Saturday, 30 June 2012

The myth of the long academic vacation



Classes ended in April and exams were over by mid-May. Our students rarely see us from April to mid-September and naturally they assume that this is down time for us. But the University's life carries on, most of us are still here, and in fact we are busier than we were before teaching recess.

First, when all the marking is in and moderated (the academic equivalent of flight attendants cross-checking doors before take-off), University examination and Award boards take place. Every single mark across every module must be checked and accounted for. Students who have been ill are re-assigned late due dates, all of them different; some students are entitled to reassessments on certain bits of coursework or exams. Those reassessments must be marked. The very few students who have gone AWOL for a year or three tend to wake up just before the Boards and let us know whether they are going to join us again next year. We re-read all the student evaluations for the modules to ensure that our teaching methods and practices are working well, and reports are created. The Awards Board checks the profiles of all graduating students and we check that their marks add up to the correct degree classification (well, okay, the computer calculates, but we have to double-check that the original figures are correct).

That's just the teaching stuff from the past year. Long before the Boards we have to start planning Induction week activities and arrangements. We make recruiting visits to local schools and FE colleges. We work on the recruitment plans for the next cycle. We timetable classes for 12/13 - hundreds of class meetings must be roomed. We plan who is going to teach what class for 12/13, balancing those hours with staff members' other non-teaching activities (such as committee work and external examining), prepare documents for our annual appraisal meetings, and participate in staff development sessions (for example, attending briefings on new university regulations).

Some new modules have been approved for 12/13, and now is the time to design these modules, create a syllabus and reading lists, and preapre essay and exam questions. Existing modules are also updated around now, with staff deciding on set texts. The reading lists go live in the summer, because students, who are also extremely busy people, have to get some reading done before September.

Did I mention that lecturers also do scholarly research? The nature of university life means that extended research tends to get crammed into this ever-shrinking summer period between reassessment in July and Clearing in early August. Time to start speed-reading. Deo gratias that I live only an hour's train ride from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Travelling to London to use the British Library will not be on this summer. I'd be better off flying to Manchester, as indeed a friend of mine plans to do.

Vacation? Maybe the first week in August.

Students, we miss you. Things get dull when classes end. But please be assured that most of us are not getting into any mischief while you're away.

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