Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Behind the Door at The DERP. A Playlet From OPH.

One session of perhaps more than one.


[A knock is heard. Prof. Bryndza arises and opens the door, revealing Jack on the other side.]

Jack: Is this . . ? This isn’t the DERP meeting.

Prof. Bryndza: In fact, it is. We’ve been waiting for you, Student Diagnostician Jack. Please, take a seat.

Jack: Here?

Bryndza: [sitting] Yes, that’s fine. Now . . . we’ve called you before the Diagnostic Educational Review Panel because we’re quite concerned about your academic future -- indeed, your future as a Diagnostician. Let’s review the situation. You failed the module exam, whereupon you were afforded the opportunity to remediate the module by taking another exam, which comprised the selfsame questions you got wrong on the first exam. Surprisingly enough, despite your having had the opportunity to review your entire first exam, you failed the second exam as well. Let me just stop here and ask you straight up: did you come in to review your first exam on the day we scheduled for that?

Jack: Well, the schedule said there was no class that day, so I had bought tickets to . . . uh . . . so.

Bryndza: So that’s a ‘no.’ Let’s move on. Because this is a competency-based curriculum, and because the final arbiter of your competency will be the national board exam for which you sit at the end of the summer term, we decided to let you continue in the program if you could pass another remedial exam. Whereas the previous exams were both multiple choice, this was an essay exam. Open book. For all the questions you got wrong on the second exam, you were to write the reasoning as to why the correct answer was correct and and the wrong answers were wrong. Are we on the same page so far, Jack?

Jack: Yeah, OK, that’s right, but that was all in your email, so . . . You’re telling me this now, why? I worked real hard on that remediation; I had to pass!

Prof. Panquehue: You mean ‘re-remediation,’ and we’ll get to that. But as to why, we were curious if you knew exposition from supposition. You do know the difference, yes?

Jack: Uh . . .

Panquehue: Look it up.

Bryndza: OK, your essay exam. Here. For case one, question one, you wrote, “The correct answer is B because it has the words air and fuel in it.” And then you wrote “A is wrong because it is not the same as answer B” and “C is wrong because it is not the same as answer B” and so on. Is that what the directions told you to do?

Jack: It said to use complete sentences.

Panquehue: Did they not also say NOT to simply write that the wrong answer was different from the right one, but to actually explain the specifics of what made it wrong?

Jack: Yeah, but, how would THAT help? When you see the right answer, you’re done! Why waste time trying to understand the wrong ones?

Panquehue: That may work for what is two plus two, but these problems are just a tad more nuanced, wouldn’t you think? DID you get the right answer?

Jack: Well, no, because you didn’t even make the right answer one of the choices.

Prof. Stilton: [sitting up] OH? Do tell.

Jack: The right answer is re-jet the carb, but that’s not even on there!

Stilton: I see what’s going on here. Please read the entire case, out loud.

Jack: That’s just more busy work. I don’t see the value of . . .

Stilton: The VALUE is, I told you to do it!

Panquehue: As my colleague is expressing so succinctly, you have recently failed multiple exams, but we have not, and by any objective measure, the ability to judge the ‘value’ of anything related to the matter at hand defaults to our side of the table.

Bryndza: And we aren’t so new to effective strategies for learning this material, either.

Stilton: Right. If we’re making you jump through hoops, it’s because we know it’ll be good for you long-term. You’ll need it in the field. Now please understand that I say this next thing for your professional development, Jack. It would be better for your interactions with your future colleagues, with us, that you learn to recognize when you should be asking a question instead of making an accusation. In the meantime, perhaps if you fake some humility, it will follow that you’ll become more open to the ideas of others. And you need some new ideas, Jack; yours haven’t exactly been working.

Jack: You should have . . . I . . . Can I ask a question?

Bryndza: The floor is yours.

Jack: What I mean is, you know, like, can I have different kind of test? I’m real good with the practical, hands-on stuff. Give me a wrench, I’ll show you what I can do!

Stilton: Dude. You are not coming near my Jetta with so much as the IDEA that you . . .

Panquehue: Plan! You need a plan, Jack. What bolt would you turn first?

Bryndza: There are hundreds, thousands of them. Your clients won’t just toss you the keys and say, hey, go crazy, replace whatever you feel like till it works again.

Stilton: Surprise me, mon chef Pierre!

Bryndza: They’ll want to describe the symptoms, and many of them have been on the internet and they’ll want to tell you what the problem is and even how to fix it.

Panquehue: And sometimes they’ll be right, but often they’re not, and you’ll have to explain why and where their solution is not as good as yours. And because they don’t know how much they don’t know, you’ve got to make it make sense to them, or they’ll take their business elsewhere and badmouth you to their friends and write negative reviews on Yelp and you’re screwed!

