Home > General Musings, Sink, Swim, or Just Tread Water? > Well, That’s One in the Bag

Well, That’s One in the Bag

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

With today’s MAT 122 final over with, my first semester as a comically overage undergraduate is complete.

I had five classes, but since two were only one credit apiece (and one was four), my total course load was a mere 12 credits – the minimum necessary to maintain standing as a full-time student.  Of those five classes, four were graded (A-F) and one was pass/fail; the latter doesn’t count toward GPA.

I haven’t received my grades –the deadline for posting them is December 27 – so I don’t know for certain where I’ll stand once all the scores are in, but neither final exam felt particularly disastrous and my performance in both of those classes has been decent, as far as I can tell.  I’m not one to keep track obsessively of how my coursework is going over the span of the semester, but I think I’d have noticed if I’d gone down in flames at any point, and though there were some dicey moments in ECE 101, my actual graded-work performance has been fairly solid.  And though I haven’t received my score for last Friday’s speech in CMJ 103 either, that same speech won the Oak Awards later that afternoon, so I think I can be excused for being reasonably confident about that one.

So, touch wood, I think I’ve done pretty well.  Especially considering how much rust there was on a lot of those neural pathways, I trust I have not disgraced my clan.

Ironically, the big question mark here is AST 110, and the reason it’s a question mark is because of the way the course was presented.  I had a great time in the observation sessions, despite nearly freezing to death* in the final one, but the rest of the course was an exercise in frustration and annoyance.  You may recall that, due to scheduling problems, I had to take the online version of the course.  This was presented using the University’s WebCT system, and it was, not to put too fine a point on it, infuriating.

The problem with WebCT, at least as regards AST 110, is twofold:

1) Interaction with the instructors is exceedingly minimal.  There are discussion boards, but the instructors don’t appear to monitor them, or at least they’re under no obligation to respond – they’re a little like those boards MMOs maintain, where the GMs read them but you can only expect answers from the other players.  This is often annoying, because

2) WebCT isn’t a good system for presenting that particular course as currently prepared.  This isn’t a general "WebCT is rubbish" complaint – there are specific reasons why it doesn’t work for AST 110.  Basically, a lot of the learning modules, as prepared, involve making eyeball estimates from diagrams and/or charts, then basing some calculations on those estimates.  The problem there is that WebCT is a very stupid multiple-choice system that’s programmed to expect very precise answers – answers it is not likely to get, at least not with the degree of precision required, from students who had to eyeball a diagram on the screen to start calculating them.

The upshot of these two shortcomings was that a lot of the learning modules were as much exercises in engineering what WebCT was expecting as they were about actually mastering the astronomical concepts being presented, and eventually I just gave up messing with that, plugged in the answers I was getting, and let the chips fall where they may.  I have no idea whether the instructors have any override authority to compensate for WebCT’s insistence on precise figures a student can, in many cases, only arrive at by blind luck, nor whether they particularly care to exercise it if they do.  If they do, the damage probably isn’t as bad as I think.  If they don’t, my grade in that course may not be all that good, which is a shame, because I have a great love for astronomy and did usually come out of the learning modules understanding what they were trying to put across to me – I just didn’t have any way of persuading WebCT of that because the assessment were so poorly structured.

On the other hand, it’s only a one-credit lab, so as long as I passed, it won’t do all that much harm to my GPA.  (And yes, I did note all of the above in my semester’s-end course evaluation, for all the good I expect it will do.  I’m not convinced anyone actually reads those, for all that the University takes their administration achingly seriously.)

Right now, thanks to a computer science course I neglected to withdraw from properly in the fall of 1993 and so logged an F in, my GPA is 2.937 – a tiny, tiny bit below the threshold for most, if not all, supplementary financial aid (read "upperclass scholarships").  We shall see within a week or so whether my performance this semester has been sufficient to improve that.  (I’ve only just learned that I could have applied for readmission as a pseudo-transfer student, since I need well over 30 credits to graduate and had been gone more than five years – that would have wiped my old GPA and started me over.  But I didn’t know that at the time, and now it’s too late.  Alas.)


* not really

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