Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ghosts and empty sockets

I don't usually proctor my quizzes. I ask my TA and undergrad assistants to do it, and apart from a quick visit to the room about fifteen minutes into the exam, I make myself scarce. Today a concatenation of circumstances resulted in the TA having to scoot out early, so I stepped in for the last 45 minutes. I realized it was the first time I was proctoring something for myself.

One of the first things that crossed my mind as I stood by the side wall of the auditorium surveying a hundred bowed heads was the sudden realization that this was ALL. DUE. TO. ME. It was a sudden surge-burst feeling of huge POWER -- all at once I was seized with the urge to break out into thunderous laughter HEE HEE HA HA HA HA, or play the 3/1/69 Dark Star loudly over the PA all at once. For a lark -- just to see them jump.

Slowly that feeling faded. (It was good while it lasted, but I dared not toy with the idea *too* hard.) I took to walking slowly round the auditorium, keeping randomly away from the paths traced being by the undergrad assistant. On one of my first circuits, as I reached the front of the room, I noticed this woman sitting in the second row.

She was asleep.

I found it funny for about a second, then my professional side kicked in and I wondered -- should I go wake her up? I'd designed this quiz to be tight on time, so every minute spent napping would hurt the kid. I felt sympathetic -- maybe she'd been up studying all night (because of ME), and now all that effort would go to waste. Poor thing. On the other hand, I thought waking her up might be unfair to the other kids -- those who had prepared themselves physically as well as from a course material point of view, and deserved the advantage they'd worked for. Plus I wouldn't want to wake the girl and embarrass her publicly. Maybe she was done, anyway, and *wanted* to sleep. Who knew?

So I stood there and looked at her.

Eventually the assistant wandered round. As she approached I signalled to her to join me at the front, and then I pointed out the sleeper. Her first reaction was to cover her mouth to suppress the giggle. (The grin stayed fixed on her face for quite a long while, even after our brief conversation.) A kid in the front row heard the giggle and looked up and smiled knowingly at me. I smiled knowingly back at him. I knew he didn't know what was funny.

I asked the assistant whether she'd ever seen other instances of people falling asleep during quizzes. She said she had (but kept grinning anyway). Somehow, that reassured me -- I'm not sure why. Then I asked her whether she thought one of us should go wake the kid up. She said no, pretty emphatically -- for one of the reasons I'd listed above, I guessed. So I decided to let the sleeping kid lie. I wandered off on another circuit of the auditorium. The assistant stood fixed to the front, eyes locked, hand barely covering grin. Eventually, something else drew her attention and she drifted off. The next time I went round, the kid in the front row had woken up and was staring into space. Then she looked down at her paper. Other kids started raising their hands indicating they'd finished, so my attention got diverted.

But I haven't told you the punchline yet. The sleeper - a quiet, nondescript, backbencher sort - had been wearing a black zippered sweatshirt with a stealie on the back. That stealie was one of the first things that had caught my eye as I'd stepped into the auditorium. It's the first stealie I've seen in Hong Kong, outside of my own possessions. It was probably the reason 3/1/69 came to mind in the first place. As the quiz ended, I made it a point to walk up to the kid to take her answer sheet. She noticed I was about to say something and averted her eyes instantly. Even before I spoke, she blushed.

"I love your jacket," I said.

"Oh really?!" Total shock.

"Ya it's my favorite band."

As I'd expected, she had no idea what I was talking about. She was just glad to be off the hook -- she could go home and hope then pretend that no one - least of all, I - had seen her sleep in the middle of her blah quiz.

And I went home and wondered whether I should have woken her up and forced her to keep working, because that's what I'm supposed to do -- not stand around giving angles about obscure cultural emblems.


My MBA training proclaims that every problem is an opportunity. Great sound-byte for class. My PhD experience observes that every opportunity brings along a dozen freaking problems.


Blogger Revealed said...

Awwww poor honey. But I can't imagine how people do that. I mean, normally right before a test I get like this adrenaline rush that powers me through the entire duration of the test and then at least a coupla hours after. Like this pumped up, hyperaction-inducing (which is truly godawful cos I'm hyper under normal conditions even!) rush of energy. How do people sleep thru a test?

(Cripes, do I sound geeky?)

