A**hole Island

Hey, finally post that’s not about RPG stuff, huh? 

I’m ending the first week of my month of writing time this year. This is the first time I’ve reallyt sat down and done some serious writing since 2018. I… just didn’t have it in me, somehow, in 2019, and throughout most of 2020 our son was home with us and my wife was recovering from a work-related injury for a chunk of the year, so … really, honestly, I guess I’d have to say it was some combination of there being no time and no energy.  

This year, though: we worked out a deal where I work days—like the normal semester—except I’m spending the time writing fiction, specifically trying to end a novel project. Seriously, the first day of the project was just me sort of installing Dropbox on the desktop I’m using these days, sorting through the mess of a fiction folder I have hosted there, and then trying to figure out what was a draft of what from when. 

(For that Gin Craze Era novel, there are actually five versions, and I’m not sure which—thr 3rd, 4th, alternate-4th, or 5th—is the one I need to return to when I get back to it. I think I’ll need to just export PDFs of them and skim them on my iPad. A big reading job in and of itself.)

The happy news? I’ve made good progress on A**hole Island, as you can see from the (rarely-updated) progress bar on my website. (It’s at 85% now, though I think I’m probably closer to 90% done. 

This is a novel that expands on a novella I wrote many years ago—so long ago that it was before I was married and had a kid. I expanded it into a novel back in 2018, hit a wall, and then just sort of never managed to get past it. Until now, that is.  

There’s three big things I need to do. 

  1. Work out the ending. This was something I just couldn’t make headway on, but the past week has been good for it. I wrote about 12,000 words in the past week (half of which were just me spinning my wheels and which ended up in the trash), but the result is motion toward a dramatic conclusion now, so that’s something!   
  2. Reintegrate some material into the text from an expanded opening section I ended up cutting. At some point when I was expanding it, I got it into my head that I should add some of what happened prior to the beginnning of the story in the novella, but on very good advice from a few people, I cut that again and went with the original beginning, which I think is a lot stronger. However, there’s some stuff I skipped over later on in the story because it’d been covered earlier, but which now I need to kind of get into in more detail. I think there are probably other little things, too, little asides and whatever that need to be introduced, for references to events before the start of the book to make sense.  
  3. A thorough reread/edit. Because, you know, it deserves that. 

I think I can probably do that next week.

That’ll leave me with two more weeks, which I think I’ll probably sink into a new novel project I haven’t mentioned before. It’s sort of… well, it’s kind of a mix of Office Space, Erin Brokovich, Glengarry Glen Ross, and At the Mountains of Madness. Kinda? It’s a moving target. But it’s fresh and not quite like anything I’ve written before (though it reminds me a little of the parts of James Morrow and William Browning Spencer’s work that I enjoyed, among others). So, you know, hey, I’ll go with it. Especially since it was pouring out of me a few weeks ago, when I was gearing up to start writing again. (That never hurts.)

Running Sur une rive, au clair de lune for The Fall of Delta Green

I recently posted about my impressions after running a multi-session one-shot with The Fall of Delta Green, and said I’d follow up with a post about the adventure itself. I used Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s Fall of Delta Green adventure On a Bank, by Moonlight. By the way, the original PDF of the adventure is available from the Pelgrane Press website, for free. Downloading it is probably helpful if you didn’t manage to snag a print copy back in 2018, like I happened to do. (Ah, man, remember Free RPG Day events?)

Anyway, as I was saying, I ran this adventure, but I also adapted it pretty heavily, in a few ways…

But I guess this is as good a place as any to pause and mention that the following post contains spoilers.

If you’re a GM about to run the game, and any of this seems useful to you, have at. Let me know if it is useful, I’d love to hear from you. 

If you’re a player and you think you a GM might end up running this for your group, don’t read it. You’ll only spoil your fun, and possibly the group’s too. (My players should avoid the Google Document link, in case we revisit these characters, because SPOILERS. And people I play games with in other groups likewise: you never know when we might do a one-shot of this.)

With that out of the way, let’s go.

