Thursday, February 01, 2007

Scammer or stupid?

Since I haven't been teaching for the last six months or so I haven't had any bizarre student stories to post. But I thought I'd compensate with this one I heard yesterday from ScaryLecturer.

So he had this student in his class last semester (which ended in November last year), and although she turned up to most classes right up to the end, after the first week she never handed in a single piece of work. Now you or I would probably have asked her about this at some point, but being ScaryLecturer ("we aren't paid enough to care about the ones who are going to fail"),* he just went ahead and let it slide, failing her at the end of the course.**

So about a week ago, over two months after the grades had been posted, the student sent ScaryLecturer an email asking to meet and find out why she had failed the class. Again, being ScaryLecturer, he sent her a curt reply asking why the hell she thought she had a chance of passing a class for which she didn't do any of the assignments.

And here's the punchline: she had submitted the work. But it turned out that throughout the entire semester she had been putting it in the wrong box (one belonging to a lecturer who has long since left). At first ScaryLecturer thought it was a scam, but when he eventually got the administrators to break open the (locked) box, there was a neat stack of her assignments, interleaved with the (dated) advertising brochures that get dumped in our boxes every few weeks throughout the semester, which suggested the work had been there all along rather than being handed in all at once at the last minute.

So why oh why oh why did the student watch the other students get their work back each week and never once ask why hers hadn't been marked along with the rest?

And the weirdest thing of all: you remember how I said ScaryLecturer hadn't received her work after the first week? That's because in the very first week of term she did her usual trick of putting the assignment in a (different) wrong box, and ScaryLecturer saw her doing it, fished it out, and showed her the right place to put it.

So, is this student just terminally stupid, or is it some sort of scam? And either way, if you were the lecturer, what would you do about it now? Can we fail people for sheer mind-blowing lack of initiative?


* Or maybe because he is white and male and can get away with this sort of thing.

** It's not helped by the fact that she is Asian, and he has this theory that Asian students mostly just enroll in classes to keep their visas. (But you'd think he might have wondered why she kept on coming to class in that case, right?)

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Pilgrim/Heretic said...


This doesn't sound like a scam to me, just a terribly unfortunate mistake. If the student is Asian, there's a chance her culture encourages her to not question authority, i.e. that it would be impolite to ask the prof why she didn't get anything back.

What to do about the whole mess, though? That's a tough one.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't seem like a scam at all, and frankly terminal stupidity doesn't come to mind, either: I'm with pilgrim/heretic on the unfortunate mistake.

In my book, both scam and stupidity are being perpetrated by the instructor. Talk to your students, for grief's sake. They are, um, what we teaching types are there for. Sheesh.

StyleyGeek said...

Okay, I probably went too far to call it "terminal stupidity", and I agree 100% that Scarylecturer was out of line to not have spoken to , the student about the non-existent assignments. I am even happy to accept that the student may have had a cultural issue making it difficult to ask why she wasn't getting assignments back and delaying her asking about her fail mark.

But stupidity still definitely comes into it.

There is stupidity involved in not knowing your instructor's name, even by the end of the course.

There is extra stupidity involved in not checking your instructor's name or the name of your course before putting your work into a (clearly labeled) box.

There is even more stupidity involved in doing this twelve weeks in a row, even though you are aware you screwed up the first week you did it.

As for whether this stupidity is serious enough that it should lead to failure in the course: I think probably not. It's still a tricky situation, though, since marking the work at such a late date means it is impossible to compare its standard to that of the work by other students in the class, and it is not so easy a process to change a student's grade so many months after it first appearing on the official transcript.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I'd say you really can't, with a clear conscious, fail her for that stupidity.

It probably took her a while to contact y'all because of the authority thing. That would also explain why she didn't question not getting her assignments back with everyone else, although that should have been a clue.... and weekly assignments, wow!

I might be inclined to give her some kind of late penalty, like you would if you had found the assignments during the semester. She needs to take some kind of penalty for not knowing the instructor's name for the whole class --- afterall, she did fail to deliver them on time.

It might be a good idea for you to sit with her and explain exactly where she went wrong and what she ought to do if this sort of thing happens again. Coming from a female, she might be more receptive to the advise.

StyleyGeek said...

Not me. It's not my course. ScaryLecturer was just telling me about it. It's not even one I've ever tutored before, and I don't know the student.

I'll be interested to see what ScaryLecturer decides to do about it.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Let us know what ScaryLecturer does! I agree that there's a whole bunch of stupidity involved here, but also that she probably shouldn't fail... but... pretty close.