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October 22, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Computer science student wonders if his professor is really reading his papers, so he inserts an elegant, masterful pop-culture acrostic. He gets the paper back today. That is all.
posted by timsteil (94 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
C+: You know the rules and so do I.
posted by demiurge at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2010 [28 favorites]


This should read "computer science student wonders if his professor is really looking for acrostics in papers."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:22 AM on October 22, 2010 [60 favorites]


SLGP day?
posted by edgeways at 10:23 AM on October 22, 2010


Never would I check for an acrostic in a paper I was grading.
posted by splatta at 10:24 AM on October 22, 2010


"never has the practicality of networks been bought into question due to the advancements of ongoing assemblages excogitating advantageous intimations..."

Kid, there's a reason he's not reading your papers.
posted by mittens at 10:24 AM on October 22, 2010 [45 favorites]


I've graded papers, and I read them mostly for content, and a little bit for style. The idea to run my eyes up and down the margin to see if some jackass decided to waste his time making an acrostic would never have occurred to me. Neither would seeing if the first letter of every sentence spelled V-E-R-Y F-O-N-D O-F R-U-M-P-O-T-S, C-R-A-C-K-P-O-T-S, A-N-D H-O-W A-R-E Y-O-U T-O-D-A-Y M-I-S-T-E-R W-I-L-S-O-N.

An engineering student inserted a full paragraph of "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" in the third page of an essay when I was in university, and got it back with the paragraph unflagged. This made the campus paper and I think a few city papers as well. And seems like a fair gauge of whether people are paying attention. But I'd never have noticed if somebody had done this in a paper, because I'd have been reading the paper, not looking at it.
posted by Shepherd at 10:25 AM on October 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm sure the professor would be more impressed if he'd spent those five extra hours on the actual assignment. Or on almost anything else.
posted by hermitosis at 10:26 AM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


This should read "computer science student wonders if his professor is really looking for acrostics in papers."

Agreed.

I think what I did for my critical paper for my senior year of high school was better. I based the paper on the quote "Life is a journey, not a destination" with the reference listing of: Mills, General, Wheaties, p.2. (The quote was on the back of the box.) Got the paper back with no mention of, "You quoted a Wheaties box???"

The next school year, went back and visted (as was the cool thing to do) and asked her about it. Her response was, "I guess that just goes to show how well I read your papers!" (To which I responded, "Hey! You're not allowed to say that!" But she was like, "Whatever, you've graduated now...")
posted by StarmanDXE at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


More precisely, it should be "Computer science student wonders if his professor is really reading his papers, knows the lyrics to the song 'Never Gonna Give You Up' by Rick Astley, and has it towards the fore of his mind enough that he would notice its presence as an acrostic in a paper about networks."

Look, kid, when your essay on Of Mice and Men says "Lenny accidentally the whole mouse," you cannot somehow alchemize my docking of points for that into my not paying attention.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:28 AM on October 22, 2010


If you had any sense whatsoever of the utterly shit papers we instructors have to read and correct on a daily basis, this story would be less HA-HA and more heh-heh. That said:

C+ idea
D- execution
___
C- (due to grade inflation)
posted by joe lisboa at 10:30 AM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: less HA-HA and more heh-heh.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:30 AM on October 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


*cough* I once thought I was being quite clever in second year engineering when I found myself ending a long essay style answer in the Labour Relations paper on Worker Dismissal practices with Billy Joel's "I am an innocent man... oh yes I am" etc because rumor had it they graded them by weight (length of answers and extra sheets used) - I received 89/100 where the passing mark was 35/100

Must have been quite heavy ;p
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:31 AM on October 22, 2010


So, I was taking this online Operating Systems class and it was the most bare bones thing I could have ever imagined. What was weirder was that the professor hadn't bothered to convert the simple tests and homework assignments to auto-grading forms. We actually had to type up the answers in Word and e-mail them to him.

So after a few weeks none of our homework had been graded and we began to complain. Suddenly BOOSH! Everyone's homework was graded - and everyone had 100%'s. That was suspicious. Then in happened again - weeks without grading and then suddenly you have a bunch of 100%'s. He obviously wasn't reading a damn thing. I had begun typing nonsense answers into the homework just to see if he'd catch them. He didn't.

I was really amused that he wanted a five page essay at the semester. He must have been bluffing. For the final paper I cut and pasted all of the text from my long answers into five pages worth of material. None of it connected, none of it was relevant, none of it made any sense. I did write one introductory paragraph that was basically a screed on my time as a customer support rep for AT&T which was relevant to the report subject. I got a 100%.

Needless to say we all got to take the course over again for free if we'd like and the professor was fired. On-line classes are a trap for lazy professors, too many try to just coast through with minimal effort.
posted by charred husk at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


That is a truly terrible paper. I would give that an F no matter what class it was for, and regardless of what the acrostic easter egg said. I hope he has prepared an actual paper to turn in late for half credit.
posted by rusty at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was really amused that he wanted a five page essay at the semester.

-1/2 mark for missing word, charred, do try to be more careful when you proofread your writing
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:45 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


About 3.57 million digits into pi my phone number appears. I assume it was put there by the universe to see if I was paying attention to math.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:46 AM on October 22, 2010 [44 favorites]


Not only beside the point but nearly opposite the point. Any professor who would note an acrostic has a wandering mind, at least for the duration he/she was reading your paper.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:53 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, kid: If you're James May, you can do this sort of thing and eventually bounce back from getting fired for it. But you're no Captain Slow. For one thing, I suspect that your hair's not bad enough. For another, I'm guessing your shirt is insufficiently floral.
posted by The World Famous at 10:53 AM on October 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


Computer Science Student Wonders If His Computer Science Instructor Knows About The World Wide Web. He gets his paper back today.

I'm guessing that, yes, his computer science instructor knows about the World Wide Web.
posted by ardgedee at 10:55 AM on October 22, 2010


I'm disappointed that this thread is not an acrostic of Astley's fine ditty.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:57 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


In my English AP class in high school, a bunch of us were convinced that the teacher was not reading any of our in-class practice-AP essays and was instead giving everyone the same grade they'd earned on the first one of the year, over and over. So we put it to the test. A bunch of us snuck the word "anus" in our essays one time, figuring that if she were really reading them, twelve to sixteen instances of the word "anus" would stand out and she'd say something. We put it in using various degrees of subterfuge. I think the essay was on an excerpt of a Jane Austen novel. I wrote something about how a character had his head so far up his anus that he couldn't see what was unfolding before him. Someone else just put it in as a non-sequitur parenthetical: (anus). I don't remember all the ways people fit it in, but a lot of us did it. She didn't notice. We all got the same grades we had been getting all year.
posted by millipede at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is a cool stunt, for what it's worth.
However, I can't help feeling it needs some sort of coda.
I'm mean, how about doing it right before full
stops. Ends of sentences are much more ... well ... final.

True, once you start down that road, where do you stop?
On every second letter? On starts of paragraphs? Ha!
Oh, the possibilities are endless.

