Dr. McCracken’s Course Policies: What You Need to Know

I design my classes to give you time to read, write, think, and collaborate simultaneously. We are going to act as a community of scholars, each accountable to the other and each working to help the other become successful. Again, each class has its own specific learning objectives and course goals (and you’ll find these on individual course syllabi), but as a general rule, I want you to leave any class I teach with

  • A deeper understanding of what happens when you write and how writing works,
  • Knowledge about writing that you can use to help you navigate other writing situations, and
  • The ability to conduct inquiry-driven research on unanswered questions that matter to you.

In order to reach these goals (and to achieve the learning outcomes outlined in your individual syllabi), we are going to do a variety of reading, writing, and researching activities together, and the policies and procedures described below are the foundation for us to reach these goals.

I’ll say this over and over again: the only wrong way to do something in my class is to not do it. If you don’t attempt an assignment, then we have nothing to look at and no place to start. You have to do something for me to be useful.

Below are a number of policies covering  issues that typically come up over the course of a semester. These are in alphabetical order to make skimming a bit easier.

ABSENCES (and LATENESS)

I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. I also know that life happens, so here is the attendance policy for all my courses:

  • You may miss a maximum of one week of class without penalty and with no questions asked. However, you still must turn in your work on time and keep up with the course. If our class meets on MWF, this means you may miss three (3) class meetings. If our class meets on TTR, this means you may miss two (2) class meetings.
  • Each absence after the one week maximum will lower your final course grade by half a letter grade, regardless of how well you otherwise perform.
  • If you miss five (5) or more class meetings, I reserve the right (but do not take on the obligation) to drop you from the course with a grade of “WA.” If you remain on the roster after the drop deadline and “disappear,” you will likely earn a grade of “F.”

If you are not prepared for class, and cannot participate meaningfully, I may deem that lack of preparation an absence. I will notify you in writing if this becomes an issue. Please keep up with the readings and other work. For more information about my standards for participation, see my Class Participation page.

Class starts and ends on time. If you walk in after class has begun—even if it is one or two minutes after our listed start time—then you are late. Two instances of lateness will be treated as an absence. Two instances of leaving class early will also be considered an absence. Of course, if you have some legitimate reason to be late or leave early once or twice, please tell me.

As a reminder, doctor’s appointments, vacations, family crises, and faulty alarm clocks do not qualify for excused absences nor do they justify late work (see below).

The biggest absence offense in my classes is missing a meeting that you scheduled with me outside my office hours. If I am rearranging appointments or rescheduling my work to meet with you at your convenience, do not miss your appointment. Call me. Send me an email. Cancel our meeting via Doodle. Let me know something changed. Don’t ditch me. If you miss an appointment that you scheduled with me and you fail to notify me of your absence, I reserve the right to refuse to reschedule meetings with you outside my set office hours.

ACADEMIC HONESTY

All the work you submit for my class, from Daily Grind activities to writing projects and design units, should be work completed by you. In my years of teaching, I have learned that most instances of plagiarism result from ignorance of discourse community expectations and standards or sheer panic. Let’s avoid both. If you are concerned about completing a project or about how to reference material you are using, come see me. You may also want to seek help from the Writing Center, which is just across the building from me in Sorin Hall.

I will help you integrate sources, and we’ll learn how to do so according to the conventions and expectations of our community, but please remember your best bet is to keep very clear boundaries between ideas and words you are reading and contemplating and the ideas and words you are generating. Plagiarism is the deliberate misrepresentation of another’s words and/or ideas as if they were one’s own. This applies to works written and published as well as works purchased for use. Stay away from paper mills; they can’t help you in my courses.

You may find that the work you are doing in my class overlaps and intersects with work you’ve done elsewhere; you may even find that we’re covering territory close to a project you wrote in a previous semester. Do not submit any or all of a project written for another class for a grade in my class without my prior approval. You and I will need to discuss how you can build on and extend your previous work.

The St. Edward’s University Undergraduate Bulletin and the Student Handbook state that a student who is dishonest in any work may receive the maximum penalty of an F for that course. SEU does not allow students to withdraw from a course where an F in the course for academic dishonesty has been imposed. Students caught committing academic dishonesty in this course will be subject to the full range of penalties as described in the bulletin and handbook. Academic misconduct findings also tend to haunt future graduate school and career applications. You don’t want that.

