Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Timothy T. Explains the Final Exam Party. [Text Redacted.]

Hi everyone, Cal sends this note:

"As the person on record who has paid for the thecollegemisery.com domain name for the last few years, I was contacted by someone who's asked that the blog remove the text from this posting because the writer was 'not aware it had been appropriated.'
I'm also going to ask Crystal if she could redact the comment below that names a professor who did not offer up his/her own name for the discussion."

Also, to avoid any more possible conflicts with this, I'm going to close the comments. I'm sorry. Cal's the legal owner of the thecollegemisery.com domain name, and in the end I wouldn't want him to have even a minor problem over this post and these comments which he had nothing to do with.

Thanks everyone,
Compound Crystal



58 comments:

  1. So besides barking like trained seals, what else can they do?

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  2. That's nice for you and your students. Who makes those "home baked cookies"? You, because you enjoy it, or your partner or the bakery/gourmet store/neighbor? Do you have a class of 30, 50 or 200 students?

    I've always hugely objected to the parent, particularly mommy, role. I don't like to cook, so cookies or anything else adds another chore, in addition to having to purchase expensive (and cheap) ingredients I don't have on hand.

    When I worked in industry rather than academe, I refused to do the baking thing there, too. One place had an unwritten rule that women bake treats at holiday time, place the treats on an admin's desk, where everyone could gobble them up (putting them on a non-office desk means you don't get disturbed and can continue to crank out work after a night of baking). No. The men brought in nothing, except for one whose wife did the baking. I'm not the mommy for anyone, especially someone else's kids who are now adults.

    In years past, I might have had a small class do a pot-luck party or even invited them to dinner (my husband likes to cook). Now, I'm anti-party because I don't want to deal with fallout when something goes wrong, whether real or not (illegal substance in food/drink, previously undiagnosed allergies, social fear or bad hookup ruined class/subject/school). Too many risks even with a cookies party.

    SelfOfStealRoller (who can't exit and log in, since I'm using the other Google account right this moment)

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    1. And who still managed to make a typo in my user name because of not logging in.

      SelfOfSteamRoller

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  3. Wait. I thought the reward was what they learned, the skills they developed, the maturity they developed/learned, etc.

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  4. I'm willing to admit that different strategies work for different people, but there are a bunch of reason that I would not pursue this sort of teaching practice.

    First, I have too much material to cover to be able to hold my final exam on the second-to-last day of class, and then spend the whole last class period on a pizza party. For me, that would effectively reduce the length of the semester by a full week's worth of classes. My last class period (sometimes the last two) is used for review and tying up the main themes of the course. Exams are held during exam week.

    My second point is connected with the first. I could probably modify my syllabus and reduce the amount of material sufficiently to make it possible for me to give up the final week to exams and parties. It's my belief, however, that one of my professional obligations—both to the students who pay tuition, and to the taxpayers of my state who subsidize the costs of this university—is to teach all the way to the end of the semester. I also feel a certain obligation to my colleagues NOT to become known as the easy-going prof who has pizza parties instead of holding class lessons during the final week.

    Third, the idea of telling the students their grade to their face, in a classroom filled with their fellow students, is completely horrifying to me. I think that is completely irresponsible behavior. You risk violating the students' privacy and having third parties hear the grades you are assigning to each student, and even if you whisper low enough that others don't hear you, it still leaves the students themselves in a position of learning their grades in front of their peers and possibly betraying their disappointment if they do worse than they had hoped. Every semester I have students who I like, and who are hard workers and very nice people, but who simply are not very strong scholars. I have absolutely no desire to humiliate them in front of their peers by telling them that all their efforts and hard work have resulted in a grade of D+ or C-.

    And this is not about my own discomfort in telling the grades to the student directly. I'm not trying to hide behind the grade reporting progress in order to avoid my students' responses to their grades. If a student comes to my office hours, I'm happy to talk with him or her about grades, and to give an honest assessment of the student's performance. But the allocation of grades should not be a public performance.

    Fourth and finally, I have about 170 students this semester. With what I'm paid, I can't afford to buy them all pizza.

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    1. Well said, Defunct. The party is bad enough--but telling the students their grades in front of the class? Professional malpractice in my book.

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  5. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and I believe you are acting from good intentions but, your justifications, and dismissal of others who do differently, suggests:
    - some kind of insecurity. We don't dispense grades like some kind of Mafioso 'lookn' dem in da eye'. We coolly do the accounting of what they have learned. Do they Like me? Why is this even an issue? Did they learn?
    - some kind of power dynamic. Grades are a big deal and there are many processes in place to deal with them. Why? Messing with them does sometimes happen, thus all the system processes to ensure confidentiality, timeliness, some level of precision, accuracy etc.
    - if a 12 week course costs $600, then those cookies provided in lieu of one less class cost the student $16+ dollars. Damn good ones I hope.

