The Bridge To Knowledge

Scantron bills itself as “the bridge to knowledge” on the packaging for my six virgin copies of form 882-E, procured from the NoVA student bookstore for $1.99 Tuesday morning. That’s about $.33 per sheet compared to the $.12/sheet price for buying direct from Scantron. The only plus of the weather delay for the Alexandria city schools yesterday was the opportunity to visit the bookstore on my way to the office.* Did I mention that the bookstore is closed evenings and weekends? On the other hand, I would never have had the chance to find an inflatable unicorn head** if I hadn’t had to browse. Student bookstores are so much fun.

Speaking of Scantron, I just finished the open-book quiz that was our first homework assignment. Going to the first lab session for the biology class and successfully handling termites (with a paint brush) got me geeked out and ready to Science. Somehow I didn’t expect it to take me three hours to finish the  60 questions, though. If I factor out the messing-around-online factor it was probably more like two hours, but still.  I’m starting to regret my zeal, it being after 2 AM, but it’s so awesome to be learning something that doesn’t feel like the set-up for a “how many bureaucrats does it take to change a lightbulb?” joke.

* Technically, my shopping trip was on the way back from dropping off TeenBot and Mouse at their schools to pick up Podrostok, who was trying to finish an overdue assignment, then drop him off on my way to work. Only TeenBot texted just as I pulled into the parking garage at work to say he wanted to go home sick. So back I went. The morning commute wound up taking about 2.5 hours by the time I finally hauled myself into the actual office.

** To say nothing of the inflatable moose head. I could not restrain myself and bought both.

Nails On A Chalkboard

My poor oldest son: the first victim of every parenting theory I carried into motherhood, the primary beneficiary of my blindness to my own quirks and how just how weird my own youth actually was! He told me middle school was bad; I didn’t believe him until his brother went to middle school. He needed my active involvement in his schooling; I didn’t see it because I was so certain that I was teaching him self-reliance by not checking his homework. He needed social help as a kid; I didn’t understand until his siblings started developing friendships.

He’s a senior in high school now. He has always hated Blackboard. I assumed he just hated school. Then I resumed my studies after a 24-year hiatus.

Oh my Lord. Blackboard! The all-in-one IT “solution” for classroom communications and institutional information sharing. It’s the worst whatever-it-is that I have seen! It makes me nostalgic for custom-developed federal government software. I can’t believe this thing has established such a stranglehold on public schools and colleges in the U.S. It’s hard to tell what I hate most. Is it the way that it insists you create a new, institution-specific e-mail account to interface with it? The database set-up that logs you out after 10 minutes? The multiple levels you have to click through to find an assignment? I will grant you that I like the whole concept of being able to apply for admission, register for classes, and pay my tuition without having to spend five hours in a line with thousands of other people. I like the idea that I can submit assignments remotely and communicate with my instructor and fellow students without them actually having my real personal contact information. But I can’t imagine how the kids in school now – who have spent their whole lives surrounded by user-friendly information technology – don’t simply riot. The only possible reason I can think of is that they don’t really use e-mail or blogs these days, so they don’t realize that long-form electronic communication doesn’t have to suck.

The other thing about the modern academy that I hate, at least so far, is the fact that the “homework” for my classroom-based class is a quiz posted to Blackboard that I have to complete and submit to my instructor in hard-copy on a Scantron form. Specifically, a Scantron form that I have to purchase. It was one thing to have to take exams in Blue Books back in the day, but I was on campus all the time, and I only had to use them once or twice per semester. But having to pay for a special, magic piece of paper in order to submit homework seems unfair – especially since the student book store closes at 7 PM and isn’t open on weekends. Oh, and they don’t sell the Scantron sheets online, either. I can buy them in packages of 500 online from the Scantron store for $60, or I can try my luck with the allegedly “Scantron-compatible” sheets sold on Amazon. You’d think, since this is the future and all, that there might a .pdf of the damned things out there for me to download, but no.

My instructor seems well-intentioned and knowledgeable. His English is sophisticated and he obviously knows the language well. My only beef is that he talks faster than he can fully articulate the words he’s trying to pronounce. It’s not that he has a bad accent, he just needs to slow down. Because “chemical attraction” and “Kim Kardashian” are sounding a lot more alike than I think he means them too. This isn’t as bad as the engineer I met at a meeting who used to mean “floorplan” and say “foreplay,” though.