CHALLENGES & ACCOMMODATIONS

If you have a confirmed medical, psychiatric, or learning disability that I need to accommodate in teaching you, please see me right away. I want to help you succeed, so please come see during office hours or make an appointment, preferably during the first week of classes. You will need to prove your disability by submitting certain documents to the Student Disability Office in Moody Hall 155. Please note that I cannot accommodate any disability without a “504 letter,” nor can I accommodate disabilities retroactively. If you do have a 504 letter to submit, my preference would be for you to come by during my office hours. This will give you and I some privacy, and it will allow me to make a copy of your letter for my files.

Please also remember that a 504 letter entitles you to reasonable accommodations, not to an easier course. You should read the reverse side of the 504 letter for information about your duties and responsibilities. I will ask you to sign the reverse side of the letter.

In addition, if you are under a great deal of stress or you just want someone to talk to confidentially, see the Counseling and Consultation Center (512-448-8538, Moody 110). They can help you develop strategies for personal success and coping with challenges.

COMPUTERS

You may want to bring a laptop to class because you are reading course materials online or taking notes. This is fine so long as you are working for our class. Please keep your private life and online fun out of the classroom. Twitter, Facebook, IMing and gaming are all part of my online, computer life. I, however, don’t engage in these activities while teaching you in a classroom, so please don’t try and engage in these activities while learning. If necessary, I may ask you to disable wireless connections.

COURSE CALENDAR

The course schedule provided to you is simply a plan, and it may be changed at any time.

COURSE MATERIALS

Most course materials, assignments, messages, and information will be posted in the cloud. Everything you need will be in Google Docs and/or Blackboard. I categorized information into folders with clearly identifiable titles to make this easier for you.

EMAILS

When emailing me, please practice good online etiquette. What does this mean? In the context of our class, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Give a reason for the email in the Subject Line.
  2. Include a greeting, preferably “Dr. McCracken,” followed by a comma or a colon. Instructors and professors make judgments about you based on the level of formality you use in electronic communications. While we may slip into less formal back-and-forth discussions, your first communication to me about each issue should be formal in its tone.
  3. Include a signature at the conclusion of your email. Give me your first and last name along with your course and section number. Once I can call you by name during class, you may just sign your name at the bottom of your email.

As a general rule, you will receive a reply from me within 24 hours. I aim to respond within 12 hours. This may not always be true for messages received over a weekend or during a holiday.

Your email will be our primary means of communication between class meetings.  For more help, check out this blog entry, “How to E-Mail a Professor.”

Some other suggestions for getting the most out of our email communications:

  • When I email the class, don’t just simply hit “Reply.” Your email will end up in a long queue, and I may miss something. Change your subject line message to better address the content of your email.
  • Please use your St. Edward’s University email address as a primary means of communication. I delete email from cowboyfan22@yahoo.com or allregionchamp98@gmail.com.

EXTRA CREDIT

None.

GRADES

If you believe that my grading is wrong or unclear, let’s talk. I do ask that you wait at least 24 hours after you receive a grade to discuss it with me. This waiting period gives you a chance to reread your work and my comments. This will also give you time to review my office hours and/or schedule an appointment, as I will only discuss grades in person.

My philosophy on grading is to be transparent. You should have no questions about how your writing or project will be evaluated prior to submission. In class, we may establish some assessment criteria as a class; when we do not, I will explain my criteria and give you a chance to ask questions. I evaluate your performance on the assignment within criteria that (I hope) we both understand. I do not assign grades based on whether I like you, on your potential, your worth as a person, your politics, or other factors.

If you don’t understand my assessment of your writing, then I expect you to take responsibility for your learning and ask me questions. I am here to help you, not to serve as an ambiguous gatekeeper. That said, I use a 1000-point scale for my classes, and these are the available grades using that scale:

Excellent (A): 900-1000
Strong (B): 800-899
Fair, Adequate (C): 700-799
Weak (D): 600-699
Unacceptable/Failing (F): <600

Please remember that my course policies require both performance and attendance; that is, absences and lateness will impact your grade even if you do well on the projects.