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  6. To Timothy's colleague: You give a final on the second to last day of classes? What about finals week? I had thought the laziest guy on earth married a pregnant woman, but I'm mistaken. I'm glad the students like you. Do they respect you?

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  7. In short, you take a few days off from teaching or you cram everything into fewer days of teaching. Give them food so that they like you and so you feel superior to everybody else. Sounds like some well-designed pedagogy right there, folks.

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    1. The strategies for coping with the cognitive dissonance are quite similar between the dean and Tim's colleague. Other people think what you're doing is shit, but it can't be shit if you're doing it, therefore they're just not operating at your level; you are succeeding in ways they don't understand; they undervalue your special gifts; and I could go on.

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  8. A few thoughts about this post:

    At my institution, holding the final exam on a day other than the official exam day for each of my courses, as scheduled by the Registrar's Office, would be a violation of university policy.

    I guess my students assume I don't care about their well-being because I don't give them cookies and pizza. And clearly, my department chair does not care at all about my own well-being because he doesn't offer me candy or food when I have my annual meeting with him to discuss my performance review.

    If I were to bring in only two different types of home-baked cookies, instead of four, would that mean I care a little less about my students than you do?

    I don't feel superior to anyone for giving "all or nothing" final exams; I merely feel like I am doing my job. (By the way, my final exams are cumulative, but I would not describe them as being of the "all or nothing" type. I give them a good study guide and additional practices exercises to do at home, and the exam is usually worth 20-25% of the final grade.)

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    1. We have similar rules about final exams. If the students who insist that they can't come to one of my last classes because they have a final exam in another class (a not-infrequent occurrence) are telling the truth, then those rules are sometimes honored in the breach, but they are still rules, and I'm inclined to believe that this sort of situation works out best for everyone (including my students who are trying to complete group work with each other while dealing with rescheduled exams in other classes) if everybody follows the rules. I'm not a rules-for-rules'-sake sort of person, but when there are large numbers of people and complex schedules involved, deciding to be the exception is usually not a prosocial act.

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    2. We are forbidden from administering any tests or exams in the final week of classes. But I still had a student complain that she didn't have enough to complete the paper for my class (due the last week of classes) because she had an exam in another class.

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    3. Yes, I forgot to mention that we have the same policy at my school--no tests during the final week of classes.

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  9. First, this: “Many students have told me that knowing I would do this at the end of the semester motivated them to work harder than they normally would…”
    And this: “Since I know my students work hard, I want to reward them in a similar vein by treating them to pizza on the last day of class.”
    don’t add up.

    Next, dinner for the top two students really isn’t the same thing as pizza for all. (Except that both would be problematic at my joint).

    Finally, “Their grades often dictate their opportunities after graduation” means the grade from this single class? While this certainly can be true, in my experience, when one instructor’s grade has so much influence one isn’t faced with the kind of students who would work harder simply because they were going to be looked in the eye (and fed pizza).
    Isn’t it more likely that their cumulative performance over a number of years and with a range of instructors is a better predictor of their future opportunities than how they perform in your friend’s class?

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  10. Telling snowflakes their grade in front of the other flakes is a FERPA violation, is it not?

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    1. Yup, FERPA looms large.

      I don't see how it's possible to keep your voice low enough that nobody else could hear a grade every now and then. OK, I guess you could silently show it to them, but Defunct Adjunct has outlined a lot of other complications above ("it still leaves the students themselves in a position of learning their grades in front of their peers...").

      If you're going to deliver grades in person, then perhaps you should do it in a place where students can lose their shit and you have to deal with the fallout. Doing it in public where the happy students can let themselves appear happy but all others must remain poker-faced doesn't seem to take as much courage. Might as well just let the grades come through the Registrar.

      In fact, at my joint, all final grades must be filed with the Registrar, and only the Registrar can release such data to the students (through their online portal or transcript request). Students who have outstanding bills are not allowed access to their final grades.

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    2. "Students who have outstanding bills are not allowed access to their final grades."

      That's blatantly duck-ist, and I'm sure the CM community will not stand for it.

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  11. Why on earth would you think that being liked would be any sort of metric of being a good professor? Many of my students like me, but many don't, and it doesn't matter. I do my job with integrity and as much energy as I can muster, and whether they like me or not doesn't much matter at the end of the day. I already have friends. Grown-up ones.