So you can never really say, "This too shall pass."
posted by grumblebee at 11:05 AM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm guessing that, yes, his computer science instructor knows about the World Wide Web.

Reddit + Gizmodo + MetaFilter + wherever else this has appeared ≠ the entirety of the World Wide Web.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:07 AM on October 22, 2010


In 8th grade, my friend was convinced that our English teacher weighed our papers and graded them accordingly. He decided, for one particularly boring essay assignment, to insert a two-paragraph running commentary of that evening's Boston Bruins game, which he was watching on TV while writing the paper.

He showed it to me the next day, right before passing it in. I couldn't believe the cojones he had (at least, in my 8th-grade mind) to actually submit that.

I don't remember the exact grade he got, but it was returned without any comments, and with an above-average grade.
posted by not_on_display at 11:11 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I doubt that I would notice the acrostic. Why? Two reasons:

a) WHO THE HELL LOOKS FOR ACROSTICS WHILE GRADING?!

b) The prose is terrible-to-unintelligible.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:12 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back when I was grading 30+ student papers at a stretch, I used to sometimes realize I'd been skimming so much I really had no idea what the paper was like. Then I'd slow myself down and go back and read it more slowly. You have no idea how horrible grading student papers is; I could easily imagine a prof grading based on the quality of the first and last paragraph or some other conscious or unconscious sampling model. I bet in my 13 years of teaching I missed an "anus" or two.
posted by not that girl at 11:15 AM on October 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


charred husk: "On-line classes are a trap for lazy professors, too many try to just coast through with minimal effort."

Sounds more like an adjunct who had no clue how much work it takes. I used to TA for an OS class, and it was a 20 hour a week job, between lab supervision, quiz grading, project grading and student Q&A. I was paid okay, but I can someone trying to pay an adjunct 3k for the whole class and some poor schmuck taking it.
posted by pwnguin at 11:17 AM on October 22, 2010


I can imagine some college trying to underpay an adjunct, I mean.
posted by pwnguin at 11:18 AM on October 22, 2010


A student this clever should definitely write a memoir, so that Gordon Pinsent fellow from further down the page can read excerpts of it.
posted by Drastic at 11:19 AM on October 22, 2010


This is much better than the "the algebra is left as an exercise for the grader" that I put in a few problem sets. (The grader never did the exercise. Even though they probably had the answer in someone else's homework and could have just copied it.)
posted by madcaptenor at 11:23 AM on October 22, 2010


In college I once littered a three page paper with what I thought were obscure references to XTC song titles. I was surprised as hell when I got the paper back and saw that the teacher wrote that he was "taking off five points and giving them to Andy Partridge."
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:25 AM on October 22, 2010 [59 favorites]


A propos nothing, I used to grade math homework at the bar after class. Lazy students would turn in their homework at the end of each session (having completed it during class) until I noted that the ones turned in first, at teh bottom of the pile, would be graded last, when I'd had a few and was likely more lenient. Next class I came into the classroom to a neat pile of *everyone's* homework.

I definitely read every solution, especially on the tests. Amazing the essays that people write in the space for math problems when they don't have a clue. That, and sketches of rosaries. No kiddin'.
posted by notsnot at 11:25 AM on October 22, 2010


You have no idea how horrible grading student papers is; I could easily imagine a prof grading based on the quality of the first and last paragraph or some other conscious or unconscious sampling model. I bet in my 13 years of teaching I missed an "anus" or two.

I'm sure subject matter (related to your level of interest in it) counts for a lot. I never did this. But then I spent inordinate amounts of my own time digging through (philsophy) papers because I enjoyed the hell out of them.

Point is, I'd have caught a wayward "anus" reference, or anything else awkwardly shoehorned in, but I sure as hell wouldn't be looking for, nor notice, acrostics. You have to be bored to see stuff like that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:37 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


pwnguin: "I used to TA for an OS class, and it was a 20 hour a week job, between lab supervision, quiz grading, project grading and student Q&A."

Yeah, that's how you're supposed to do it. My fiance does all of that for her geology course (and she's an underpaid adjunct) while some full-time schmuck doesn't even make his students get the rock kits. You know, so that you can actually know what the rocks look like and stuff like it says you should be able to in the course description.
posted by charred husk at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2010



Hey student, I hope that this grade helps you
get the message that instructors such as myself have
bent over backwards to provide students such as
you with strict grading to prompt better writing much like an automobile
jack helps you in the correction of minor problems, or an
ass helps the farmer plough a field that fertile crops might grow.

C-
posted by Shepherd at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


The only reason this might get noticed is that there are enough non-sequiturs in the left column caused by forcing the song into it, that the teacher could mark it up enough to see a pattern (I mean, I'm no CS teacher, but "prevails to"? "files can get around employees"? "users can cry out for technical help"? "users can desert the system"?). Of course, there are problems all through the text, so I'm not sure the left column would stand out enough...
posted by mdn at 11:42 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me, how, as part of our high school studying for the Advanced Placement exams, we got to read the previous year's graded essays. It quickly became a tradition to leave notes and drawings for the next year's class, once it came time to take the actual exam.

I believe I left a mini-comic about bears eating unicorns in my AP European History essay book, dedicated to my friend, Ned. I still passed and got college credit.
posted by Wossname at 11:45 AM on October 22, 2010


This is a juvenile stunt.

But in college, there was a professor who was notorious for assigning a ten page paper in every section he taught of a class that usually had about fifty people in it. No one really thought he read the papers. So a friend of mine included a paragraph around page six, in all caps and in bold, saying that if the teacher mentioned it the student would give the teacher $50.

He got an A- but never heard anything about the $50. We figure the teacher was just counting pages.
posted by valkyryn at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


...ongoing assemblages excogitating advantageous intimations...

Student wonders if his professor also owns a thesaurus.
posted by ericb at 12:04 PM on October 22, 2010


I bet in my 13 years of teaching I missed an "anus" or two.

I've surely done that in my years of being gay.
posted by ericb at 12:07 PM on October 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


C+ C++: You know the rules and so do I.

FTFY.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:15 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did plenty of things to amuse whoever was grading my papers. For example, I once added an extra page to a paper with this as the only content:

page 62


ERRATA:

on page 62, instead of "errata", read "erratum"
posted by DreamerFi at 12:21 PM on October 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


...also, I will say that my only experience with a teacher who did not read papers was the lady for whom we all wrote anus. At my college and now at grad school, it's obvious the professors read because they give really detailed notes in the margins. I appreciate it. Although I did hate the TA who crossed out all the funny parts.
posted by millipede at 12:26 PM on October 22, 2010


The first paragraph of that paper is so terrible, I wouldn't have kept reading it, much less looked for a hidden message.
posted by muddgirl at 12:32 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, c'mon... have some balls at least:


With networks being so common today, we often don't even consider any possible down sides to accessing files through one, or realizing that with more communication, sharing, and access, comes certain risks and responsibilities we should be aware of. For example, if a computer is connected to a network, it is much easier to send any secret information stored on that computer to some other computer on the network. Some examples of this include:

VI
Vulnerability to Remote Exploits

If a computer is on a network, not only can it send information to any other computer on the network, it is also able to receive messages from any other computer on the network. Because the people who write computer software are human and make mistakes, sometimes the software will have bugs in it that allow someone on a different computer on the network to send data to the computer with the buggy software in such a way as to attack it - make it lock up or crash, make it slow down, or even take control of it.