LATE WORK

I don’t accept late work. My deadlines are not like the expiration date on a gallon of milk: “Best If Used By.” The due dates and times are not suggestions. They are agreements between us about when work will be submitted. The same is true of in-class activities; these collaborative assignments depend on students being prepared. Thus, missing an in-class assignment or activity cannot be made up.

Sometimes, life happens. We cannot predict or control the circumstance surrounding us at all times. If your life intervenes and you are unable to complete or submit an assignment, then you should contact me and briefly explain your circumstances. Please do not share every detail of the issue with me. I will review your situation (and possibly ask for additional evidence), and you and I will agree to a very specific set a benchmarks and activities to get you back on track. I may also not agree that an extension is warranted because, again, I don’t accept late work.

MISSED CLASSES

If you miss class, you are not obligated to explain this absence to me. This is why I give you three “free” absences.

If you miss class, you are still obligated to meet the deadlines of that class meeting and the next. Use your colleagues in the class to help you catch up on missed material. Make a friend and borrow notes. You should always assume that you did, in fact, “miss something” from our class discussion. Come visit with me during office hours to catch up on the material, though please note that I will not be re-teaching the class you missed. If you want the full Dr. McCracken Show, then be on time and in class. I will not explain material covered in class via email.

NAME GAMES

I will do my best to learn each of your names, and I’d like to address you by your preferred first name. If you have a name you go by that is not on my roster, make sure you tell me the first week of class. Don’t allow me to call you by the wrong name or mispronounce your name. Teach me. I like to learn.

You may call me Dr. McCracken in class and via email. You may also call me Moriah. However, you may not call me Mrs. McCracken. That is my mother’s married name, not mine. More importantly (and it is silly, I know), I spent 10 years in college, earning me the right to be called Dr. McCracken. To refer to me as Mrs. McCracken assumes that my marital status is more important than my education. Oh, and because I am not tenured, Professor McCracken isn’t really appropriate either. The term professor is tied to a ranking hierarchy in academia.

OFFICE HOURS

My first responsibility as a faculty member is to teach you, and I take this role quite seriously. If, at any time, you need something from me as an instructor but you are not comfortable raising this issue before or after class, then come see me during my office hours.

Each week, I have designated hours when I am not engaged in my own research or reading. These times are posted throughout your course materials and on my office door (Sorin Hall 117). During this time, I will be in my office to answer questions, discuss concepts, and help you with your writing or reading assignments. This is your time whether you use it or not, so please feel free to come and chat with me about whatever issue is on your mind.

If your schedule won’t allow you to meet me during these times, please feel free to use my online scheduler, Doodle, which will give you up-to-date information about my on-campus availability. Nervous about talking to me? Here’s some handy advice on How to Talk to Professors.

NOTE: My responsibilities as a scholar, colleague, and administrator are important too, and I take all these roles seriously, which means my time is very scheduled. Just like you, I make time for reading and writing. When I am in my office working outside my posted office hours, this is my “research” work time (which is what a lot of my colleagues here at St. Edward’s will do). But, just because I am working here on campus doesn’t necessarily mean I’m free to discuss class-related issues. Knock. I’ll answer. We’ll see if I’m busy. Oh, and if I’m making a weird face, don’t read anything into it. I’m likely just exercising my brain.

PARTICIPATION

I expect all students to participate in the course activities, including keeping up with the readings, participating in discussions, and engaging in writing and feedback processes. Please be ready to be called on.

Workshop days are there for your benefit. It is time to work with your colleagues, to learn from them, and to share what you’ve learned with others. Please respect our designated workshop days for what they are: a chance to work in class, refine materials, ask questions, and evaluate your own work prior to submitting it for a grade.

PEER REVIEW

Drafts for peer-review workshops are often what I dub “words on a page.” I don’t expect these drafts to be ready for a grade, but I do expect that you’ve made a genuine effort at completing the whole assignment–from start to finish. The more complete your draft, the more feedback you’ll receive from your colleagues. Occasionally, I will ask you to print one or two hard copies of a draft. You’ll bring these to class. Other times, you’ll be sharing drafts online via Google Docs.

