Friday, June 28, 2013

Read the @!$% Directions!

When I first went in the army, many moons ago, I regularly heard a phrase that went something like "read the fucking directions."

I am persuaded that most of my students don't.

I feel like a fool in class, going over the details of the assignment in excruciating detail, insulting the few who actually DO read the directions.

How far do you go in protecting them from themselves in this matter?


  1. Ah yes, from my IT help-desk days...

    RTFM: Read The Friendly* Manual

    BKC: The problem lies "Between the Keyboard and the Chair"

    * Ahem

    1. Don't forget the ID10T error...

      Also, your second one is, in my experience, more often seen as PEBKAC - "Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair"

      Ahhhh, supporting what flakes become when they leave the classroom - end users...

    2. Ack, you're right. I shortened it too much.

  2. I can't get my students in my general-ed-astronomy or physics-for-engineers classes to read anything, either with carrots or with sticks. Giving reading quizzes, either in class on paper or before class, with an online (JITT, or Just-in-Time-Technology) system does not work, since 1/3 to half of them won't do the reading anyway.

    I therefore have no choice but to do a lot of reading to them, just like in 4th grade. It sucks, for everyone. Don't worry about insulting some students, since some students will be insulted no matter what you do.

    1. There are times when one reads the directions and misunderstands them. That, in a lot of cases, is forgivable as sometimes one *thinks* they understood what was said or written or the directions themselves are unclear.

      On the other hand, one can try to make directions clear but whoever reads them has no idea what's required or how to accomplish it.

      I saw this as a grad student. I remember taking an introductory undergrad digital logic course for my second master's degree. We were required to build circuits using discrete components, which meant putting gates on breadboards and then wiring them together.

      I was startled to see just how many electrical engineering students had no idea how to strip wire, let alone troubleshoot circuitry. On the other hand, a lot of the profs and TAs didn't, either, as nobody in charge made sure that those students know what to do.

      A few years later, actual hardware was largely abandoned in favour of software.

      Maybe I'm biased because I'm a tradesman's son and I learned how to use certain hand tools by watching my father and, later, tinkered with old radios and the like.

    2. I also have to repeat what I read to them, at the beginning of each class, for at least a week before any assignment, lab, or exam that was based on what was read. I hate it, particularly since there's always at least one student who claims that I didn't announce the assignment, lab, or exam, every freaking time. To circumvent this, I still use the overhead projector that's in the classroom to project every announcement, and I keep the overheads. I therefore can produce physical proof that I have made every announcement multiple times.

      You remember those guys in the army who were like Forrest Gump, only they never could figure out how to assemble their rifles? More than half of my students are like that. What isn't like the army (or navy, which I was in) is that I am required to be a "warm fuzzy," not a "cold prickly." Excuse me a moment, but I have to VOMIT.


      There, that's better. I also am required not to "intimidate" them, and they get to grade me at the end of the term with their student evaluations, anonymously and with no recourse possible.

      Can you IMAGINE what would happen if one ran an army, or even a sports team, in this way? My new Dean simply CANNOT understand that some of the "deepest student learning" I ever did in my life was when I was being screamed at simultaneously from multiple directions by people fully authorized and expected to keep up standards.

    3. One of the most valuable things I ever learned was taught to me in a similar manner.

      During my undergrad summers, I worked in an oil refinery near where my parents lived. During my second one there, I was with the maintenance crews. One had to be on the ball and sharp as a tack as a mistake could be costly not just to machinery but to life and limb as well.

      One day, I remember being in one of the shops and I needed to fill a bucket with water. I thought I'd turn on the faucet first, run to the other end, and put the hose in. Well, I wasn't fast enough and there was water on the floor. A pipefitter-welder looked as me and said: "Kid, use your head for more than just a hat rack." I remember mumbling something to myself about why he didn't see what I was trying to do.

      But he was right. I should have thought it all through before acting. That happened nearly 4 decades ago and I never forgot it. Unfortunately, he died 2 or 3 years later, so he never found out that I got my Ph. D. I would have liked to have shown it to him and thank him for that reprimand.

      I often used that remark or something similar with some of my students. No, it didn't do much good. If I didn't get blank looks, I got some rather unkind responses. Worse yet, some would take sufficient umbrage that they complained about me to my masters and I'd get raked over the coals for that (something about lacking people skills, apparently).

  3. I have given up trying to make them read the syllabus. Now I just make them sign a contract that they have. They still don't, but then if they ever complain I just cite the syllabus and remind them they signed a contract stating they'd read it, and they go away.

    1. The EULA strategy... very nice!

    2. Likewise. They also have to take a little five-question quiz on the school's plagiarism policy, and no one is allowed to sit the midterm until they get 100%. I have occasionally had to produce this quiz as proof that the student was aware of and understood the plagiarism rules.

    3. THREE plagiarism cases and one egregious cheating case last fall - ALL of them said they "didn't know" what the rules were.

      In each case I pulled out their personally autographed "I have read and understood the polices" form, and asked "Were you lying THEN or are you lying NOW?" (I keep forgetting to take photos - the expressions on their little faces are priceless).

      The Dean supported me on each one (I am VERY lucky to have a supportive Dean, oven if there aren't enough 4 and 5-letter words to describe my Dept Chair).

  4. I feel like a stuck record in hell sometimes: repeating what I said only to have someone ask: "What'd you say?"