Chorus:
Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

We've known each other for so long. Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it. Inside we both know what's been going on. We know the game and we're gonna play.

VII
Rapid Spread of Computer Viruses

Computer viruses are programs designed to take advantage of software to spread copies of themselves. When computers are connected by a network, the virus can spread itself electronically, at computer speeds. Without a network, it can only spread as fast as the sneakernet can operate (as fast as people can carry disks between the computers).

Chorus:
Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

We've known each other for so long. Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it. Inside we both know what's been going on. We know the game and we're gonna play

Bridge (to Advantages)

That being said, some very beneficial advantages include:

V III
Software Cost and Management: Many popular software products are available for networks at a substantial savings in comparison to buying individually licensed copied for all of your computers. You can also load software on only the file server which saves time compared to installing and tracking files on independent computers. Upgrades are also easier because changes only have to be done once on the file server instead of on individual workstations.

Chorus
Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

We've known each other for so long. Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it. Inside we both know what's been going on. We know the game and we're gonna play

V IV
Security: Specific directories can be password protected to limit access to authorized users. Also, files and programs on a network can be designated as "copy inhibit" so you don’t have to worry about the illegal copying of programs.

Chorus x 2
Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

We've known each other for so long. Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it. Inside we both know what's been going on. We know the game and we're gonna play







U GOTS RICKROLLED BITCH!

I CAN HAS STOODENT LOAN DEFERRMENT?"

posted by Debaser626 at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm entirely convinced my philosophy (actually an ethics/political values course) prof isn't reading any of our papers. My 'group' (an informal group of six of us who sit near each other in class and group up to do the group discussion worksheets) has been dropping personal notes into our weekly homework since the third week of class.

So far, no comment (neither positive nor negative) on the following inclusions: (these are the ones I remember off the top if my head)

Quoting "Dr. Peter Venkman" on the outcome of a major change to the belief system of the United States. Quoting "Dr. Egon Splenger" on the outcome of an intersection of two wildly different philosophies.

My classmate adding several lines from Monty Python's Philosopher's Song into his outlines.(it's his running joke on his papers.)

A 3-paragraph long explanation of why cannibalism was a lousy example of cultural relativism, citing mad cow disease and prion disorders.

The inclusion "Peter Singer is an ass" into two separate classmates' outlines, and the inclusion of the paragraphs from whichever Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy books had the cow that was happy to be eaten.

And last - one of my classmates' first language is spanish. She has taken to adding spanish language comments into her papers because we figured, well, maybe our teacher just likes the funny asides.


Nothing. Not a single comment. We're all getting 25 out of 25 points on the outlines, but she hasn't left a single comment. Which wouldn't bother us nearly as much if we hadn't started doing these things because she'd stated the outlines were her way of letting us know if we were understanding the material properly and to give us an indication of what to study.

If she's going to imply that we'll get feedback on our understanding of the material, then that seems to imply she'll be -reading the damn homework-.

Instead, 6 separate people are getting full marks for widely different approaches to the outline process, and we're fairly sure she's not reading jack.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The upside of the product design education system is that written documents are few and far between.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:50 PM on October 22, 2010


If I taught programming, I would so hand out the grade of F+.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2010


In law school, my roommate left his computer unattended in the library for a few minutes and failed to notice upon his return that someone (not me) had typed "- I like squirrels, I like squirrels, I like squirrels -" in the middle of his paper.

The professor circled it and wrote an angry comment - he was furious that a student doubted his thoroughness in reading/grading papers, and docked what should have been a high B-ish paper to a D. Nor did the professor relent when my roommate and the "author" explained to him what happened. It was too late to take the class pass/no-pass, so my roommate's GPA took a bit hit, which in turn affected his career opportunities, etc. That of course contributed to the souring of the friendship between the two, as well as the author's alienation from my roommate's wider group of friends (the author didn't have a lot of friends, except through my roommate). Of course, the paper wasn't the only reason, but it was on the short list.

A couple of years later, the author committed suicide. Certainly it's far too attenuated to blame that incident on the paper, as the author's mental state and several years worth of intervening events would have been primarily if not exclusively to blame. But it's hard to know if the lost social ties and support might have helped make a difference.

So... yeah, another hilarious matafilter anecdote.
posted by Davenhill at 1:10 PM on October 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


metafilter
posted by Davenhill at 1:10 PM on October 22, 2010


I had a graduate school friend who left his Ph.D. programme and got a terminal Master's. Somewhere within a 100-ish page long MIT Master's thesis on Precambrian carbonate shelf systems in Namibia are two sentences: one, a twelve word sentence alliterated to the letter 'P'; second, a 26 word sentence whose words have the initial letters in reverse-alphabetical order (first word: zoophytes, IIRC). Both made sense and fit within the text, though they were a bit strained. My friend's advisor, who is notoriously rigourous editor for several prominent journals (and, as an aside is now a cross-dressing professor emeritus going by the name of Tephra, a hot piece of ash... I digress), had underlined the long word sentence, and added the comment: "re-write: long and awkward and I'm not sure what it is, but something is wrong with this sentence").
posted by bumpkin at 1:14 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


If I were grading this, I would probably write something like this:
F. Wow, that's a lot of five dollar words, but if there's any content, I can't see it through the bling. Please, for the love of all that's holy, put down the thesaurus and walk away, before somebody gets hurt. There's lots of good advice about clear, simple writing on the web; read it. Also, all your base are belong to us.
posted by erniepan at 1:15 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, when I was teaching liberal arts undergraduates in writing intensive courses, I would read every word of every (up to 3 drafts) of every paper (4 in one course), and cross-reference every comment and correction to one or both of the the writing style guides that were handed out at the beginning of the course.

Which is a big part of why I'm no longer teaching and working for the Evil Empire instead, where no one cares about typos in the Powerpoints (sigh). I suppose I could just do as some of the profs mentioned in the above thread, but I guess I wasn't old, bitter and burnt out (yet).
posted by bumpkin at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2010


That paper is awful and I hope it gets a failing grade. Any kind of passing grade would make me sad for the current state of CS education. Elegant and masterful must have different meanings to me, because that paper, the joke, and the implementation are sorely lacking in both categories.
posted by Revvy at 1:51 PM on October 22, 2010


He's in college. Couldn't those five hours have been more productively spent drinking and chasing co-eds?
posted by jonmc at 1:53 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I took an intro programming course where there were weird rules about naming variables. (I forget the details, but they were not standard ones.) We had a half dozenish assignments, and you were graded on the best n-1 of them. I had perfect or close enough grades that for the last assignment, I did not care about what I got, so I carefully wrote up all the programs, then changed every single constant and variable to the word bagel, changing only which letters were lowercase.

