Those who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed that my blogging frequency has dropped quite a bit for the past few months. I had planned to blog after every class meeting of the freshman design seminar, as I did last year, but I’ve simply been too busy. In addition to teach the freshman design seminar, I was also teaching the senior thesis writing course. Although both of these are 2-unit courses with small numbers of students (so the department gets essentially no additional resources as a result of my teaching them), they are both somewhat time-consuming, though the senior thesis writing much more so than the freshman design.
This weekend is the first weekend that I did not have a stack of thesis drafts to provide detailed feedback on (I’ve been averaging over 6 drafts a week to comment on all quarter). In addition to the thesis drafts, I also arranged to have a 20-minute individual meeting weekly with each of the 19 seniors writing theses this year. Because the meetings often ran over, I spent about 7 hours a week on those meetings. I started each meeting with the student giving me a 2-minute elevator talk (after telling me what audience they were addressing the talk to and with what purpose). This served two purposes: to get the students to practice concise descriptions of their projects and to remind me which of the 19 projects we were talking about. (Several pairs of students were doing closely related projects in the same lab, so it was really easy for me to mix up the projects—and I have almost no memory for faces and names, so I needed the prompts!)
Next weekend I’ll pay for this weekend off—I’ll have all 19 theses to grade between Thursday night and Tuesday morning. I won’t be doing as detailed feedback on this round—first, because there aren’t enough hours to do 2–3 hours a thesis; second, because I suspect that half the students won’t come by my office to pick up the graded theses (even those who still have a quarter to go before their theses are complete).
I hope to have the freshman design course all graded before the senior theses come in—they have their last lab on Monday and their design reports are due Tuesday. The freshman reports are much shorter than the senior theses, so I can probably get them all graded on Wednesday. If I get them done in a timely manner, I may take the time to try to do an end-of-quarter summary of the freshman design project course, which I think ran more smoothly this year, though not quite in the direction I had originally thought we would go.
This weekend, I’m getting back to work on my book, since I want to release a draft for the applied electronics course that starts in 2 weeks. I at least want the chapters and labs for the first two weeks to be finished, with no major overhauls planned for the remainder. I spent about 4 hours on the book today (after goofing around for a while with some phototransistor circuits that aren’t really relevant to the course—I’ll probably blog about that when I have more time, but it will take about 8 hours to do a good blog post on it, and I don’t have that much spare time this week). I hope to have the schedule for all the labs finished this weekend also—I made a good start on that in December, when I last had time to work on the book.
Next quarter will not give me much writing or blogging time—instead of the 12 contact hours (plus office hours and grading) that I had this quarter, I have 19 contact hours (3.5 hours of electronics lecture, 12 hours of electronics lab, 3.5 hours of banana slug genomics) plus grading 15 prelab assignments and 15 design reports a week for the electronics course. I’m hoping I can convince my co-instructor to do what grading we’ll need for the banana slug genomics, or that we won’t assign much that needs grading.
Also Spring quarter is when most students declare their majors, so I’ll probably have to increase my office hours from 2 hours a week to 3 or 4 to handle the advising load. Two hours a week was just about right this quarter, especially since I allowed students to reserve a place in line by email. I only had an empty office once or twice, and only ran an hour over once or twice.
On the administrative side, at least I’ve gotten the 20-page bioengineering self-study and my 3-page contribution to the bioinformatics self-study done, so I won’t have too much to do on those next quarter. The Curriculum Leave Plan is done for next year, and I hope it won’t need further modification. I’m reducing my teaching load next year to merely heavy (from insane this year), and some of the buyouts we had counted on for paying lecturers are not coming through, so the department has a structural deficit of about $30k, and only enough reserves to cover that for a couple of years (with no way to replenish the reserves). I don’t know what we’re going to do long term, as we need to add more offerings of some of our more popular courses, at a cost of about $20k each.