Streamlining the Workload, Part 2

So, here’s a Part 2 I never expected to post. 

Last time, I wrote about streamlining some of the “paperwork” (or, really, data wrangling) for dealing with attendance tracking, grading, and so on. Experience tells me that not everything there works: for example, I couldn’t find a way to include the Student Numbers students input into their Zoom registrations in my attendance records. (Sigh.) 

Still, a lot of what I discussed there did help. Generating attendance records goes much more quickly when you know how to use a Pivot Table, and when you’ve given strict instructions for how people should register for your class on Zoom (in terms of their email address and their name information). Generating final grades for my Summer class was trivially easy, amounting to about 20 minutes of work once the Final Exams were graded. 

However, we’ve lost a few teachers this semester, and my workload seems to be expanding radically. In a normal semester, I would be teaching 16 hours a week; next semester, I’m scheduled for 22 hours, most of them in Academic Writing-focused courses.

Since my plate was already full even with 16 class hours a week, I’m clearly going to need to change things up a bit to stay on top of things. This post will get into the ideas I’m kicking around about how to do that. If you’re not in a similar position, it may not be of interest to you. 

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Streamlining the Workload

One focus of my work at my day job this semester has been to make working online a little more manageable. I thought I’d share some of the tools I use to do this, as well as to have them here in case I need them later. 

The past few semesters, a series of policy changes have made it hard to make things manageable, or to scale labour in a reasonable way. The administrators I deal with don’t really seem willing or able to recognize that online teaching can involve more time spent on stuff that we wouldn’t have to spend time on in offline classes, and all the sensible attempts I’ve made to try do this have resulted in my banging up against those aforementioned policy changes. Admin’s just trying to cover their backsides in case of an audit by the Ministry of Education, of course, but the net effect is that online classes have been less effective for students, less manageable for instructors, and less fun for everyone. 

think things have evened out a bit, though: I’ve figured out some ways to reconcile policy and sanity, in terms of the delivery of content to students. However, until now I hadn’t quite nailed down the kinds of tools I could use for the humdrum, paperwork-related side of things. Now, I’ve shaved many hours off the process. The following explains how I did it, and how you can too. 

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One of Us in Bastionland

Yesterday I got a chance to look at my print copy of Tim Deschene’s One of Us1. It’s great! It’s also designed for use with Dungeon Crawl Classics, a game which I don’t own (or, honestly, have much interest in running: despite the many appealing things I’ve heard about the gam, especially the kooky magic system, I’m a bit leery of any the mental workload I might have to take on running a game with a rulebook that huge).

That said, the beauty of old school games is that stuff is all roughly cross-compatible. DCC isn’t really old-school—to me, it feels like it’s maybe more of a a stripped down 3E but more crunchy complexity retained than I tend to like—but it’s close enough. 

All that said, the dustbowl carnival vibe really appeals to me. I’m a (nostalgic) fan of the old HBO series Carnivàle—one of those people who came across it a few years after its cancellation, and who still managed to disappointed at how short the series ended up being2—and I’ve long suspected it’d make a brilliant setting/concept for a game.

I mean, seriously:

1934. The Dustbowl. The last great age of magic. In a time of titanic sandstorms, vile plagues, drought and pestilence—signs of God’s fury and harbingers of the Apocalypse—the final conflict between good and evil is about to begin. The battle will take place in the heartland of an empire called America, where a traveling carnival harboring Ben Hawkins, a troubled healer, will clash with an evangelical ministry led by Brother Justin Crowe.

But yeah, I know, I know, the title of the zine invokes a different piece of Dustbowl/carnival/sideshow media, of course—the infamous 1932 film Freaks:

I think prospective GMs would do well to mix and match the two vibes a bit, to be honest.

Meanwhile, I just read my copy of Trash Planet Epsilon 5 3, an Electric Bastionland hack for cyberpunkish games on a trash-strewn landfill planet. It’s… a little light, but pretty impressive for how much it squeezes into so few pages.

So that got me thinking: how directly could One of Us be used with Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland? This is the system I’ve been using with a group of new players, and very much enjoying, lately, after all: it’s very simple, and much of the fun is in the flavor, which is communicated through character careers and setting details.

And One of Us is pretty much all character careers and setting details, so: I think, yes, it can be used… with a little tinkering, anyway. As a challenge, I am trying to do this with minimal work, since I many not end up doing it in the end… but it’s a fun think to think about.

Here’s what I would do to make it work:

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  1. Available in PDF or in print

  2. We don’t have HBO in Korea, but the series’ DVDs were available in the Carrefour store in Jeonju when I lived there.. and in a sadly fitting irony, Carrefour only lasted a short time in Korea before being shut down, just like Carnivàle.

  3. Also available in PDF or in print.

What To Say?

A friend recently asked how I’m doing, and I thought I might post something here, since I so rarely update this site. However, this is one of those questions it’s hard to answer. 

Do I… 

  • … go with how I pulled a muscle in my back the other day, and it hurt to breathe for about 24 hours, but now it’s slowly getting better?
  • … talk about how I’m busily mashing together chunks of the Gumshoe ruleset and a hacked version of the Forged in the Dark system to run modern supernatural techno-/spy-thrillers?
  • … delve into how, despite the exhaustion it has entailed, having our son at home with us for the year with almost no help has kind of been wonderful for our relationships, and how lucky we feel everyday to have such a kind, giving, generous, and thoughtful kid?
  • … talk about work? It’s a pretty big can of worms, to be honest… and more than I could really cover in a single post, even if I wanted to and felt safe doing it. 
  • … talk about concerns regarding what the timeline will be like for vaccines vs. the push to return to the classroom, and how I’m a little alarmed by the (again, far-right) adopting of “foreigners” being a “drain” on the healthcare system here. (They don’t seem to differentiate between tourists and people who are taxpaying residents who actually, you know, help fund the system the same way Koreans do… by being taxpayers.) Yeah, I don’t have the energy.
  • … talk about why this blog has sat fallow for so long? That… no, I don’t have it in me to tell that story. I have a draft post all about that. I’ll post it sometime, but not today. 

Man, that’s a lot of stuff I don’t want to talk about. Or at least, that I don’t want to talk about much. So what should I say? 

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