Phil and Sally were going through the first year class-lists. Engagement monitoring was all the rage. Or rather, attendance monitoring. Nobody had really figured out how to measure ‘engagement’.

“I’ll read them out, then you tell me whether they signed in to Jo’s lecture this week”

The first ten minutes or so were fine. They’d got as far as ‘Fowler’ when things started to get strange. The next twenty students hadn’t attended, and then a normal pattern of most students attending resumed. Same thing from ‘Morris’ to ‘Purslove’, then back to normal.

“That’s weird. Are we sure all of these students are enrolled?”

Sally tapped on the laptop keyboard. “Looks like it. They’re in the system, anyhow.”

“Some kind of strange group identity? All agreeing not to turn up?”

Sally frowned. “Even for you, Phil, that sounds off-the-wall. I think I’ll see if I can phone one of them.”

She pulled up a contact number from the student record system and dialled.

“Mr Greene?”

“It’s Dr Secombe, acting joint course leader for Biology.”

“Yes, thank you. I just wanted to check with you about your attendance at classes.”

“Well, the ones on your timetable.” She rolled her eyes at Phil.

“Well, where have you been looking?” She sighed deeply. She thought entry requirements were supposed to have gone up this year. Honestly, where did they get them from?

“That’s right, on the Burston Learning Environment.”

“Yes, I know what the acronym is”

“Well, I suppose it was funny the first time I heard it. But can you tell me what you can see under timetabling?”

“Well it can’t be completely blank, Mr Greene. I have you registered for six modules and each of them has a timetable.” She rolled her eyes even more expressively, and gave a little shake of the head.

“Yes, send me over a screenshot. Good idea. Then we’ll know how to help you. Do you have my email address?”

“Oh yes, of course it’s there. OK. Well at least I definitely know you can get into the BLE. And you know how to do a screenshot, that’s great.”

“No, no. Of course I didn’t mean anything. I appreciate you helping me to work out what’s going on.” She grimaced mock-guiltily at Phil.

“OK. Oh yes, I can see it coming in now.”

She caught the receiver between her ear and her shoulder and moved her computer mouse around.

“Oh. You’re right. This timetable is blank. Why didn’t you tell us?”

“You thought what?”

Sally paled.

“Well, no, the general idea is that you come to classes and we teach you. Why on earth would you think that we just leave you to it? What do you think you’re paying £8495 per year in fees for?”

“OK. Well. Um. I think you’d better come in to see me. What about Friday? 2pm?”

“Good. I’m on the fifth floor, room 5-23. See you then, Mr Greene. Thanks for talking to me.”

She replaced the receiver. Phil raised an eyebrow. “So?”

Sally realised that she was holding her breath, and exhaled heavily. “He’s got a completely blank timetable. He says he just thought that he had to get on with things by himself. They’d warned him at school that it wouldn’t be the same as sixth form, and that he’d have to work on his own, so he just thought it was normal.”

Phil took some time to process this.

“He’s got a blank timetable on the VLE? How can that happen? Why him?”

“I don’t know how it can happen, Phil. And it probably isn’t just him, is it? That’s probably why we’ve got blocks of people who haven’t been turning up. Shit. How are we going to make up all their classes?”

“I’d better get on to IT.” Phil went over to his desk and put his hand on the phone. He turned back towards Sally. “Hang on. Will it be the people who run the VLE? Or Student Records? Or Timetabling?”

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