4/03/2007 5:08 AM  
Anonymous Shripriya said...

This is so funny. But I feel bad for the poor thing - must have been exhausted.

4/03/2007 7:20 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

yeah, you sound geeky, but that's okay. mgg.

i'd never seen or heard of people sleeping through exams before this -- but then the quiz was late in the evening and she probably knew i only count the best two of three scores anyway. probably just gave up.

welcome, and thanks for the link-love :-D

i hope the kid finds it funny too -- if not after seeing her score today then at some point down the line.

4/03/2007 9:20 AM  
Blogger km said...

So Prof, would you draw a line at snoring or sleep-walking in class?

4/03/2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger Revealed said...

I had a feeling I was geeking out :P. The 2 outta 3 phenomenon. Makes more sense now.

(I suppose I'd be unpardonably geeky if I confessed that I take the 3rd test with as much fervour even if I've aced the first two, so I'm not going to!)

4/03/2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

@revealed: Geek!!!!!

@TR: Re the sudden realisation that this was ALL. DUE. TO. YOU. Didn't you feel bad? How much misery you probably caused those poor kids? And you wanted to laugh?? How sadistic!!
On another note I doubt if I could ever sleep though an exam...maybe if the subject was really boring and just writing the answer would be enough to put me to sleep. Hasn't happened yet....I think....

4/03/2007 2:50 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

snoring - *maybe*. i'd probably call the person's name and ask them if they cared to repeat what they just said. but sleepwalking -- ah that would be *so* much fun. i wish it happens someday.

right -- now you sound like you're from hong kong.

no i didn't feel bad :-D blame it on a couple dozen years' worth of education :-D

and as for the writing-answer-boring theory, well, what can i say. the test was multiple choice. they got bubble sheets. maybe she hypnotized herself to sleep.

4/03/2007 7:01 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

well methinks she should get extra points for having worked hard and stayed up the night studying :) and the jacket :))

4/03/2007 10:00 PM  
Blogger Revealed said...

maybe she hypnotized herself to sleep


@szerelem, tr: Now, I'm a Hong Kong geek!! And all this for *not* saying something geeky! The appalling unfairness of it all.

4/03/2007 10:55 PM  
Blogger Abi said...

Poor you! It must have come as a shock to see a student put to sleep by your exam!

Do you allow students to set alarms on their mobile phones?

4/04/2007 12:23 AM  
Blogger Abi said...

A commenter (km) talked about sleepwalking. In case it happens in your next exam, just keep in mind this advice.

4/04/2007 12:28 AM  
Blogger The Great Ganesha said...

hilarious. nice to see a fellow teacher with a sense of humour.

and also nice to see that you're a deadhead - would love to blast the 3/1/69 'dark star' over a pa system. heh!

4/04/2007 12:39 AM  
Blogger Rahul said...

I'm glad I don't teach a class of 200, or a class where the slightest "competitive advantage" matters so enormously. Where I am, I'd wake the student up, and the other students certainly wouldn't object.

If I trust the students sufficiently (based on their homework), I'd give them a take-home exam, and they can sleep as they please...

4/04/2007 4:13 AM  
Blogger Falstaff said...

That last paragraph is priceless. I'm tempted to paste a copy of it to my cubicle door.

4/04/2007 11:02 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

maybe i'll try and make it up to her in the class participation points :-)

yup, you have to know when you're beat!

i coped by convincing myself it was like a shot from a stun gun...
about the alarm thing -- no student has asked and frankly i don't know how i'd react. i'd probably point to the clock at the front of the auditorium or something.
thanks for the link :-)

the great ganesha:
welcome! nice to meet an educated educator :-D

well, as they say, every problem is an opportunity.

honored -- please feel free. i'll autograph it when i visit ;-)

4/05/2007 1:42 AM  
Blogger scout said...

hahahaha. moron. hahahaha. i'm awesome at exams. in barca, i once finished an mcq mid-term in ten minutes exact. the test was supposed to be for an hour and a half.

the prof was very surprised. and btw, i aced the test.

the thing with mcqs is - you either know the answer or you don't. no amount of sitting and waiting for the answer works. and there's no scope for bullshitting like in essay exams. so i understand why she feel asleep; "fuck it, i don't know shit. might as well sleep and see if the answers come to me in my dream."