    And I'm not averse to bringing cookies or even having a pizza party. But Jesus, your first job is to teach them, not to entertain them. If we're going to have a pizza party, it'll either be outside of class, or it'll have some lesson objectives. If you don't have something you want them to learn, you might as well just play heads-down-seven-up like a third grade teacher out of ideas.

    I do invite my seniors, when I teach seminar, to my home, but it's not a part of the class and it doesn't take place during class time. And there's an educational goal there: I want them to attend one grown up party before they go out to grad school or jobs. I want them to see how adults live, learn to hold a wine glass properly, learn how to make small talk and not look at their phones.

    For finals, in most of my classes, they either take a test or give presentations. Sometimes both. I wouldn't dream of wasting that three hour chunk with something trivial.

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  12. I echo the concerns of many above, from who bakes the cookies (and pays for the ingredients -- decent baking chocolate, nuts, butter, etc. aren't cheap -- and of course our time shouldn't be, no matter what our salaries may indicate) to the possible FERPA violation inherent in delivering grades orally in class. I'm also skeptical of the idea that any one class should matter that much (and if it did, I'd think that it would be because it was a high-level course in the major, and the professor might write a letter of recommendation based on work in the class -- in which case sharing the letter -- voluntarily -- strikes me as a much more significant, and appropriate, way to convey one's approval of their work than dinner, pizza, cookies, or the one-on-one delivery of the grade).

    Also, if I *were* going to feed students, I think I'd do it sometime around midterms, when they're really dragging. Of course I tend to be dragging at that point, too, which reduces the chances of it's actually happening, but it still strikes me as better timing.

    That said, I think I'll stick to the argument that one-on-one conferences are more valuable than food, and I can only manage one (though I admire those who manage to do both).

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  13. I agree with all the censure heaped on this post and have two points to add:
    - this requires you to grade a bunch of finals in less than 48 hours in order to calculate final grades between one class and the next
    - but I guess that's easier to do when you write an exam that only takes one class period. How can a test like that be cumulative?

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  14. This crowd must skew pretty old. Time to get out of the 90s. I won't come back.

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    1. Eating Low SaltMay 4, 2016 at 7:13 PM

      Tell us more how much they like you. Man, no matter what decade you're in, that's a bad road to go down.

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    2. If you want to show us the data that indicates that last-class pizza parties in the 2010s is better pedagogy than actually learning stuff up until the end of last class, as was the case in the 1990s (as your post is implying), that'd be great.

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    3. I believe this is what's known as an ad hominem argument. Those are frowned upon, as is dismissing people on the basis of their (perceived) age.

      I'm also a bit confused: if being old/having taught in the '90s somehow disqualifies one from teaching well in the teens of C21, then why are you basing your own practice on that of someone whom your colleague's *father* had as a guest professor? Math isn't my specialty, but I'm having trouble believing that the guest professor wasn't teaching in the '90s, and quite possibly significantly earlier than that.

      Also, you still haven't told us who bakes the cookies (though I'm beginning to suspect it's your mother -- or maybe your father -- rather than your partner. Okay, that was a low blow -- I shouldn't return generational stereotyping for generational stereotyping. But I'd still like to know who does the baking, because to those of us who look to students like cookie-baking types, but don't actually bake for students, that stuff matters. Baking cookies is, believe it or not, actual labor, requiring actual time. Some people enjoy it; some don't; some enjoy it but don't have time for it during the term. And some people -- e.g. adjuncts who are their own sole support -- have neither time nor money for providing students with cookies, pizza, et al.)

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    4. Such a great loss it will be to see you go. We really need more ageist nonsense around here. But honestly, I am so indebted to you for showing us the light about how pizza parties are the latest-greatest pedagogical innovation. I only started teaching in the early-2000s, but I had no idea that, like, students enjoy eating and not doing work!

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    5. That's the best you can come up with?

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    6. Maybe Timmy meant 1890s?

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    7. Prof Poopiehead, I read your comment in Bill Lumbergh's voice. Mmkay? Terrific.

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    8. What some people call "old", I call "knows what the fuck they're doing."

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    9. OPH, I don't know whether to be pleased or offended by that. I was going for more of a Norm Peterson "if you can find a better 25-ounce steak for $1.99, pal, you just let me know, all right?" vibe...

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    10. I tried it in Norm's voice, and it works, too.

      "If you...that'd be great" is definitely Lumberghian phrasing that tries to make a command or challenge appear as a polite request.

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    11. I think that you should be pleased that your contribution withstood alternative interpretations with no loss of applicability.