I never dared pick up that assignment to see how I did, but I got an A in the class anyhow.
posted by jeather at 1:54 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


In my English AP class in high school, a bunch of us were convinced that the teacher was not reading any of our in-class practice-AP essays and was instead giving everyone the same grade they'd earned on the first one of the year, over and over. So we put it to the test. A bunch of us snuck the word "anus" in our essays one time, figuring that if she were really reading them, twelve to sixteen instances of the word "anus" would stand out and she'd say something.

I was on the editorial board of my university newspaper. At one point, for several successive weekly issues, the editors all decided on a single word that would appear in every story in every section that week, just to see if anyone commented. News story on overcrowding in undergrad Intro to Psych class? Review of the new U2 album? Football team's coach canned? Op-Ed on revisions to the meal plan? The word hullabaloo would appear in each one.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:04 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is just to say I have seen all Rick's words that were in your paper, and which you were probably hoping I'd skim past. Forgive me, I'm on del.icio.us - your meme is so old.

D -
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:57 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Hurt computers can be removed"?
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:19 PM on October 22, 2010


The kid lacks ambition. I'm gonna go for Brownsville Girl.
posted by Bromius at 3:27 PM on October 22, 2010


When I was in High School, we had a project on the Bible where we had to go through several books of the Bible and leave notes and interpretations on certain quotes. I inserted something from the "Book of Python" that was a quote from the Holy Hand Grenade speech in Holy Grail; various students had said the teacher never read them. The rest of the project I did well, as assigned.

The teacher totally noticed, it, circled it, and wrote "ha!". So I guess it worked.
posted by NoraReed at 3:29 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once attempted something related to this in a tutorial setting where we all had to bring our essays and read them out to the rest of the group, while the professor gave feedback and subtly pointed out where we'd written some complete nonsense. With about ten minutes left to the start of the tutorial, I had about half my essay written (and the rest of it in bullet-point form) and I knew that I wasn't going to make it. So I called one of my classmates, asked her to give my apologies to the professor and tell him I'd be a few minutes late, and bashed as much of the notes as I could into essay form before sprinting down to the computer room to print it.

Fairly straightforward, except for one thing - we had to print out copies for ALL the other students, so they could follow along and have a copy afterwards, although the professor would only hear the essay. So at the point where I shifted from prose into disjointed words and phrases, I inserted the following phrase:
At this point, [ZsigE] will attempt to pretend that the following notes are actually an essay. Please do not laugh as he does so.
As it happened, I was late enough in the essay-reading order that I didn't have to do it that week, so had some extra time to finish it off. But I heard quite a number of stifled giggles as the other students glanced over my essay, and I still wonder whether I could have pulled it off...
posted by ZsigE at 3:42 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


matafilter, heh.
posted by limeonaire at 4:59 PM on October 22, 2010


Not very smart. If the professor spots the acrostic but doesn't catch the Rick Astley reference, he will think the student wants to sleep with him.
posted by naju at 5:51 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


The following story will not sound true, but I swear it is.

A friend of mine, in High School, had a private 'cello teacher (male). My friend was very handsome, and charming in his goofy way. He would use his looks to take advantage sometimes. He had, numerous times, prevailed upon his 'cello teacher to write term papers for him. This last time, fed up with his antics, the 'cello teacher typed up an English class paper that started out normal, and, around page 7 out of 10, turned into pornography involving butter and the English teacher, and lots of other stuff. My friend, true to form, did not read it first and handed it in.

Here's where it gets weird. The paper came back graded B. The teacher invited my friend to her house for dinner. The 'cello teacher encouraged him to act like nothing happened and go, to see how it would unfold. When he arrived, the teacher introduced him to her daughter, who was confined to a wheel chair. "Well, I'll leave you kids alone now," she said, and left. He made awkward small talk for a few minutes, then left.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:20 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was a precocious little turd in high school. I was taking an advanced grammar class at the same time as I was taking a government class. In the gov't class, the teacher made us write up a one page (hand-written) summary of a recent newspaper article every few days. After we discussed sentences and their proper structure (periodic and - whatever the other kinds are), avoiding run-ons and comma splices, etc., I did an assignment where the entire page was one perfectly correct grammatical sentence.

The teacher put a question mark on the assignment (which was credited as done or not done, not graded), so she did at least notice that something was off, whether she figured out what it was or not.

Less successful was my effort at chemistry homework humor. One of my friends suggested that the teacher wasn't really reading the homework notebooks. When I got to a question that I could not understand at all anyway, I suggested that the answer was "because bowling balls don't grow on trees."

Turns out he read the notebooks.

I'm torn between kudos for this person for having it on and rants for his horrid writing, which cannot entirely be explained by what he's trying to do here.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:11 PM on October 22, 2010


The folklore at my university was that when you handed your Ph.D. dissertation in, they checked everything, including measuring the margins with a ruler. I believe them. I proofread that sucker to within an inch of its life and made sure everything was perfect. Over and over.

Somewhere in the stacks of that library is my dissertation, which is missing a table and a large number of words in the middle of sentences, because I was so insanely stressed and so sure I was never going to finish I couldn't have proofread a Edward Lear limerick. Nobody cares. I sure don't. Nobody will ever read it. Nobody did then, either.
posted by Peach at 8:10 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


My physics class was going horribly and I was having trouble getting credit for the diagrams we were supposed to draw for the problems. So when a problem came up about a bear trying to get to a beehive by climbing out on a tree branch, I labeled the bear, "ursus famishus," the beehive, "victus ridiculus," and the jar, "huny." The professor corrected the latter to "hunny" and went a lot easier on my diagrams from there on.
posted by bovious at 9:36 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had one of those classes in college that is supposed to be fun and turns out to be really boring and lots of work. We were given reading quizzes every single class session. I really hate busy work, and I was a freshman so a little sensitive about being treated like a 'high school kid.'

So, on the back of the daily quiz I started writing notes about the inanity and uselessness of the quizzes, argued about the theories we were studying in class, disparaged the methods the professor was using to introduce new ideas, everything and anything. I figured since the professor was the type to give busy work, he was the type to only see what was in front of him.

About 15 weeks in, I happen to turn over one of the quizzes that had been handed back. My horrified squawk was pretty audible. My professor had been writing back! In fact, each and every criticism I leveled, he answered with a well thought-out explanation (certainly more than my snark deserved). Pretty sure I was bright red with embarrassment for the rest of that class session and while I kept writing notes on the back of my quizzes, the tone got a lot more polite.

Moral of the story: never try to fool an anthropology professor. They'll notice.
posted by librarylis at 10:19 PM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just want to tell the anecdote from the point of a teacher who had a student writing nonsense in the middle of a paper. I noticed. I called the student on it.

