22 August 2020

Students have picked their topics - in summer!

It had been an exciting time! I had been told the dissertation module had to move to the first semester. And  if the students start in September, they need to have their topic in September. But that means allocating the topics before then. And having the students indicate their preferences in summer. And I've never asked a whole cohort of students to do something like that in summer! But 2020 is a year of firsts I suppose. So I had got the topics together, provided documentation, and asked the students to fill out the topic choice form. I had set a mid August deadline for form submission. 

I had been nervous about this! Can you assume that students read their university emails over summer? Email seems to be for old people these days. And would they be angry about this infringement of their summer? So many ways in which this could be unpleasant! But I could see the hits go up on the documentation, and the number of filled out forms. 

Students are also welcome to design a topic themselves; this year, the uptake was low. Would this have to do with the students not being around each other, around staff, around the library, et cetera? We may never know. There were a fair few submitting a draft, but I've never approved a first version. The research question tends to require a bit more specification, and the data tends to need a bit more clearly identified too. And some students decided to stick to the provided list of choices after they realised how much work it would be to get their own design up to scratch. 

Quite close to the deadline I could finally release the module website. Central services had added the students to it! It felt really good to have such a structured and familiar platform to share information. It had been a bit improvised so far. 

Then the deadline came. How many would miss it? I did remind the students several times. But there still were some that just hadn't submitted. So I had to double my efforts! I mailed all who hadn't submitted. And I contacted student administration if there were some people I didn't expect. The class list tends to still change a bit over summer! With students either deciding if they'll go on a placement year, or doing resits because they hadn't passed the year the first time around, or things like that. I had just mailed everyone who might pass the 2nd year and who might not go on a placement year next year. Covid complicates placements too! 

The next move was to publish the list of indicated choices: for practical and technical reasons, I ask the students to give the numbers of the topics they want. But it's easy to mean topic 43 and accidentally click topic 44! So there needed to be some time for a check. And while that happened, I could start collating it all into one big workable spreadsheet, and chase up the latecomers. 

My list of non-submitters shrunk. Good! But I wanted it down all the way. The university gives us access to the students' telephone numbers, and I am a bit hesitant using these, as I can imagine that their lecturers coming in through their phones is the last thing students want, especially in summer, but here I figured the damage of them not picking topics would outweigh the potential damage of their irritation. And after two rounds of attempts I had the non-submitter list down to just one! And one student is feasible to just squeeze in at the last minute. I don't know what more to do. I can hardly go and visit them! So I'll leave it here. 

Now I have to start the big job: allocate all students a topic... it's not a pleasant job but it needs doing! And I've never got it out of the way this early in the year. So I should get it done and enjoy that for the rest of the academic year! I may even find a few days for myself after this is done... 

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