Humanities — Work Tips
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
I ask for frequent short commentaries — a couple paragraphs is usually expected — as we procede through the modern works. I’ve always found online delivery of homework in the form of postings to discussion threads to be the most valuable kind of exercise, because students can respond to or build on what someone else has initiated; so repetitions are fewer than if I ask for individual hand-ins. Therefore each semester I set up an online space for the class. When you know I’ve asked for a homework posting but something goes wrong with the electronics, connectivity, computers, or your access, the default always is not to blow it off with a computer excuse but simply to write out a commentary and turn it in at the start of the coming class period. If materials on Canvas are not accessible, visit other sites devoted to the artist or writer or composer, or try Youtube for the music, or visit the library.
These homework submissions receive points, usually from about 9 to 12 points each. (Other points are accrued with in-class minor group work.) A few optional extra credit options will occur during the semester, but really every assigned posting is an extra-credit option, since there is no real limit to the number of points you can earn. I occasionally find myself awarding something like 16 points on an 11-point assignment.
How is that possible for you?
If you seem to be earning only mediocre points for online homework, then aim to include specific and correctly documented quotations in your postings and to comment on these with some degree of intricacy or precision. By scanning others’ postings, you should be able to tell at least some of the contours of point-awarding. Some people post only a few lines and include primarily vague personal reactions instead of anything engaging. Some do little more, even far into the semester, than to protest their ostensible confusion at the material (and god forbid they should explore a little — even with obvious online resources — to understand a bit about the pieces). Naturally these kinds of responses earn only a couple points out of 10 or 11. Others, when prompted to focus on something from new materials, choose instead to go backwards and rehash something from previous materials already discussed in class. And often these are mere repetitions of perspectives we’ve hashed out. The vast numbers of postings are better than this and gravitate towards key questions and issues. They usually receive 9 or 10 points out of 11 or 12. Truly superb postings for 12 out of 12 tackle something unique or unusual among the other threads, and do tend to be longer not because of filler but because of intricacy and analysis of the implications of certain specific observations. People also receive lots of points who check in, post, check in later, join a threaded discussion, answer other people’s questions, do a bit of looking something up to add to the discussion, etc.
Since exams tend to be heavily based on textual quotations, musical excerpts, and art images already seen in class, you can arm yourself well by noting distinctive materials and moments we spend time on. Those who bring their texts to class give themselves an advantage this way, more efficiently committing at least a visual impression of textual passages to memory as they check or mark passages discussed.
Since I can include only so much on any exam and since I want to avoid “trivial pursuit,” notes you take in class are the best resource for later exam preparation. Think of what seemed to be the one or two most important points during each class period; almost certainly those are the concepts I’m trying to have represented on the exam — and usually illustrated by a quotation or excerpt.
In lieu of a “study guide” — and I’m baffled as to what such a thing would look like for a class such as this — my online notes are said by students to be a very useful resource for exam preparation and review. This makes sense, since if a quotation is important enough for an exam, it’s almost certainly something I thought was important enough to include in my web pages. Art images and musical pieces represented on the exams are almost always going to ones accessible throughout the semester in the online spaces.
I derive no perverse pleasure from seeing grades emerging that form a lovely bell curve, with each A- balanced by a corresponding D+. But grades do signify something meaningful about what you earn during the semester, and there is no mystery process about what finally shows up on your transcript or how it happened. Do realize that I want you to succeed.