Monday, October 13, 2014

A Modest Proposal

You learn a lot when you grade exams.  Mostly you learn how much of what you say doesn’t really translate into what your students hear, which can be a humbling experience.  But a stack of exams can also provide inspiration for the astute educator – a catastrophe is just an opportunity viewed from a different angle, after all.  So with that in mind, I have a proposition for the world.

I think there needs to be a course entitled “How To Be A Student.”  It should be offered at every university in the world, and if you can’t pass the class you won’t be allowed to proceed to a degree.

It will have units such as:

How to Take a Test.

This unit will cover such things as putting your name on the front page, remembering to answer all of the questions (even the ones on the back page), and answering the easy stuff first so you don’t run out of time and lose points for no reason.  There will also be an entire week devoted to reading directions, with prizes for students who can successfully explain that yes the professor is actually serious about that and will in fact take off points for not following those directions, just as said professor promised to do beforehand, and no, you should not expect to bargain those points back onto your score afterward no matter how sorrowful you strive to appear.

How to Read a Question.

This is related to the first unit, but will focus on specific examples, including such things as “How not to say that the Spanish-American War was a war fought between the US and any country other than Spain,” “How to correctly identify the starting date of the War of 1812,” and “Why World War II cannot possibly have been the first one.”

Studying: What’s In It For You?

A fair amount, it turns out, as this unit will cover.  For as much as your professors enjoy those plaintive little notes halfway through the exam essay questions confessing your sins and saying you’ll study harder next time (honest!), we’d enjoy coherent answers even more.  And so will you, come grade time.

You’re Not A Physician, So Write Legibly

Doctors can get away with scrawled notes that look like the last staggering efforts of a swarm of drunken spiders on their way to Teetotal Bible Camp after one final bender, and when you have your MD and can blame pharmacists and nurses for misreading your instructions then you can get away with that too.  In the meantime, remember that anything the professor can’t read on your exams or homework is by definition wrong.  If you were right, you’d have made it legible enough to get credit.

How to Read a Clock

This is for advanced students, those who have somehow managed to enroll themselves in other classes.  This unit will cover such topics as “Class Start Time: Suggestion or Damned Good Idea?”, “Class End Time: Why It Does Not Start Earlier Than It Does,” and “You Are Not Powerful Enough or French Enough to Stroll In 15 Minutes Late to Anything.”


Why Cheating Is More Work Than It Is Worth

The subtitle for this unit is, “Your Professors Know How Google Works, Too.”  We can check up on things.  We know the “corrupted file” trick.  We can tell when your writing suddenly switches voice, cadence, vocabulary level, and grammatical expertise.  If you really want to get away with cheating you are going to have to do a considerable amount of legwork, and if you’re going to put in that much work you might as well do the original assignment.

This class will be offered every semester, including summer sessions.  It will be offered at night for students who work during the day, and during the day for students who work at night.  It will be offered online, face-to-face, by mail, and by semaphore for all the ships at sea.

And universities across the world will function more smoothly for it.

No need to thank me, citizen.  It is merely a service I offer.


Gristle McThornbody said...

Your cheating paragraph brought back a memory from when I was at MSU. I took an introductory astronomy class as an elective and it was one of those classes where you were a nameless face in a sea of about 150 students. It was an interesting class but not one I devoted too much time to until the night before tests. Never in my life have I been so tempted to hunt down a nerd and offer them $1000 to go in and take a final exam in my name. Well, if I'd had $1000. Did you know you CAN read a whole astronomy textbook in one day and night and actually retain most of it?

David said...

I suppose you could remember it long enough to get through the test, though my guess is not much longer than that. But one of the lessons an education is supposed to teach you is how to do what you have to do when you need to do it in order to get by, and also how to match your work to your goals. So in that case, I suppose you succeeded. :)

Beatrice Desper said...

You are not French enough to stroll in 15 minutes late? Don't you mean British?