Everyone Gets An “A”!

, , , , , | Learning | September 12, 2017

(We’re coming up to the first exam of a summer class, for which I’m a TA. We’ve been discussing the importance of study design and accidental influence.)

Professor: “Often, these kinds of things can be hard to predict. Let’s look at a real-life example: when you take exams, there’s always an empty seat between each student. But here in this classroom, you’re all packed in. So, we split you into two rooms. We do this by randomly assigning each student to room A or B. There’s no room actually called, “Room A,” you see, it’s just what we call the two rooms. As you might recognize, both those letters are grades you can get on a test, and we were worried that this might influence the outcomes of the exam. What do you think we found?”

Student #1: “Well… if you’re primed to think you’re going to do well, maybe you’re more relaxed, more confident. So, better exams in room A?”

Professor: “Good! Any other ideas?”

Student #2: “If I’m coming into an exam thinking I’m already in the worse-off group, I’m going to read all the questions carefully, double-check my work, and so on. But if I think, ‘Look at me; I already got an A,’ then maybe I’ll be sloppy.”

Professor: “Also good! Both make sense, both are intuitive. So, [Other Professor] and I got together to study this. We looked up all the grades by room assignment to see what the difference was. We isolated students to switch rooms between midterms and finals to see if they improved or worsened. We even looked into how long they knew their room assignment to see if there was a dose effect. And what do you think we found?”

(There’s pandemonium for a while, while the students argue. Finally, we put it to a vote: 42% think A did better, 14% think B, and the rest don’t think there was a difference.)

Professor: “Despite your votes, the room B students had a higher average! Now… how many of you are checking your emails right now to see who’s in what room tomorrow?”

(Most students sheepishly raise their hands. The rest are too caught up in their laptops.)

Professor: “[Student #3], which are you in tomorrow?”

Student #3: “Uh… 1102? Is that A or…”

Professor: “See, we forgot that the students are just sent the room numbers, and not our little A/B system. So, here’s my last two pieces of information: statistically, flukes do happen occasionally, and we’ve gotten rid of our A/B system entirely!”

(On exam day, I saw that the A/B column I was used to now sorts students into group “A” and group “Other A.”)

Surprisingly No One Was Fired

, , , | Learning | September 12, 2017

(In my school there is always a fire drill shortly after the beginning of the school year. In my very last year, we are a class without a teacher when the drill was announced. Usually we would just leave through the door, but directly in front of our door is the “fire”, a teacher saying fire over and over again.)

Fire: *flapping arms* “Fire, fire! It’s hot; go back inside!”

Classmate #1: “But we don’t have a teacher! Are we supposed to burn?”

Fire: *thinking, shakes his head* “Bad luck! Go back!”

(We go back inside. The other escape route is a wall-door to the next classroom, which can be opened fully, and is usually opened by the teacher. So, of course, we have no idea how to open it. Since we know it is just a drill, we decide to just stay there, instead of bothering with opening the door. About half an hour later, someone knocks on the door.)

Fire: *winks* “Someone’s here to see you!”

Our Teacher: “You’re dead!”

Principal: “Would you please try to open the wall-door? I had hoped you, as the oldest, would be able to, but it doesn’t seem so.”

(We then spent another quarter hour opening the door. Our principal was new and didn’t quite believe in the effectiveness of the wall-doors in emergency situations, especially if there was no teacher available. She was right. Luckily for us, there were no real fire alarms until we were gone and new doors were installed. A fairly large amount of people had “the time we burned to death in class” quoted as funniest moment in the yearbook.)

Luck Is Not On The Syllabus

, , , , , | Learning | September 11, 2017

My second year of college, I was in a lecture-style class with about 90 students. Our professor was known to be extremely strict about late work. She blatantly refused to accept an email submission of any papers, and the only time she allowed us to turn in our printed papers late was if the university as a whole was shut down for some reason at the time the paper was due. (We were in Minnesota, so unexpected snow and winter weather closings were a thing).

One time, our professor ended up cancelling class the night before a major paper was due, because of some sort of minor emergency in her own life. I had another class in the same building right before her class, so since I already had my paper ready to hand in, I ended up leaving it in her office mailbox after my first class, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a few extra days.

The next class, when most of the other students tried to turn their papers in – our professor refused to accept them. Several students tried to complain to the department dean about it, but the dean pointed out the fact that, in our professor’s syllabus, she had written something like, “If I [Professor] am unable to hold class for any reason, and the university is open, all papers should be left either in my office mailbox or with the department secretary, to be collected by me when I return to campus.”

Moral of the story: pay attention to the syllabus that your professors print out for class! In my case, I was just extremely lucky, because I had only ever skimmed through the syllabus before this incident, but even I will acknowledge that luck can only get you so far.

Bird-Call Is Not Your Calling

, , | Learning | September 8, 2017

(I attend university for a degree in outdoor education. Because of this, a lot of our professors are seen as all-knowing in EVERY aspect of the outdoors, from plants you can eat, to animal tracking, etc. I quickly realize my error in assuming this when we are on a field trip and keep on hearing this distinct bird call.)

Student: “Hey, [Professor], do you know what kind of bird that is?”

Professor: “Well, from the tone and repetition it emits, I would have to say a yellow-chested Robin. This species of bird has a higher pitch than other birds, and is known as the chattiest of all robins.”

Student: “Really?”

Professor: “I have no idea; I don’t know anything about birds.”

The Stage Is Set For Some Comeuppance

, , , | Learning | September 6, 2017

(I am in drama class. We are doing coursework where we need to design a stage for a random play we pick out of a hat. We are free to do whatever we like, as long as we justify our choices in the written portion, the minimum requirement of which is 300 words. My play is usually set against an audience on all sides, and our teacher has always stressed that all of the set pieces are to be in the middle so everyone can see. I’ve never followed this logic, as I find it difficult to imagine how an actor is meant to use the props without preferring a particular side of the stage. The only way around it that I can see is that they present themselves to each one at a time, which doesn’t work for me with timing. I design my stage differently in that the unused props are disguised as something else, or that props can be reused, to maximise on space, and that the centre of the stage is primarily for the actors. When I submit my work, I am expecting a lecture from my teacher, but I end up also failing. I ask my teacher about it.)

Teacher: “I have told you all, time and time again, how to correctly design a stage. Your design not only broke with convention, it also made absolutely no sense!”

Me: “But you said we could do whatever, as long as we explain it.”

Teacher: “Within reason, [Name]! I couldn’t imagine trying to explain your design.”

Me: “You don’t have to. I wrote nearly 2000 words explaining it.”

Teacher: “Yes, that, too. The count is 300!”

Me: “You said there was no limit.”

Teacher: “’Within reason.’ I couldn’t even get past the title!”

(So, essentially, my teacher looked at my design, didn’t like it, and saw the write up as too long, so she just failed me. It ended up biting her in the butt though, as my coursework was selected to be independently graded by the exam board, and the examiner took a considerably different attitude towards it. It lead to my entire class having their work sent away, and everyone got a grade increase, as my teacher was seen as both too strict and holding her opinion in too high regard. I dropped the course when I moved on to A-Level to avoid her, but I’m hoping to take it up again when I go to university.)

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