Everyone tells the story of how they thought of their grandma, the phone rang and it was her. Nobody tells the story of the 999 times it wasn't her.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:22 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, I might not have believed this before I took a job managing a team, but maybe this kid, and many of us, are missing the point of writing assignments.

Yes, you want to give feedback to the students, you want to give an honest grade, but doing so may not require close attention to every word. You can tell an essay (or an apple) is bad without consuming all of it. And part of the point is just to insist that students perform an exercise that will make them better writers or better at whatever the class is teaching.

As a student, I never understood and frankly despised the "A" for effort, a (portion of) grade just for doing the work regardless of the work's quality; as a teacher, i can see its point. It's literally mental exercise.

One way of interpreting Anna Karenina's dictum that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is that to be happy, you need all of several ingredients, so unhappiness occurs whenever even one ingredient is lacking. So too with an essay: sure it might contain profundities, but that's unlikely if it also confuses "your" and "you're". And even if it is profound, the bad grammar alone means it's at most a "B" paper.

Find four such errors and you can confidently give the author a "C". And noting just those four serves as as much feedback as he's likely to be able to absorb and benefit in the short time before the next paper is due.

As I mentioned above, this has become more clear to me in my current job, in which I'm managing a team and quite literally giving them classes and "homework"* (and even pop quizzes) to get them up to speed in a particular programming language, certain methodologies, and new tools. (*I do insist the "homework" be during company paid hours.)

With a small set of employee students, I have a pretty good grasp of who is where, and how much learning they can absorb before we reach a eyes-glazed point of diminishing returns. And while I don't assign them essays, I do assign them work -- and I can tell pretty much at the start of several pages of code under review whether or not they "got" the concepts that particular assigmnent was supposed to exercise.

I don't need to read every bad line to understand that a student hasn't internalized what I wanted him to learn. And once I've gotten my feel for where my guy is, I have other, more pressing demands on my time, like planning more assignments (and managing the team, and doing the app architecture, and talking to customers, and... any notice I haven't commented here much lately?)

That's another thing: time is constrained, so every assignment is designed to reinforce what we learned last, exercise what we are currently learning, and to set up tensions or constraints that can be relieved/answered by what's coming next. The fact that to use my examples and fix the intentionally bad code I assigned you to fix requires both a new build tool and a library we just learned about and a technique we introduced last week is not accidental; it's intentionally designed in by me, because I don't have enough time not to make each assignment serve several purposes.
posted by orthogonality at 11:10 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I was grading that paper, I wouldn't have read more than the first page, and it would have gotten a C. If I noticed the rick-roll, it would have gotten a zero and the student would have been asked to write a real paper.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:31 AM on October 23, 2010


I spent all last weekend grading 135 standardized tests. That would be 135 two-page essays. I read them all. More or less. I saved the best till last: a commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead disguised as an analysis of Pat the Bunny. I wish I had more wise-ass students like that.
posted by kozad at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Peach: when I handed in my dissertation (six months ago) the secretary in the office that took dissertations did check the margins with a ruler. This was surprisingly stress-causing for me because my degree is in math, and so there are lots of formulas in my dissertation, and although I used LaTeX (which should handle these things pretty easily!) there were still lots of formulas hanging out in the margins until I went through and checked for them.

I don't think any "proofreading" happened, though. Certainly my advisor, who often returned things I wrote with quite a bit of red ink on them, didn't proofread it.

I keep saying I should read my dissertation -- I want to turn some of it into papers -- but I'm afraid of the errors I'll find.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:13 PM on October 23, 2010


I'll try to say this with as little snark as possible, but since it's sort of a sore point for me, please forgive me in advance beloved dwellers of the blue.

I have some friends, a couple, who are both PhD college professors, and I have always heard from them many of the sentiments I hear from some folks upthread. They seem to think anything outside of going into their classroom, giving their lecture etc., is some incredibly tiresome and unjust burden. I know everyone has valid reasons to bitch about their job, but it is the level of disgust they seem to convey while doing it that makes me want to bang both their heads togther like Moe does to Larry and Curly.

From my view, they work three days a week. Teach two 75-90 minute classes a day, so that looks like nine hours of actual teaching. Assume a lot of paperwork/admin after the fact, maybe that pushes it up to a 20 hour face time week. Of course they get three months a year off, in fact last year, they got seven months off, because they took a sabbatical, and went, on the U's dime, to live in a castle in Scotland for four months so they could "reread their primary texts". What came out of that, was for one, nothing. For the other, a blog that was essentially a lot of shots of them galavanting around Europe with one of their brothers, and few posts about how cool it was. One actually spends three weeks a year in China, and complains that the Chinese are stupid and their "ain't nothin to do man!"

The are both quite well paid, together pushing well into six figures. They have jobs for life. It would be easier to recall a governor than to fire them. Yet somehow, they have this put upon mentality, wondering how could "the university" shackle their minds by expecting them to grade papers responsibly, meet with students who have questions, need feedback, or maybe just some guidance. I am tempted to just open a page at random from one of their books, and type a sentence. It is the most mind numbing, nonsensical crap I have ever seen. It is incomprehensible to perhaps all but 20 people in the US, and they are all fellow professors who likely will never read it for any other reason than to trash it to make their own work look better.

I guess what really sticks in my craw is the grading part. They whine incessantly about how stupid their students are, how they are all just farm kids who will never amount to anything , and how they just cant bear having to read the papers that get turned in. What I would ask of any of the folks upstream who are teachers is this; is there some relation between the quality of the work your students turn in and the quality of your teaching?

From what I have seen, in this particular case re my friends, it is a matter of here's the books, read them, I will spend an hour and a half giving you the broader themes, now go get an idea. And, by the way, if you need to talk to me I'll be available next Thursday for 20 minutes. I think that shows a certain lack of dedication.

Also, all the little bullshit. Checking the margins. Oh, you switched your for you're twice so you get a C and I don;t even have to read the rest of it. I have never been in the position to have to grade 130 papers, but deep down, I consider that behavior sheer laziness, with a side order of snottiness. And gravy. There are probably some truly hungry students out there, with great potential, whose ideas never get read who end up getting dissillusioned with higher education because of things like that.

Only using my particluar reference, and not casting shadows on others, I would say, "You know what? For what you make, for how many hours you work, why dont you get down off your fucking pedestal and actually do your job for once professor. You think your students are stupid? They were smart and eager when they got here. Think about it."
posted by timsteil at 6:57 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


timsteil: As a college professor, I would say your "friends" (who you don't seem to like all that much) are mostly the exception to the rule. Of the hundreds of professors I've met, I've met one person like that. And, there are people who complain and try to get by on as little work as possible in every industry.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:47 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


(whom)
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:47 PM on October 23, 2010


Does anyone know the outcome of this story?
posted by empatterson at 7:52 PM on October 23, 2010


Saxon:

I like them as much as I cant stomach I guess. It's just I knew the both way back when, when one was just sort of a lost girl stuck in the academia pipleline, and her husband, who used to sit around with a .357 and 5 oz. of coke. They both stuck around long enough to get the doctorate. In an almost witness protection moment that took a lot of years, they both adopted this, "I'm a PhD, call me Doctor" stance, when at least from what I perceive, is just kind of a sham for them both to make insane money for doing as little as possible and acting snooty about it.

