Yojimbo

Let’s wrap up the end of the semester in Sergio Leone fashion.

The good

Some cool stuff happened this semester.   First off, I was an invited panelist for a Section NExT discussion at our annual sectional meeting of the MAA.   It was cool round-table talk about the hows and whys of integrating twenty-first century technology into the mathematics classroom.   I also won a R2OPE Award, which is a student award given by the Residence Hall Council “to a professor that has been a positive influence in their careers” at Komplexify U.   Thanks, guys.

This site has also apparently been making the rounds this month, which is paradoxical in that I haven’t updated it at all over said time frame.   Apparently my letter to cheating students made it briefly to the front page of Reddit, and my defense of j also had a brief stab of Reddit popularity.   Perhaps for these reasons, komplexify somehow managed to get included on to this list of the Top 50 Blogs for Math Majors.   Sure, it’s at Number 50, but it’s included with the likes of of real math blogs like Division by Zero or y of x or God plays dice.

The bad

At aforementioned MAA meeting, we had a bona fide mathematical crank!   Not one of those Cantor-disproving goofballs I occasionally poke fun at; no, this guy had re-invented the whole of mathematics at an axiomatic level to a theory of “Systems and/or Sub Systems” capable of describing the properties not just to numbers and geometric constructs, but also of taxes, poetry, God, and horticulture.

Seriously:

I didn’t get to see his talk (I was the MC at an undergraduate paper session), but my friends who did see it were at a loss of words to describe anything about his rambling and incoherent presentation except for (1) a Cartesian plane coordinatized by faces of various degrees of hydrocephalusy, (2) an inordinate amount of fruit accepting numerical inputs, and (3) an equation whose solution at one point included dividing both sides by God. I did manage to snag a copy of his PowerPoints later, which include the following “God Test”

Interestingly enough, he sat with our group at the opening banquet that night.   Whereas during his presentation he was talkative to the point of tachylalia, he spent the entire time intently ignoring the other folks at the table and staring intently (and singularly) into his vegetable platter.   I can only assume he’d surmised the proof of the Riemann Hypothesis in it.

But apparently he has a website!   Go learn some Zim Mathematics and be on the cutting edge of… quantitative fruit analysis for deities, I guess.

The ugly

I’ve  lost my faith.

In the nostalgic, sepia-toned days of my youth… say, the start of this semester… I designed courses with a sizable percentage of the grade set aside for homework and projects and such.   I did so for two main reasons: (1) I set aside a lot of points for homework because I want students to do the homework and (2) it helps balance the grades against my notoriously unpleasant exams.   (I have heard it said that I honed my test-writing skills from having sold by soul to the Devil, but that’s just plain silly.   It was a low-level demon.)

My colleagues argued that this was a foolhardy approach, since (as one colleague said) “any homework assignment becomes a group assignment.”     I always argued that while cheating was inevitable among some students, it was not representative of the majority of them; moreover, those who couldn’t master the material on their own would still fail the exams (and, therefore, the class) anyway.

Unfortunately, Calculus III proved me wrong.

Don’t get me wrong… I had a number of really good Calc III students,both those who were innately quantitatively gifted, and those who struggled and worked hard to persevere.   Hell, I’d wager than most of Calc III students were honest, if not exactly hard-working.

It’s just the sheer volume and indifference displayed by the students this semester is infuriating and disheartening.   First there was the Cramster fiasco, which was followed two weeks later by the solutions manual blunder.   The former was committed by about 15% of the class, and the latter by about 20%, with 10% of the class being caught both times.   Some of the students were the expected under-performers looking for easy points, but many were talented and smart students who, surprisingly to me at least, claimed to have done the same thing all through high school.   I understand this mentality and could have even sympathized with it, except for the fact that all of students, when I talked to them individually about it, be they good or bad, couldn’t have cared less about being caught, and brushed it off with a nonchalant “aw shucks, you caught me” attitude, which pissed… me… off.

(Of course, that apathy dissolved into professed sorrow and shame the moment I called each one of them into my office to sign their name on the Dean of Students’ official Academic Dishonesty Reporting Form.   I might have taken a moment’s bemusement from that if I wasn’t in anguish about labeling a tenth of class as cheaters on official paperwork.)

As a result, I killed the rest of the homework and labs, and let the rest of course be decided by exams and “podcast” assignments.   Students knew I was ticked, and seemed to take the Honor Code I established fairly seriously.   Finally.

So fast-forward to the last week.   One of my students — let’s call him Billy — asked if he could take the final exam early as the scheduled exam time conflicted with a military deployment.   Now our department has a no-early-finals policy, and I always stick to it on the grounds that the date of the final is clearly stated both in the syllabus and on the course website from the very the first day of class.     This has caused me trouble before when students (or the parents) are too short-sighted to plan around it, but this didn’t seem to be the case, and so I acquiesced.

The exam was written to let students use Maple, and as a result had some strict rules governing its use, the two most paramount being (1) no online communication at all during the exam and (2) to ensure that, the manual disabling of the wireless adapter for the duration of the exam.   Long story short: whenever I wasn’t around,  Billy would  turn on the wireless and chat for clues (effectively sharing the exam online in the process), and then disable it before I returned.   I know this because I have it recorded using a program called Monitor.   So got to sign the form and fail the class and ruin my faith in student honesty all in one fell swoop.

Honestly… for fuck’s sake…

(And I’d sure be happy for any advice anyone has out there…)

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