadline.

It was a lesson that stuck with me, obviously.

Most of my students are already working, but not at jobs that mean much to them. When they get a job that serves their passion and reflects their training, they may be hoping for more recognition than they expect now, from the assistant manager at the store, say. Keep that hope in check, I want to tell them. The reason for working at something you’re passionate about is that the work is its own reward.

Recognition comes in other ways. Extra responsibility. A tougher assignment. Eventually, perhaps, an award or a promotion. But day to day, the motivated worker finds satisfaction in the work. In teaching these seniors, I’d better be as demanding, and as frugal with praise, as the overworked editors at their first jobs will be.

Shining a light on missed deadlines

One of the biggest complaints among my colleagues — and, I imagine, among journalism professors everywhere — is the student who misses deadlines.

Why else the dire threats in every journalism syllabus I’ve ever seen: a grade lost for every day the assignment is late. No credit for work more than a week late. No work accepted late, at all.

I’ve written those threats into syllabuses myself. Yet I find myself nodding in resignation when a student begs to print out her story during a break or to e-mail it to me after class.

What to do? I could develop a steelier spine and follow through on the threats — and I have lowered grades for late work. Yes, I could do that consistently, in theory.

But I’ve stumbled upon a couple of techniques recently that have proved effective, and they’re more pleasant than the glowering tough-guy approach. Both harness the Internet.

Like many colleges and universities, Stony Brook uses an online educational tool called Blackboard. Each course has its own Blackboard site, with pages for assignments, email, announcements, course documents, gradebook, discussion boards, blogs and many more.

I like to use the Announcement function, which also allows me to send the announcement as an e-mail to all students in the course.

The night before a deadline, I post an announcement reiterating the details of the deadline: time, place, format. I specify that the work is due in hard copy, typed, triple-spaced and stapled, at the start of class. For good measure, I e-mail the announcement to all the students.

This tactic worked well during my winter-session course. Everyone managed to make the deadlines, despite commutes of up to 90 minutes for a class that began at 9:30 a.m., pre-dawn by student standards.

This semester, I tried something else when half of the 12 students in the senior-project seminar I co-teach with Marcy McGinnis had missed two interim project deadlines three weeks into the course. I threw together a spreadsheet listing all the students. The next column listed missed assignments — blank for those who were caught up. Then a column with the due date, and a column — blank — for the date submitted.

I posted the spreadsheet on Blackboard and e-mailed it to the class yesterday. Then I sat back and watched the late assignments roll in. All but two students are now caught up.

A picture, or in this case a chart, is worth a thousand nags. Seeing their names on the bad-boy list means public embarrassment, however slight. Just stating the facts, folks; it’s up to you to do something about the situation.

These students are working on semester-long projects. If  they fall behind this early in the semester, they are doomed. I plan to make this chart a weekly feature of the course.

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