4/05/2007 6:28 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ha! good to see the darwinian pov at last :-D

congratulations on the aced test -- and while i agree with you in general on mcqs, i also believe that mcqs can be framed in a way that messes with semi-prepared minds. check out this example that i'm making up on the fly (you have to identify the *best* answer):

Which of the following is not a single malt?

a) Glenfiddich
b) Macallan
c) Chivas Regal
d) Both a and b are not single malts
e) Both b and c are not single malts

i guess you can see how forty of these can put someone to sleep (or at least get them dreaming a little).

4/05/2007 6:16 PM  
Blogger Rahul said...

scout - the thing with mcqs is - you either know the answer or you don't.

Erm no, in a good mcq you need to work out the answers. In some cases you may be able to take a shortcut -- for example I can often estimate calculations to within 10%, and maybe only one of the answers agrees with that estimate.

In some fields the above doesn't apply -- in that case mcq is a bad idea anyway...

4/05/2007 6:20 PM  
Blogger scout said...

haha C. and this is when i don't even do whiskey that often. naturally gifted when it comes to mcqs on alcohol. :D

and yeah, i guess well framed stuff can be tricky and requires concentration but generally, not many people put in a lot of effort framing mcqs - who gives a shit? especially for undergrads, right prof? ;)

rahul: yeah math mcqs take more time and can be a pain in the ass. the last time i did that was for my SATs and thanks to barrons i knew a lot of tricks. got an 800 btw. not to gloat or anything. :DD

but at university, most have been for theoretical courses. the one i was talking about was european history - load of crock.

4/05/2007 6:43 PM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

I am SO glad I never have to write another exam in my life. I sympathize with your somnolent student. I've done worse.
Back in college Thermodynamics was the bane of my life. I once sat up 48 hours before the damn paper to try and study for it (but spent most of the time smoking and playing theen patthi with my moron roommate). On the morning of the exam, I decided to take a short power nap before heading out, and I woke up late in the evening. Oh well, what the hell...

4/05/2007 9:51 PM  
Blogger Revealed said...

@tr: And you lot accuse *me* of being geeky. Sigh.

@mt: LOL!!!

4/05/2007 9:58 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

there's life beyond calculations, man. wake up and smell the fine print.

yes, i know. i wanted to start you off easy.
at the next stage you will be told repeatedly that it is not just "whiskey", it's "scotch". (call guinness "beer" within hearing range of JAP and see what happens.)
and as for especially for undergrads, right prof?, well yeah, but it's fun to make them sweat, no?

got overheated on thermo -- that's hilarious :-D

hey wait! *you* asked if you were wounding geeky. *i* was merely being agreeable.
it was *szerelem* who did all the accusing. blame her -- your "past self". (i can see the basis for an interesting movie script here.)

4/06/2007 8:29 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

"sounding", not "wounding".
feel free to be wounding geeky -- *sounds* like another one of those jokes about the seven dwarfs.

4/06/2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger Revealed said...

@tr: LOL!

I'm apparently involved in a lotta cheesy movie scripts these days :P. First it was chronicus skepticus and the temple bells, then it's szerelem and my past self (though didja mean scout?).

And it's most unfair to make a typo like that and then make the follow up wisecrack yourself. Makes life really hard for the rest of us. Sigh.

@szerelem: (Psst. He's right though. *You* were the main accuser. We are mightily disappointed in the frivolity of youth)

4/07/2007 12:30 AM  
Blogger Revealed said...

On second thought, I see how the szerelem past version scenario has more of poetic justice to it. Past self confronting present self with a quivering finger and saying in wounded accets, "Geek". Powerful stuff.

4/07/2007 12:32 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

powerful cheesy, eh? can anyone say blue?

i thought the whole script about szerelem being your past self was of your making. not scout. scout's got her own scripts these days.

4/07/2007 1:22 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

Hawww....why am *I* being dragged into all this?? I was only stating the truth! Hmpff.
And MCQ's suck. I absolutely hate them. Especially the silly (1) A and B (2)A and C (3) C and D types.
Make my head spin

4/07/2007 3:16 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ask your future self!
(and i'm glad you see the point :-)

4/07/2007 1:11 PM  

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