I will give you another example of a friend of mine. Guy who starts off as a newspaper reporter, ends up Chair of a Journalism Department. Has written incredible books about real things, in a language that anyone from HS to PhD can read and enjoy, that have been on the NYT best seller list. Interviewed on national TV all the time. Nice guy, real guy. If you ever had a beer with him, you'd think he was coming to fix your furnace next Tuesday. I have never taken one of his classes, but he feels like the real thing to me.

Your parenthetical aside, yeah maybe I am putting to much about personalities into my thoughts on this, and I dont take that as a swipe but more as a note in the margin sort of thing, something I should learn from in many ways. I like that. In fact i respect that alot.

Way better than a C+ from someone who never read it, and only saw the way I think I totally screwed their/they're.
posted by timsteil at 9:00 PM on October 23, 2010


"Plagiarism - Report to the dean."
posted by Ardiril at 3:17 AM on October 24, 2010


At one point, for several successive weekly issues, the editors all decided on a single word that would appear in every story in every section that week, just to see if anyone commented.

I work for a newspaper and when we get bored we have contests to sneak esoteric words past the editors.

There is also the Order of the Occult Hand, which I have not managed to join. Yet.

"PAUL GREENBERG: It originated when a group of rather bored reporters wondered how they could get some sort of telltale phrase past the copy editors, and they settled on, "as if by an occult hand."
BOB GARFIELD: It has been in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, it's been in the Boston Globe nine times from 1987 to the year 2000. Is it that funny a gag that reporters from coast to coast are getting involved in this little conspiracy?
PAUL GREENBERG: I'm not sure if it's a gag, but it's more like a signal, and what it signals to those in the know, such as we are, is that one of our fellows has struck again. And it's also interesting to see with what artistry he has managed to slip in the phrase, because if it's done amateurishly, the phrase will stand out. It will indeed stop the reader or the copy desk."
- On The Media
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:01 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The most jarring about all this is that a CS student handed in a paper formatted in Word.
posted by blook at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


they both adopted this, "I'm a PhD, call me Doctor" stance

There is an old saying, something like, "It takes 7 years to get a PhD, another 10 years to get over it."

Anyway: There certainly are profs for whom teaching is less important than research, especially at, well, research oriented schools. To survive at those places, you simply have to put your research agenda first. There are people who really don't care about their students or teaching at all (like you characterize your friends), and there are people who get hung up on minor details (like their/there/they're) and take every opportunity to punish students with irrational and meaningless grade deductions, but I think they are, by and large, the minority. I've really only met 1 or 2 people like that in the 14 years I've been in higher ed (from undergrad to being an assistant prof).

Now, do profs complain about their students? Oh, hell yes. Every teacher complains about students, like every student complains about teachers. Or every waiter complains about their tables, every sales clerk complains about customers, etc. It's just what people do. I think for most people, perhaps even your friends, it's a way to blow off steam, and doesn't usually get in the way of being professional and doing the job. (Of course, your friends could just be terrible teachers.) Yeah, we should all (that is, all humans) complain less -- there are people living down the street who have it much harder than me, not to mention people in Haiti or someplace else. But human nature is human nature; I'm going to mock some student of mine for doing something dumb when I talk to my colleagues and friends, just like he is going to mock me for being a nerd when he talks to his friends.

Regarding the workload: First off, orthogonality said it perfectly. I don't need to read every single word of a student's paper in excruciating detail in order to determine if they did the assignment well or not. And, sometimes, I assign work that could be considered "busy work" -- it isn't a major topic, it isn't a major part of the grade, and I'll only glance over it. But, the idea is, especially at the college level, that the students are active participants in their own education. What from a student's perspective might be busywork is, from my perspective as a teacher, about them reinforcing basic ideas and putting in their own effort in order to learn, not just to get a grade. And frankly, while I love teaching and researching and writing, there's a lot of shit that goes on besides the 9 hours a week I stand in front of my class. There's prep time (which goes down as you've taught for a longer period of time, but is still time consuming), grading (which is awful, not because of the reading but because of having to assign an arbitrary number to someone's work), keeping up on my own research, trying to get funding, committee meetings, other service around the institution, office hours, etc. etc. It's a shitload of time and work. Is it shoveling shit or building a house? No, it isn't, but it is hard and it is tiring, and I put myself in ridiculous amounts of student loan debt to do this instead of build a house. Right now I am in my office every day -- that is 7 days a week -- for anywhere from 5 to 12 hours. Plus I usually spend at least an hour or 2 doing some work at home. Many of the senior faculty in my dept. don't spend that much time working, but some do, and some do more. And for most of us, those breaks we get during summer are the only time we can get any work done. Your friends are quite possibly screwing off and taking advantage of their position. It happens in academia like it does in any industry.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:36 PM on October 24, 2010


Sax:

Holy crap man. I didn't mean to strike a nerve or anything. Sounds like you are sort of way frustrated with your job, and I am truly sorry about that. Regardless, I have to call you out on a couple of things I picked up from your reply.

1. Research? When I hear that word associated with a "research oriented school", I want to know what it is exactly you are about to cure for the betterment of the human race.

If you tell me you are studying the writings of some guy who has been dead for a hundred years so you can give us your informed opinion about what he "really meant", take that out get it published in a journal and do a talk at the 4C next spring to make you feel special and further your career, I literally want to hit you in the head with the Chicago Yellow Pages. Twice. That's not research That's wanking. You are not breaking ground sir, you are breaking wind .

2. Of course you complain about your students, and everybody does it so it's OK, it's human nature.
OK free pass bro. I have my pissy days too and I swear if a guy walked up right now and handed me 100 million dollars I would probably complain it wasnt all in twenties.

3. You don't need to read what your students submit to know if they did the assignment.?

Actually yes you do, and that's your job, and someone should have explained that to you before they gave you the key to the classroom. As a parent paying college tution, I kinda want to kick you right square in the stones about that attitude. I dont care if the first line is about how Neil Armstrong landed in Canada and discovered kittens. You reads the papers, you give the grades, or you don't get the lotions.

4. You assign "busy work".
It's about nothing major, and you may or may not even glance at it. Could you, for the love of god, explain to me how giving your students meaningless assignments that have nothing to do with their grade, or even the things your are studying is somehow making them "active participants in their own education"? really? Spell it out for me. I am truly interested in your take. From here, I gotta say sorry man, but this does not pass the smell test. This is a guy who wasnt prepared to teach a class that day, and threw some bullshit at the students to make up for it. Massive fail, massive parent expecting his money back on that class. From a student POV, Christ what an asshole why did I even bother to take this class?

