It’s that time of year again, when I spend days on end ploughing through coursework folders. I’ve yet to see a way in which I could find the time to mark this work without occupying my so-called holiday. It takes so long, is so soul-destroying, that even when I wake early and start the day with the best of intentions, I conk out too quickly to get through more than half a dozen folders per day.
I’m not complaining in this instance about the quality of the student work. What’s destroying me this time is the system used by my predecessor at my new place of employment to store work. Some of this stuff is supposedly marked, but none of it was ever printed out and no paperwork was completed. So I basically have to do it all from scratch. That’s one thing. I’m having to go over work that has been sitting on computer hard drives for months on end.
Which brings me to the biggest issue here. When you’re dealing with large files, or even simple word processor documents, the risks involved in keeping it all stored electronically are enormous. I’m opening folders and instead of finding a neatly organised set of files for printing and marking, I’m finding a wilderness of untitled documents and Word .tmp files, which are what Word creates in the background, and which are supposed to delete themselves when the work is saved. Except not. Whether through incompetence, inattention or technical issues, there are multitudes of duplicates, partially completed work, and other mysteries. It’s not even as if I can just delete the .tmp files: often, the document they’re backing up is missing entirely, so I have to change the file extension of each one and explore its contents, sometimes finding a half-finished version of something that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
What causes this? I never had this problem at my old place. We worked in a primitive way, but it fucking well worked. I didn’t have network log-ins for the students, but a universal local one that they all used, and which I had the password for. This meant that if a student didn’t print something, I could go in and find it, particularly as my system meant that all students worked at the same machine all the time, and didn’t swap around. Everything that could be was printed as soon as it was finished, too, so I always had a paper copy.
But most importantly, of course, I didn’t use Microsoft software. Whatever it is that Word and PowerPoint are supposed to be good for, it is not student work. Using Pages/Keynote, not only did I not suffer from the .tmp problem, but because I switched off automatic backup (and autocorrect etc), students had to learn to do things properly: saving files with meaningful names in a location where they could find it again. Sure, I still had the occasional untitled document or silly naming convention, but on the whole, students soon learned to do things properly, or they found themselves doing the same thing over and over again.
When this happens in the land of auto-everything, you end up with a folder full of shite that you then have to spend hours sorting through. This is awful. Today, hopefully, will be my last day on this particular group’s work, but… I started with good intentions, managed to get through three folders (in a couple of hours) but then started to feel weak and shaky. Existential despair? Too much coffee? A little bit of both, probably.