Stilton: Meanwhile, here and now, we strongly suspect that you don’t know how much you don’t know, and that could be extensive. But the same reasoning you’d use in explaining to the client is how you should be double-checking yourself -- that you’re going down the best path. You begin with all the possibilities, rule out the ones with the most weaknesses, and you’re left with the probabilities, which constantly change as you gather new data. And you’ve got to do it quickly! THAT, dear Student Diagnostician Jack, is the value of all that busy work we’re having you do before you grab even one thing from your toolbox. The first tool you must use is your brain.

Jack: OK, I get that. It’s starting to make more sense.

Panquehue: More of that will come later, too. We all come into the light at different speeds.

Jack: So, now I read the case?

Bryndza: No. I’m sorry, Jack, but we’ve reached the end of our allotted time with you. We have other commitments. You’re done with class at five. What are you up to after that?

Jack: Well, me and some of the other first years were going to the Brau Haus for happy hour to watch the pre-game . . . but . . . I’m coming back here, aren’t I?

Stilton: You are if you want to progress in this program.

Bryndza: Doctors Panquehue and Stilton, can you make it at five on such short notice?

Stilton: Whatever it takes.

Panquehue: There’s always another. I suspected we would run over so I already planned accordingly.

Bryndza: OK, Jack, see you at five. We need to speak privately now.

Jack: [getting up] OK. Five. Have a good afternoon. [exits]

Stilton: Well. That went well.

Bryndza: Next student, I get to be the snarky one.

Panquehue: [bending to rest face down on the table] You’ll have to be more specific.

Bryndza: I want to be someone other than the explainer for a while.

Panquehue: Again, more specific.

Stilton: I suspect those functions distribute more or less evenly among us. But perhaps I could interest you in some of my fresh, blustering pedant?

Bryndza: What, and take away any of your fun?

Panquehue: How many more of these do we have?

Stilton: The list is on the table, literally, under your nose.

Panquehue: Please don’t make me look at it. I’ll see a bunch of names I recognize because I’ve already met them one-on-one and told them everything we’re telling them today, but they’re still doing what they did before and they're still fucking up. I don’t want to take my frustration over them as a group out on a single student.

Bryndza: Yeah, this is point defect damage control. We’re not saving the entire program here and now.

Stilton: How many of those we’ve seen today have you already met with?

Panquehue: Half. Easily.

Stilton: Then you tamp your disappointment well. I never would have guessed.

Panquehue: See? [sitting up] It’s a beautiful system!

Stilton: I thought you would do the whole joke.

Bryndza: Joke? How do you mean?

Stilton: The difference between exposition and supposition, and expository and suppository? Well, for ONE of them anyway, it’s OK if sometimes you pull it OUT of your ass!

Panquehue: Heh! Yeah. No. I started to, but it would have taken us off the rails. It went where it needed to go.

Bryndza: Ooh! How about, in what way are all four the same?

Stilton: How?

Bryndza: For greatest efficacy, you shouldn’t pull ANY of them out of your ass!

Stilton: Ho! YES! [coughing, then continuing hoarsely] Let’s keep that one!

Bryndza: In a lockbox. Oh! Numbers. We just added another, so . . . six more today.

Panquehue: [deadpan] Today.



  1. Did I miss something? What does OPH stand for?

    1. Oh pH is an active member of the community. I believe the initials stand for Ogre Proctor hep.

    2. OPH. Sorry, I am dictating this on my phone.

    3. I liked your chemistry joke.

    4. I don't know - the whole thing seemed kinda cheesy.

    5. Well, you can't bries everybody...

    6. But (to steal from Pratchett) OPH is bigger than cheeses.

  2. I'm torn between wishing there were such a panel in my department, so I could send it my most recalcitrant students, and being very, very glad there isn't one, because I'd probably have to serve on it.

    1. What if we let you be the snarky one?

      In any case, my school has formal midterm grade reports; once the reports are in advisors get notified about those of their advisees that have "at risk" midterm grades. I've got the email reminding me what to do with that list of advisees, but I don't have a mail listing any such advisees.

      Dare I hope this is because, just for once, all my advisees have their ducks in a linear formation? That, maybe this time, not one of my hopeful young things needs this kind of intervention?

      Probably it is too much to hope, but I can't help myself.

    2. PP, I have to wonder if we slave at the same institution, as I got that list in my inbox just today...

  3. Are there any openings left? I would love to serve.

    1. And we'd love to have you. Those who feel called to serve are ideal for these duties.

      But be careful what you wish for. It is time-consuming and exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

      The reward is seeing what your colleagues are made of and what they're there for. They get frustrated because they give a damn. They recognize the limits of their influence and that they can't win them all, but on average they inch forward one small victory at a time.

  4. I loved "The floor is yours" & "We all come into the light at different speeds".

    If asked to serve, can I be Prof. Gorgonzola? Piccante for preference...