Peer-response has direct benefits for student writers. Reading and discussing other people’s writing allows “peer respondents learn to read, talk, and think about writing with greater maturity and sophistication” (Gillam 98). In fact, peer respondents get particular benefits precisely because they are reading student texts. For example, because student texts are typically flawed and/or unfinished, peer reviewers must

  • Draw INFERENCES from the author’s words and examples that may not be elaborated on,
  • Make PREDICTIONS about where the text is headed, and
  • CONSTRUCT MEANING rather than simply receive meaning (which is where rhetorical reading proves essential for peer review).

When giving feedback to one another, you must explain how you read to the Writer, which may help you distinguish between any messages the Writer intended to convey and the text’s actual meaning.

In all of my classes at every level, we’ll use modified versions of what Neubert & McNelis label a Praise-Question-Polish approach. For every piece of writing you read this semester you’ll be asked, in one form or another, to

  1. PRAISE: what is good about the writing? what should not be changed? why is it good?
  2. QUESTION: what did s/he not understand as a reader?
  3. POLISH: what specific suggestions for improvement can the student make?

This seems like a great deal of work, but in the end, the more I can teach you to read for one another the more likely you are to be able to self-revise—to read for yourself when there is no peer around.

I grade you on your peer review of others’ work. My rubric is deliberately simple and focuses on encouraging students to give useful feedback to one another.

PHONES

I wouldn’t trade my iPhone for anything, but trends in student behavior have forced a change in policy. When you enter class, all phones must be turned off. Silent is okay, but vibrate is not. The buzzing of a phone in a backpack is actually more annoying to me and more distracting for your colleagues than a phone that rings. Sounds like there’s a bee trapped in your bag desperate to escape.

I do not stand in front of class texting to my friends, and I ask that you extend me the same courtesy. If you cannot be in class without texting, then might I suggest you find another course.

I do have an office phone and voicemail box in my office. However, the best way to communicate with me is in person, during office hours. If that doesn’t work for you, my preferred method of communication is via email. I do not typically return phone calls to students.

REVISIONS

Revision gives you a chance to learn more and to grapple with complex ideas. Major writing assignments are eligible for one revision after I grade them.

ELIGIBILITY

You may revise a project that was turned in on time. Late work cannot be revised.

You may not revise a project graded at 87% or higher. For example, if you earned an 87 on a project that was graded out of 100 points, then you are ineligible for a revision.

DEADLINES

You must initiate the revision process (a) either by the deadline we establish as a class or (b) within 10 days of receiving your grade on a project.

All revision submitted for a new grade must include the required memo (see below) and the revised submission itself. You must also make sure I have access to the first graded submission itself and my original feedback. (These are typically in your Google Drive folder, which means you will not have to resubmit them.)

1 required MEETING to develop a REVISION PLAN

Please read my feedback on your projects and come see me to make a revision plan. No face-to-face meeting, no revision allowed. The most successful revision meetings begin with a discussion of a revision sketch you have prepared. This sketch will include (1) your summary of my feedback to you, (2) a list of questions you have about my feedback on your project, and (3) a short list of ideas you have for what you’ll change. You should not revise the project before we meet because the goal of the meeting is to outline the most efficient and productive way for you to proceed.

REQUIRED MEMO

Your revision must be accompanied by a detailed memo telling me exactly:

(1) what you revised,
(2) how you revised it, and
(3) why you revised it.

The memo is major evidence of learning, so no memo (or perfunctory memo), no revision accepted.

GRADING WEIGHTS for REVISED WORK

If you revise a project, the first grade will count for 40% of your project grade and the revision will count for 60%. Here is an example:

 First submission: 79

Revised submission: 86

Final Grade: 84 (79 x .4=32; 86 x .6=52)

If you choose not to revise a project, the first grade will stand as your project grade. For example, if you earned an 80% (B) and don’t revise by the deadline, your final grade for the project will simply remain 80% (B).

SIGN-IN SHEET

I use daily sign-in sheets to track attendance. Please arrive to class a few minutes early to sign in. If you arrive late, you must sign-in after class, not during the opening minutes of our class meeting.

Signing someone else’s name to the sign-in sheet is academic dishonesty.