5. OK, I'm feeling you. You equate teaching kids with shoveling shit. You have a lot of student loans to pay off, you work by your estimation, 7 days a week and up to 84 hours a week. Yet you still need to work at home, and the only time you can get any work done is during your three months off. It' can't be that hard.

You need to remember, and when I say you need to remember, what I imply is that I am a father paying your salary, and I am holding you by the collar right now.

These are not just students, they are not shit for you to shovel, they are people, they are my, and many others children, who have paid a shitload of money to entrust to you with the hope you will give them a good education. Up front they are young impressionable people who at first take are going to respect you, Then you spend the rest of the semester trying to deserve that respect.

You can take your knowledge and wisdom, and lay it out before them as a feast. Or, you can take the same gift and fling it at them like a steaming pile of shit and walk away.

Saxon. I think you aren't past that ten years you mentioned, and also, you're doing it wrong. Way wrong.
posted by timsteil at 9:50 PM on October 24, 2010


timsteil: "You need to remember, and when I say you need to remember, what I imply is that I am a father paying your salary, and I am holding you by the collar right now."

1) When not trying to strike a nerve, you might want to avoid combative phrasing.

2) Your tuition dollars don't pay for shit. When I worked at a community college, tuition was roughly 15 percent of the overall budget, and it's not gonna be any better at a research uni where grants are a large portion of the budget. We are losing money on every student and making up for it in volume. You should be fucking thanking professors for accepting your child at all, not blackmailing them over your trivial tuition payments.

3) Research universities have a mission to produce new research. In all fields, even English; I might not particularly enjoy their product, but fifty years ago I doubt many in the public saw the need for a CS department. They're not particularly responsible for getting your child a job, except in that they aim to prepare students for grad school.

4) You don't need a PhD to grade homework. In fact, there's no required class that teaches you how to do so. A well funded department (say CS) will generally hand over at least one grad student grader per class. I know the math dept at my school ran a student grader system.

5) CS students are occasionally desperately in need of writing practice. For some reason programmers, who deal with compilers that refuse minor spelling and grammar errors, seem to get through life without mastering English.

6) You don't want the lotions.

So with all that in mind, how about we find ways to adequately and fairly fund the writing classes students in professional and academic settings need?
posted by pwnguin at 12:41 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I once helped grade a set of entry level chemistry exams for an instructor in our department. The department was swamped with new students and trying its best to place them all in overcrowded lecture halls. Anyhow, the goal was to accurately grade 120+ chemistry exams in a timely fashion so that the students could learn from their mistakes and also keep track of their grade. It turns out we had a phantom student for each exam. I mean, we checked id's as the students turned their exams in. We counted the number of exams we passed out and checked the number when they were handed back in. But despite our best efforts we always had a phantom test-taker. The best parts about these exams were the notes that were written in where the problems should have been done. One intriguing exam contained the words "the guy next to me is cheating." There were all sorts of drawings and philosophical musings as well. But the best part was the joke name. I usually came across this part before the fake answers due to alphabetizing and it was different each time. The first time, I couldn't understand why the class roster didn't contain the student Lilac Ceasarpants.
posted by Cheminatrix at 8:30 PM on October 25, 2010


Hey timsteil:
I thought my response was pretty measured, and not at all intended to be antagonistic. In fact, I was actually feeling a little apologetic for accusing you of not liking your two friends. All I was trying to do was to explain how your 2 friends, whatever their discipline is, are not representative of the vast majority of academics. And I was trying to give you some sense of what an academic job really is, since you seem to think it is 9 hours of work a week, 3 months off a year, and a 6 figure-salary. It isn't. It is a lot of work. I was also not intending to complain about my job -- which I love. As I love my students, despite the complaints I sometimes make.

In any case, you either intentionally misquoted me or didn't understand a word I said. So, I'll try to explain, again:

You equate teaching kids with shoveling shit.

Um, no I didn't. I actually said, "Is [an academic career] shoveling shit or building a house? No, it isn't, but it is hard and it is tiring"

Meaning: My job is not as demanding as either of those, nor anywhere near as smelly. As in, my job is pretty damn good. But, it also has its difficulties, as does every job.

It' can't be that hard.

Have you done it? Then shut up about how hard it can or can't be.

Research? When I hear that word associated with a "research oriented school", I want to know what it is exactly...

First, I didn't say that I am at a research oriented school. I am not. I said, "There certainly are profs for whom teaching is less important than research, especially at, well, research oriented schools. To survive at those places, you simply have to put your research agenda first. "

That is, OTHER people who have those sorts of jobs often face institutional pressures that require them, if they want to keep having a salary, to put researching, writing, etc, in whatever their field is, ahead of teaching. I did not say it was a good thing. I do not think that it is a good thing. But, it is an unfortunate reality that I wish could be changed, and that, should I ever be in a position to help change it, I would work to rectify. Why? Because I believe in the importance of higher education.

You don't need to read what your students submit to know if they did the assignment.?

Again, not what I said. I said, "I don't need to read every single word of a student's paper in excruciating detail in order to determine if they did the assignment well or not."

Meaning: I can read a paper fairly closely but still skim a sentence here and there and still be able to tell if the student has a grasp of the concepts, has made a solid argument, etc. This means that I might, for example, miss an extra insertion of the word "anus", but it does not mean that I'm going to get a "never gonna give you up" paper and rubber stamp it with an A. Don't believe me? Come to my office while I'm grading and read each paper after I mark it up, then tell me if I am not doing my job.

Could you, for the love of god, explain to me how giving your students meaningless assignments that have nothing to do with their grade, or even the things your are studying is somehow making them "active participants in their own education"

Again, let me clear up some of your obvious and glaring misquotations: I didn't say "meaningless assignments." I said, it isn't a "major topic." As in, it's a MINOR topic. As in, something the students should know in an ideal world, but if they haven't grasped all the nuances of that particular [concept, skill, historical event, book, whatever] they are not failing the class. If they have mastered it, great. If they haven't, they aren't necessarily doing poorly, they just aren't doing superbly. Not everyone does.

About the grade issue: First, I don't even know if I should bother with the obvious difference between your statement these assignments have "nothing" to do with their grade and my ACTUAL statement that they aren't a MAJOR part of the grade. It is yet another of your completely ridiculous misquotations. (BTW: I put "busywork" in quotes because I don't really consider these assignments "busywork" by the traditional definition, which I'll explain in a sec.)

Anyway, I don't believe that "Grades" are the goal of education. Grades should be a means to the true end: LEARNING.

Let's say I give my students a homework assignment. I don't know, ten metaphors they have to identify and explain. They turn it in the next day. I check to see they've completed it, hand it back. Instead of getting 95% or 83.12% or 48.2343%, they get credit or no credit.

