Thursday, 27 March 2014

Post 11: Preparing for End of Term Marking

As a graduate student done class-work, the realization that my schedule does not align with the experience of undergraduate students comes quickly. While my timeline hasn't really stopped clicking along since last spring when I finished my courses, the pattern of assignment, assignment, deadlines, assignment, midterm, presentation, final exam that undergraduate students typically go through (or some variation thereof) has only been on my radar because of TAing and my proximity to those students.

And - it is that time of year where I'm starting to face a few days away from being landed with a giant pile of end-of-term final project marking.

Let me be clear - I am very much looking forward to seeing how my students' final projects came together. It's been a semester of reminding them and checking on on them, and encouraging them, and asking questions about different components, and offer feedback; it'll be really great to see how everything's taken shape. This year the professor I'm working with decided to make a final presentation mandatory for all the students in class, and I think it's a wonderful way of allowing them to share with each other the work they've been doing in tutorials.

So, where am I going with this? Well, it's mostly to say that if you know you have a giant pile of marking coming up, work hard up to it, and then be prepared to clear some space in your schedule so you can dedicate the time needed to give good feedback and consideration to all of the projects. There's nothing worse than being so stressed out of your mind with your own work, that students' feedback on their projects suffers (as may their marks, without the reviewer's patience to go through the projects).

                               Restoring desire-lines? One of the options for a restoration project.
                               Watch out for that mud! (On campus at UVic.)

The final projects I've got coming my way are going to be long reports drawn up by groups of about 4-6 students. In the past the projects have typically been between 40-70 pages. That is a lot of legwork for the eyes.

It will be several, several days of marking, which is also where it's good to know what's in the Collective Agreement for being a Teaching Assistant, so you know what a reasonable time frame for getting the marking done is, and so you don't unnecessarily slave away in the process. At UVic, TAs are part of CUPE 4163, Component 1. The Collective Agreement is the binding contract that governs how TAs and others in the union are to be treated as workers. It's great that we have this, as it grants us some protection from being completely taken advantage of. At the beginning of the semester the union holds orientation sessions with all of the new grad students to let them know about the union, and that it's there for them should something happen. There are still a number of issues that TAs face all the time. Unpaid extra work (especially attending regularly scheduled class) is one of them.

Anyhow. That's an aside that could use a whole blog post to itself. Fair working conditions as a TA mostly also means that you need to know what that entails. I've had the pleasure of working with a professor who is very open-minded and easy to communicate with. At the beginning of the semester we filled out the form sent to all TAs, discussing my work contract, how the hours would be used, and I've been keeping track of those hours as the semester progressed, too. I'm happy to say I'm right on budget for those hours.

So, pacing is a big part of knowing when and where your hours will be spent. I knew for months already, that I would have a big whack of marking due, and have been able to (try, at least!) prepare for what'll fall in my lap on Monday.

In a way, I am already a little sad about the semester having passed so quickly. I've heard from a few people that working at a university is like working at an Airport—so many people pass through so quickly, and indeed, my time here has been lengthened because of my choice to return for a master's degree, and that will be short enough as is. My students have been great. I will miss them. I look forward to Monday's in-class presentations.

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