Exam craziness

December 11th, 2009, 9:32 am PST by Greg

Yesterday, I had both of my CMPT 165 exams (on-campus and distance) back to back. The exams were different enough that students talking for the few minutes between exams wouldn’t get anything useful from it, but no more than that.

Six hours is too goddamn long to be in exams. I can think of no way to describe the day other than a list of happenings:

[tl;dr Go for 2b, 3ab, 4b.]

  1. Pre exam:
    1. The first exams start at 8:30. At 7:45, not one but two of my colleagues were still trying to photocopy their exams for big sections. Office photocopier was jamming every two seconds; grad photocopier was down.
    2. Critical mobile phone usage #1: realizing Amanda would already be in her office, I phoned her and got one colleague into the photocopier in the Dean’s Office.
    3. “Wait… did I tell that student she could start a half hour early? Where was she going to meet me?” Send TA running to the room with an exam paper, just in case. (No student.)
  2. On campus section:
    1. Before the exam, a girl flagged me down and told me she “had cancer before” and had been feeling lightheaded this morning. If she had to leave during the exam, that was why. I tried to get her to Health Services right away, but she insisted on staying. At the end of the exam, I convinced her to at least go and get her blood pressure taken or something.
    2. Two minutes into the exam, after sitting there for three or four minutes before it started, looking at the exam cover sheet (which says “CMPT 165”) and me, a student put up his hand and said “this isn’t CMPT 120” and left.
    3. Freakin’ piles of questions, including “can you give me a hint” and “what time does the exam end”. Many more questions than the distance section.
  3. Distance ed section:
    1. About 10 minutes into an exam, one of the kids that had run in a few minutes late flagged a TA over and said “I feel like I might pass out.” I talked to him for a few seconds and he was not entirely conscious: able to answer yes or no questions, but that’s about it. He probably couldn’t have walked out of the room at that point.
    2. Critical mobile phone usage #2: phoned SFU security for a medical emergency. To the credit of security: they came quickly and handled it quietly and with a minimum amount to spectacle to distract everybody else. They took the student to Health Services.
    3. After all this, I start to realize that I have been getting lightheaded when standing up: I’m hungry and totally dehydrated from four hours running up and down hot lecture halls. A litre of water and snack later, I’m feeling much better.
    4. A guy came in 45 minutes late after “car problems”. A girl came in about 1:15 late after a car accident on the way from Abbotsford.
    5. With an hour left in the exam, passed-out student came back! He wanted to finish his exam and was pretty sure he could get it done. I took this as a sign of not yet being fully capable of making decisions and sent him to the distance ed office to schedule an alternate time.
    6. Critical mobile phone usage #3: phoned distance ed and told them the story so they’d deal with this kid appropriately. Apparently he wrote the exam later in the afternoon anyway (but at least he had the full three hours).
  4. After the exams:
    1. I’m barely standing at this point.
    2. I was talking to Anne, and told her the story of my day. Anne is preparing to teach a course like 165 in Uruguay (since she is currently on study leave). She was translating the course outline to Spanish and kept asking me things like “what wording do you like better?” I must have said three times: “Anne… you know I don’t speak Spanish, right?!”
    3. I might have eventually just wandered out of her office while she was still talking. I don’t really remember.

There was probably more. That’s all that’s coming to mind at the moment.

A Vegas Christmas

December 7th, 2009, 12:59 am PST by Greg

A few weeks ago, I got to thinking about our Christmas plans…

I haven’t gone back to see my family for a while: it’s much nicer to go back (and deal with flying to Ontario) in the summer. Kat’s family does Christmas eve, not Christmas day. For the last few years, we have spent Christmas day with friends, which has always been a lot of fun, but this year all of the friends are scattering to the four corners of the world.

So I thought to myself: What’s keeping us in Vancouver? After Christmas eve with Kat’s family, we’re pretty much done with the holiday. But, anywhere we could go after that would be closed for the holiday, with one exception:


So, on Christmas day we’re flying from YVR to Vegas and spending four days at the MGM Grand. On the menu this time:

  • We want to shoot some guns (just like Angelica did). I’ve got to shoot a Kalashnikov.
  • Fremont Street.
  • Seinfeld is in Vegas around then: that would be awesome.
  • I have wanted to see Penn & Teller for a while and they’re performing through Christmas.
  • We have never eaten the food of Thomas Keller, so Bouchon is a distinct possibility.
  • Boxing day outlet shopping.
  • I want to see if I can find somewhere to make a prop bet and bet on something crazy.

As an added bonus, our friend Suyoko (and her mom) are going to be in Vegas for Christmas. That means (among other things) that I don’t actually have to wait through the outlet shopping: they can go and leave me behind.

Spring plan: DDP projects

December 1st, 2009, 11:15 pm PST by Greg

As I said before, I’m not teaching CMPT 383 in the spring (but I will be doing it in the summer). The alternate plan involves the “capstone” project that our dual-degree students have to do.

I’m going to be supervising a group of students on the technical side of their project. Since I’m me, the plan is to do a web project. I thought about this for about 8 seconds before I realized what I must do… there’s an obvious set of web projects that I understand, students understand, and need to me done.

We have some very old and clunky web tools around the School that work, but aren’t pretty and don’t have much hope of improving in the future. Students will know our gradebook and assignment submission tools, but there are a bunch more that aren’t student-facing.

My plan: replace as much as possible with modern, integrated, functional tools. The plan goes (or at least start) like this:

  • Global: Unified CAS authentication. A useful “dashboard” for everybody displaying recent activity relevant to them (upcoming due dates, recently posted grades, recent assignment submissions, etc). Instructors should be able to copy an old offering to a new one (copying grading info, due dates, etc).
  • Gradebook: the basics as currently implemented, with calculated columns, released/unreleased columns, AJAX-y sorting and display of class lists, email notification of new grades (?).
  • Submission: Per-assignment configuration (e.g. assignment 1 requires submission of a text file for part 1, and a .java file for part 2; both are submitted as distinct files).
  • Marking: Instructor sets up a marking key for TAs; TAs give grades and comments; info returned to students and grades automatically put into gradebook.

Additional functionality suggestions welcome. I have some cool “maybe” features to throw in if things go well.

I’m going to be treating whatever group I have as a development team, not a class. So, I’ll be whipping them much more to get good-quality code, not a class project.

There’s certainly a possibility of catastrophic failure, but I’d say a reasonable chance of success. We’ll see what happens.