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Running The Fall of Delta Green

I recently ran a short multi-session (five or six sessions? I’m not sure) run of a Fall of Delta Green adventure for the Sunday night game group I play with.

This writeup will discuss my impressions of the game itself, and my thoughts on the Gumshoe system more generally.

I’ll follow it up with some notes on the adventure I ran, some resources for those who might want them, and also some thoughts on the spin I put on the game concept, since it was a bit unusual.  

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Grade Grubbing: An Update

So, something I would have thought impossible happened, and I thought it would be worth noting for posterity: grade grubbing has dropped to almost zero in my classes. 

There are a few reasons why this has happened.  

1. The Kim Young Ran Law got passed.

Hands down, this is the main thing that has helped. A few years ago, the Anti-Graft and -Corruption Law was passed. (It’s also referred to as the Kim Young Ran Law sometimes.) The effect among university administrators was immediate: they stopped being willing to accept even the smallest thank-you present from anyone: one guy helped me with some minor clerical issue, and when I tried to give him a can of orange juice as a thank-you (a common sort of gesture in the past), he turned me down and cited the law. 

It took a little longer, but finally that filtered down to formal rules for when students email asking for a higher grade. This semester, for the first time, we were explicitly told what to do by the university when a student makes a request for a grade change for any reason other than the correction of an error. The short version? We have to do the following:

  1. Tell them we don’t intend to change the grade. 
  2. Warn them that if they repeat the request, it will be reported to the university. 
  3. Immediately report any offer of gifts or bribes in exchange for a grade change. 

Students are, of course, still allowed to inquire about the details of their grades, and they still do. But even this is less frequent. In part, that’s probably because a lot of people were only ever asking about their grades in the hope that they could complain or demand a higher one, on the off-chance that the prof might just change it. (I used to call this “grade phishing,” and it was pretty rampant for years.)

It’s also changed for another reason, though: 

2. Grading on Blackboard is highly transparent. 

Students who submit their work on paper tend not to track results: they can get Bs and Cs on homework and assignments, but still forget about all that when they score A on an exam, and then end up expecting an A in the course. 

With grades tracked and transparently visible in Blackboard—which seems to have become pretty much the norm during the pandemic—this is much less of a problem. They see the results on their past homework assignments anytime they check their grades on anything new. 

Of course, the grade-calculation system on Blackboard is painfully rudimentary: it can’t be used to perform the kinds of calculations I make for students’ Participation/Attendance grades. However, as far as it goes, at the end of the semester, they’re able to see exactly what marks they earned in four of the five graded components in my classes. What that means is that they’re a lot less surprised when they see their final grade: all they really learn is what they scored in Participation/Attendance, after all; and besides, they can see exactly how the grades they earned on each homework assignment relate to the overall grade. 

These two changes have pretty much killed off the grade grubbing among undergrads that used to be endemic at universities in Korea. The end of semester used to always be a barrage of emails from students begging for higher grades, and even sometimes emails from “concerned” or rate parents. However, during the last few semesters,  it’s died out almost completely. This time around, I think I got a total of four emails, half of which were just polite thank-yous and goodbyes. (Oh, and teaching assessments have improved as a result, too. Or, at least, I think that’s part of why they’ve improved.)

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I still think the best way to improve education would be to get rid of grades altogether; I found Adam Ruben’s suggestion of this path apt, though he’s right that grades determine a lot, and unfairness with grades is also a real problem. 

Which I guess reminds me: we’re still forced to use a class-by-class grading curve that inevitably punishes the great classes. (It also seems to convince students in subpar classes that they will automatically enjoy grade inflation, which… well, not in my class.) I am open and honest with my students about how unfair I think the grading curve is, about how we should at least be able to apply it to the full set of sections of the same course when we’re teaching more than one, and how professors—especially foreign professors—have no power to overrule administration’s demands in this area. I keep waiting for the student government to demand a change, but… well, maybe they don’t think it’s possible, or have no idea how it could be done. I’m not sure. 

And so it goes…

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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