Did the student get a grade to represent all their hard work on that particular assignment? Eh, sort of. Not really.
Did the student get practice in something that is a part of the overall set of skills I'm trying to help them develop? Yes.
Did they learn something? Hopefully, if they put in the effort.
Do I grade everything they do credit or no credit? Obviously not. Not even most of the time, or anywhere close to it.
But some times I do. Why? Because hopefully, the student will eventually realize, "Yeah, you know I didn't get my little gold star or glowing banana sticker or smiley face or whatever else I am used to getting when I make teacher happy, but, I still did the work and learned something. So, I got something out the assignment more important and more lasting than a number. And, in terms of my overall GPA, it certainly will help when it comes time to take the final exam/write the final paper -- that little check mark here will translate into an entire letter grade on the really important stuff."

It doesn't always work. I always tell students my rationale for assignments and the way they are graded. But still, some people take advantage, and get full credit for a homework assignment that is 0.1% of their final grade when they did it in 5 minutes before class, while another person who spent 2 hours and did a kick-ass job gets the same grade.

You know why that doesn't matter to me? Because when it comes time to grade their final papers (which, as I said above, I DO READ) the difference between those two students is going to show big time. And it is going to show when they take their next class. And the class after that. And their first job out of college. And their second job.

And you know what? College kids aren't kids; they are adults. My job is to help them develop certain skills, impart certain bits of knowledge to them, keep them motivated as best I can, and hopefully get some truly excited and inspired. My job is NOT to stand over their shoulders with a whip making sure they dot every fucking i and cross every fucking t. Every semester I tweak things here and there trying to get the right mixture of carrot and stick in the way I teach and grade, but not because I want to micromanage my students or make sure that everyone does everything in some exactly little perfect way. Because I want them to learn, and I want them to know that they are learning, and I want them to CARE that they are learning, NOT to care about jumping through hoops so they can get an artificial and arbitrary ranking.

This brings me to:
You need to remember, and when I say you need to remember, what I imply is that I am a father paying your salary, and I am holding you by the collar right now.

All due respect, but I don't give a fuck about what a parent's expectations of me are. You want to have some arrangement with your kid where they have to major is such-and-such discipline or maintain a certain GPA in order for you to pay their bills, that is between the two of you. My duty is to my students, not you. And once you send them off to college, you are giving up your control over them. If you don't think what I teach is worthwhile? I don't give a shit. Don't take my class. Tell your kid not to take it or you'll disown him/her. I do my best to make it worthwhile to my students, not you. If they don't? Well, I'll try harder if I can -- and I try pretty fucking hard every day -- but if they just don't care, they just don't care, and no teacher bats 1000. Their work will show it eventually, and then, hey, you deal with them.

A last couple of comments:

I want to know what it is exactly you are about to cure for the betterment of the human race. If you tell me you are studying the writings of some guy who has been dead for a hundred years so you can give us your informed opinion about what he "really meant", ... That's not research That's wanking. You are not breaking ground sir, you are breaking wind.

You know what? That IS what I do. Well, not really, but I think those are clearly the only terms under which you will understand it. And if you don't think it is worthwhile? Again, I DO NOT GIVE A SHIT. I happen to think it is worthwhile, and I make it worthwhile to my students. I enrich their lives and their appreciation of cultures both their own and foreign; I make them think about important issues of social identity, equality, and ethics; I make them evaluate what they believe and why they believe it; I teach them how to articulate themselves and communicate with others. And yeah, I not only use writers who have been dead for a hundred years, I use writers who have been dead FIVE HUNDRED years. What the hell are YOU doing to improve the human race, if you think my job is so meaningless?

you're doing it wrong. Way wrong.

You know, normally I don't like to say things like this on Metafilter because I know it isn't kosher, and I hope this comment won't get deleted because of it, but Fuck. You. You go on about how you want to "hit [me] in the head" and "kick [me] right square in the stones" based on your completely fabricated misquotations? What a load of horseshit. You have no idea what I do. Why don't you come to my classroom, any fucking day of the week, and see if I am "doing it wrong"? I am completely serious about that -- I am currently living and teaching in NW Pennsylvania, you come on by if you're in the area -- I'll email you my schedule. I don't know, maybe your whole comment is just some elaborate troll -- entirely possible, given how completely inane it is. But if you really, truly believe what you've written, well then, you are the one who is "breaking wind," because you have no fucking idea what you're talking about. You want to bitch at someone for not doing their jobs, bitch at your two friends. Maybe, since you actually know them, you won't be just spewing completely ignorant bullshit. You come see what I do before you tell me I'm doing it wrong.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:27 PM on October 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


I just realized that "I was also not intending to complain about my job -- which I love. As I love my students, despite the complaints I sometimes make." sounds awkward.

Let's try again:
I am not frustrated with my job, although I am a bit overworked right now. But I love my job and my students, and while I may sometimes complain about the latter being doofuses or the former being tough, it is in the manner, as I said before, of all people who complain to blow off steam when sometimes pressure from many directions builds up.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:33 PM on October 25, 2010


He made awkward small talk for a few minutes, then left.

CUT! Ok, let's try this again. I want you to feel the script. We've worked too long on this narrative already and we're on a tight deadline here.
posted by yeti at 9:02 AM on October 28, 2010


...as I realize the tension in the room is suddenly hotter than I expected. *backs slowly out of the room.*
posted by yeti at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


(a) My daughter wants to be a college professor. I support her ambition. I'd be a little less supportive, perhaps, if she wanted to be a serious mountain climber, a corporate attorney, or a full-time rugby player, because I don't want her to die or suffer brain damage before I die myself, but it's a hard job, with few openings, and terrible politics.
(b) Students learn by doing, not by having knowledge dumped on them from outside. That means they have to do homework, write papers, conduct projects, discuss things in class, and try to translate what their teachers say into things that they, themselves, know.
(c) Students don't tend to do their assignments unless someone is actually reading them and checking them off. They don't learn a whole lot from the systematic feedback they get from their professors, but they do regard that systematic feedback as some kind of evidence that their efforts were read.
(d) Instructors are under the illusion that systematic feedback on projects and papers actually results in learning, and they know students don't do their work if they don't get evidence of reading. Therefore, instructors often try to show in some way that they mark papers carefully.
(e) A college course then often turns into a competition of misunderstandings about the fundamental nature of learning, but learning does actually occur because the work is often actually being done.
(f) My daughter knows this and still wants to be a college professor because she likes research.
(g) I have a doctorate and I teach sixth grade because I am not as crazy as she is. But I still write too much on my students' work because I am not immune to the trap.
posted by Peach at 8:27 AM on October 30, 2010


I'd be a little less supportive, perhaps, if she wanted to be a serious mountain climber, a corporate attorney, or a full-time rugby player, because I don't want her to die or suffer brain damage before I die myself

How right you are. The risk of brain damage or death for corporate lawyers was the very reason I chose complex class action litigation instead. Those corporate guys are crazy.
posted by The World Famous at 9:02 AM on October 30, 2010


Having worked for them for some years, I can safely say they aren't as crazy as litigators. I like litigators. They're just so boring they have to be brain-damaged.
posted by Peach at 10:00 AM on October 30, 2010


Sorry, unclear antecedent for they.. I meant the corporate lawyers.
posted by Peach at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2010


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