Earlier this term I asked my science major students to turn in a homework assignment via email. I was going to be traveling on the homework due date, and I figured this would be the best way for me to get the assignments graded in a timely way and to entertain myself in airports and airplanes.
I set up the homework assignment so that all answers could be written directly into an email so that we didn't have to worry about attachments and file formats and all that kind of possible chaos.
Half the class sent me attachments anyway. In most cases this was fine, except when it wasn't.
I have a very strict due date/time for assignments and under normal circumstances with homework on paper, I get the assignments on time unless there is a dire emergency. With the e-homework, however, 15% of the students had problems getting their homework to me in a readable form.
85% of the class got the homework in on time and in a form I could read. The others didn't attach the attachments or experienced other technical difficulties. For example, one student inexplicably decided to scan his homework and mail me the attached scans, but his assignment was missing the last page, which was 1/3 of the assignment.
When the emails arrived with the homework, I wasn't able to read them right away. I filed them all in a folder and looked at them later when I had time, and that's when I discovered the problems.
I had not made contingency plans for email problems; e.g. spelling out that it was the student's responsibility to make sure the email arrived on time and with the homework attached, complete, and readable. It clearly is the student's responsibility, even without my putting that in writing, but at the same time it seems too harsh to give someone a zero for forgetting to attach an attachment.
It will be a long time before I assign e-homework again. I am sure there are web-based solutions for this, but for now I am going back to paper and pencil-based assignments.
With paper-and-pencil assignments, the only crisis I have had so far this term was when a student slid their assignment under my office door while I was away, and then I stepped on it when I walked in my office, leaving a shoe print on the front page. I thought it was kind of funny, but the student was not happy about the shoe print.
What did he expect when he put the homework under my door on the floor? Did he truly think I stepped on the assignment on purpose as a statement of anger or disgust with his work? Do professors really do that? I admit that it can be tempting, but so far in my career I have refrained from stomping (literally) on student work, and I have had to content myself with editorial stomping.
13 years ago