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    12. I wonder if you teach your students about ageism when you're not busy feeding them and pandering to them. As long as they like you, I guess that's all that matters . . .

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    13. As long as you "think" they like you…that’s all that matters.

      Free cookies? Of course they pop back (probably when there’s free food).

      Calling you the “cookie prof”? Of course they do. It reinforces the “reward” you get from seeing them.

      Do they actually like you? I have no idea. Do they even in fact know you as a person? Ditto.

      As a piece of trolling, step right up – free pizza for you. If you’re serious, well, it would be heartbreaking to think that these cookies didn’t count towards something meaningful.

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  15. The thought occurs to me that there is money to be made here. A proffie “Instant popularity kit”, which includes all the necessary ingredients for cookies, also some streamers, party hats, and maybe nice little loot bags to take everything home in.

    But seriously, Timothy T, your “colleague” isn’t even trying. If this person were serious, s/he would provide a much more 21st century experience for these hard-working students. Surely individualized trophies, crafted on a 3-D printer, are more with it than pizza. And perhaps a semi-circle of artisanal glitter, so that they can “stand in their own sparkle” as they receive their prizes.

    And just 4 varieties of cookies? You beast! Only galley-slaves would be grateful for such mediocre fare. At least you should provide an app so that students can place their order with you at a time and place that suits them. If you don’t improve on this dismal level of customer service, you’ll get one-star reviews on Yelp, and you’ll be known as the Cookie Monster!

    Of course, you could be trolling us?!

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    1. My trollometer is definitely registering activity. And, till I got to your last sentence, my Poemeter was pegging 110%.

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    2. I'm hoping the original post + the flouncing reply is all trolling. (Ben, is that you?)

      If not, I'm certainly po-faced!

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    3. Shit, this would have been a great post for April Fool's Day, wouldn't it? I'm a bit ashamed that I didn't think of it. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

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  16. And to revive an old RYS meme: Timmy - he da pinata!

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  17. None of you are even trying to understand me. You've latched on to your prejudices and that's fine. If your way of offering back-breaking final exams is what you want your students to remember you by, that's fine.

    In my experience, younger faculty are much more connected on a human level with students, and I was just trying to show that opinion as well.

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    1. Perplexed PeterMay 5, 2016 at 8:29 AM

      I offer final exams of about the same difficulty as the midterms. I do it during finals week. They're longer exams, to be sure. If they blow one problem, it's one out of a lot of problems, so they have plenty of chances to redeem themselves.

      My hope is that if they remember me at all, they remember how the semester as a whole went, not whether they got cookies at the end. Given that I have plenty of foot traffic in my office hours and it's not usually with questions about the course, i think I connect on a human level with them just fine.

      If I have to bribe them to get them to like me, they really don't like me anyway.

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    2. You're painting with a pretty broad brush. You don't know what kind of final exams I give, yet you've latched onto your prejudices that they're back-breaking, and that's not fine. Have you really tried to understand our views and their basis?

      You said "[a party instead of a final] is more humane, I can tell you, and I know my students like me more than they do you."

      Please explain how that can be interpreted in a way other than you feel you have a superior pedagogy, and that you feel you have a better relationship with your students because they "like [you] more". When your opening volley is "mine is better than yours" you should
      expect similar in return, as well as "show me your evidence", no?

      There is more to connecting on a human level than being liked. There is being respected. These are not mutually exclusive.
       

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    3. That's just it Tim, it doesn't matter (except to my ego) if they remember me at all. I just want them to learn some chemistry. If they solve some problem ten years form now and can't remember my name, it doesn't matter. I've done my job.

      Sure, younger faculty can relate to students in a way that older faculty can't due to age differences. There are ways to relate to students and show your humanity besides throwing a party in class.

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  18. This is kind of like "Open Mic Night at the Improv."

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    1. Well, OPH & Prof Poopiehead have at least re-defined "Norm-based assessment".

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    2. Yeah, I'm gonna have to go ahead and, sort of, giggle at that there.

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  20. Timothy T. please tell me that you do not teach Logic.

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  21. This makes me wonder if Tim T. really disagrees with the partay approach and is just trying to troll his colleague.

    As I am currently eating some leftover ice cream from a colleague's end of semester party (a colleague who I deeply believe to be a good, tough and respected teacher), I admit there are benefits to this approach.

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  22. Tim, I'm glad you stuck around through all the comments. For somebody who stopped by to tell us that his students like him more than our students like us, and we're all too old to understand this, we've treated you pretty nicely. I hope you stick around in the future. There's probably a lot we can agree on.

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