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5:30pm on Wednesday, 11th January, 2012:

Non-Zero Tolerance


Today was the deadline for handing in the marks for third-year students' final-year projects.

I had 9 reports to read in total: 3 for students I'm supervising and 6 as second assessor for other students. I read these reports when I got them and emailed my provisional marks to the other supervisors/assessors (there were 4 of them) the week before Christmas. The way these things work, we mark the reports independently, compare what we awarded, then agree on a consolidated mark. The supervisor has to hand in a yellow supervisor card and a blue second assessor card by the deadline.

OK, well one of my fellow lecturers did his marks in good time (earlier than I did, in fact) and we agreed our consolidated marks with plenty of time to spare. We were both able to hand in the yellow and blue cards for our supervisees.

Another lecturer had done the marking but hadn't emailed it out, but I caught him in his office today and we were able to agree a consolidated mark there and then. I gave him the blue card he needed for his student (he wasn't marking any students I supervised) and that was that.

A third lecturer was marking his batch of reports today. I gave him my blue forms for his students, but he has the blue forms for my student. We agreed the consolidated marks at around 4pm, which is what I'd predicted when I explained all this to the administrator who needs the marks today. However, because I'm back at home (to write the CE317 lectures for the rest of term so I can write the exam paper due in next week) I can't hand in my yellow card until tomorrow. Result: I was early with my marks but I'll be late handing them in.

The fourth lecturer will be marking his reports tomorrow. We're meeting tomorrow afternoon to consolidate marks.

This is par for lecturers. Some get their administration done early because they hate it so much they can't bear having it hanging over them (I fall into that category). Some are inundated with admin and cope as best they can but sometimes things fall through the cracks (two of the above fall into this category). Some schedule to the deadline and get it done on time but with little accommodation for anyone else involved (one of the above fits here). Some are admin-averse and put it off until beyond the last moment because they really don't want to do it (none of the above are in this category this time, but once I had three lecturers who out of dread hadn't even started to read the reports the day after they were due to hand them in).

Next week, I'll have to check through the exam papers of some other lecturers to make sure they're up to scratch. I have no doubt whatsoever that I won't get at least some of them on time, or that I'll get them so close to the deadline that there won't be time for them to make any changes I suggest.

Of course, the admin staff expect lecturers to miss deadlines, so sometimes set their deadlines earlier that necessary in order to get everything in by the real deadline. However, lecturers have figured this out, so guess when the real deadline is and strive to miss that instead.

Yet for student assignments, project deadlines are all at 11:11:59. Students who hand something in at 12:00:00 receive zer0 marks. That's university for you.

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).