Class Management Reviews: Fall 2021

A collection of what worked well and what didn’t in classes that I took this semester. This is partially for me to record what things reduced friction for me as a student so that one day, should I become a professor, I’ll be able to run the lowest-friction class ever!

Synopsis

The best classes made it easy for me to see a list of everything that was due, when it was due, and what each assignment entailed. Exhaustively-written lab write-ups hosted on GitHub were a highlight. The worst was when I found numerous typos in an assignment.

Description of what I like generally

I like loading all of my assignments into org-mode. If you’re not familiar with it, you can think of it as a programmable version of Markdown (though they’re not really related) that includes utilities for managing tasks, calendar items, notes, general markup (I write many of my school papers with org-mode) and even spread sheets!1 My school file looks something like this:

#+TITLE: School
#+FILETAGS: :school:
#+TAGS: { general(g) cs_460 math_485 music_202 pws_100 research(r) } \n { reading(b) homework(h) test(t) }

* General

* CS 460                                                             :cs_460:

** DONE HW 1 - Set up
DEADLINE: <2021-09-03 Fri 23:59> CLOSED: [2021-09-03 Fri 23:32]

** TODO HW 2 - Networks and Delay
DEADLINE: <2021-09-10 Fri 23:59>

(Description here)

...
* MATH 485...
* MUSIC 202...
* PWS 100

You can see top-level headings for each of my classes with assignments as sub-headings marked with TODO or DONE.2 Org-mode will munge all the assignments and display them for me in a nice calendar view.

On mobile I use beorg which is hands-down the best org-mode agenda view for iOS. (Note: agenda view. This app is best for managing your todo lists. If you want to edit org-mode files when you’re using org-mode for markup, there are some other ones that work a little better for that purpose.)

At the beginning of each semester I usually load all the assignments I can see into my org-mode file. This always involves a good amount of Perl and Emacs macros. Once everything is set up, I almost never miss an assignment.

The Good

  • One class had most of the assignments loaded into a spreadsheet that we could download. Easily the shortest time I had to spend to get things into the format that I like. It wasn’t complete, however, so I had to update it once or twice.

  • My CS class had the class labs in a repository on GitHub. If the professor pushed out a change to the lab spec, we just had to pull the repo. If there was a typo, we could submit a PR. (There was one that I found, and my professor merged my pr!)

  • Submissions required using tar. (CS class, obviously, and the professor gave us instructions. I can, however, remember the flags.) Yum. Gimme that UNIX goodness.

  • Late days: for one class we had a pool of 10 late days that we could apply to almost any assignment. (Exceptions were exams, which makes sense and we were provided ample clarification on that.) This was nice because it let me budget my time. I could choose to push off a lab to get a more pressing assignment for another class in.

The Bad

  • Typos in assignments. Goodness gracious, proofread your assignments! I got a .doc3 file that was riddled with typos. It was all simple stuff like “tranport” or “trasported” that a spell checker would have flagged immediately.

The Ugly

  • Proctorio. My botany class used Proctorio and I am not cool with that. I talked to the professor about my concerns—he listened, but wasn’t willing to turn off Proctorio. My RSI has been better, but I still don’t like having to use a web-interface to enter text. I’d much rather type up my answers in Emacs and paste them in. I’m grateful that I had a Raspberry Pi that I could use to isolate the ickiness.

Conclusion

It was a pretty good semester, all in all. It was my first semester as a father; my wife was also finishing up, so that made things difficult. We got a lot of help from our parents—especially my mother-in-law—and I owe them all a debt of gratitude for helping us make it through the semester.

I also applied to grad schools! I might write more on that later. I’m glad to have that out of the way. Now the waiting begins…


  1. Appologies to org-mode. This is a pretty sorry description. Just know that org-mode is very, very powerful. ↩︎

  2. I also have states for IN_PROGRESS, BLOCKED, and WONT_FIX↩︎

  3. I would administer a strike for using a .doc or .docx, but this was not a CS or math class. The .doc instead of .docx is suspect though. ↩︎