Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reciprocal Information System

When I was much younger, I was told (and believed) that cheaters never prosper, that cheaters are always caught in the act, and that the disgrace is life-changing. That was then; this is now. Cheating is rampant, its own reciprocal information system, especially with the inclusion of electronic devices in the classroom. The only person who is hurt by cheating these days is the ethical student who refuses to cheat.

It’s quite easy to cheat because the schools have made it easy to cheat:

• At the university level, there are “clickers” for students to check-in for attendance purposes. One person can activate several clickers and no one is the wiser; thus, even students who are not in attendance are in the official records as present. This practice only stops by having specific in-class assignments that are based on attendance and not available as make-up work with just enough points to affect an end-grade. Those who are signed in but don’t take the quiz and/or participate in the activity can be assumed to be not present and dealt with during office hours.

• Students are encouraged to have tablets and/or cell phone access to websites that the instructor uses so the student can be in the moment with the classroom instruction. That same access, however, is also available during exams, which makes it much easier to score higher grades without studying. Thus, the students who are taking the quizzes photograph them with their cell phones and send the quizzes out to all their friends who have a later section—either that same day or a semester later—of the same class. A professor should be smart enough to see both attendance and points trending higher toward the end of the day – but few of them care enough to make it more difficult for students to endgame the system by having multiple versions of the quiz or activity.

• Textbooks are readily available on line, which is a cost-saving advantage for today’s students; however, the textbooks come with the test bank, so students can pass any class simply by using the test bank to take tests. Far too many professors rely on the same materials class after class/semester after semester. Thus, students with limited English skills, students who regularly don’t attend class, and students who are woefully unprepared for college-level assignments pass college-level tests with college-level vocabulary and syntax that they probably cannot read and comprehend.

• Papers and projects from last semester’s class are reworked for this semester’s class when it’s taught by the same professor who gives the same assignment. It’s much easier to earn an A by rewriting someone else’s A paper than it is to start from scratch, especially if your English language skills are barely into the “low literate” level. Amazingly enough, this tact is free if you share the same background; i.e., Chinese students give other Chinese students whatever it takes to pass a class with an A grade.

Professors are proud of the achievements of the students – based on grades on the tests and papers – and seemingly don’t understand that a student may be cheating to earn the grade because it has become so easy to cheat. It’s much easier to justify cheating to earn high grades than it is to risk failing by not cheating, especially for international students with limited English language skills. The pressure to earn high grades is never-ending for international students whose culture values high achievement.

We assume that students will not cheat because they may be caught and punished, but that is simply naive. Not cheating when everyone else is cheating is simply a poor business decision.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

And then there's a deluge

I'm not sure what the controversy is with the recently-released film Noah, unless it's controversial that it's not all that great a film. It's a story loosely based on the Bible and it features big name actors, but other than that, it's about a grade C film. I actually laughed when "The Watchers" reared up out of the rock masses because we had just seen a coming attraction about Transformers, which is what the Watchers did from the rock masses: they transformed into creatures with faces, arms, legs, and torsos.

Anyone who attends a screening of this film while expecting it to be the Biblical story is going to be disappointed; anyone who attends a screening of this film and expects an action/adventure treatment is going to be disappointed; anyone who attends a screening of this film and expects an epic of Biblical proportions is going to be disappointed.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Usage Note

Four common usage errors are cropping up in what I read, perhaps because writers think the usage lends gravitas to their writing and allows them to feel that they are better writers than their skill level indicates.

The first is plethora; the dictionary says plethora is superabundance or excess. As a noun, it can be used with a "a ... of" phrase, as in a plethora of ideas about recycling.

The second is myriad; the dictionary says myriad is an adjective that indicates an indefinite number. Since myriad is an adjective, it is correct to say myriad butterflies filled the sky with beautiful colors, with myriad (an indefinite number) modifying butterflies, the noun. It would be incorrect to say a a myriad of butterflies, because myriad is a noun in that sentence construction, and myriad is an adjective that modifies a noun.

My pet peeve is the use of off of, such as take your jacket off of the kitchen table. We either take things off or we put things on, but we don't take things off of nor put them on of. Off is an adverb and has a long list of correct usage in a standard dictionary, but the dictionary specifically warns that ... particularly in written usage, off should not be followed by of or from. Of is a preposition and is often used in constructing prepositional phrases, such as "of the people, by the people, for the people."

And, finally, there is a word that takes the place of writing that someone is in "a state of anxiousness": anxiety. There is no need for the phrase when one word suffices.

What difference does usage make? It's the difference between being a good writer and just slapping some words/phrases onto a page and calling yourself a good writer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fender Bender

The small Mexican man who lives down the block drives a huge pick-up truck, behind which he has a very large metal mesh trailer that he uses in his landscaping business. To park his rig, he pulls up across the street, then backs the trailer/truck into his long driveway. In the process, he blocks the street in both directions and concentrates solely on getting through his driveway gates and all the way to the backside of his property.

He pays scant attention to the traffic on the street, perhaps because he believes that other drivers will see what he’s doing and allow him to pull forward, back up, pull forward again, and then back up again. And that’s a good assumption on his part, but faulty logic while operating a motor vehicle.

Y went to his volunteer job at the mini-mall down the street and was returning home when the gardener arrived at his house. Y saw that the rig was stopped in front of the man’s home, so Y continued up the street. Unfortunately, that was when the man decided to pull forward again, at an up-the-street angle, prior to resuming backing into his driveway. He hit Y’s car door and shoved Y’s car to the side of the road. Y called me, clearly upset, and I went to the scene.

Yes, Y had the right-of-way technically, but when there’s a potential traffic hazard blocking the road, each driver has to be aware and take defensive steps to stay safe. Y didn’t do that: he just swung his car a bit to the right and decided to go around the truck, unaware that the man would be pulling forward again as he straightened out his rig for backing. The small Mexican man pulled forward without checking the road conditions because he assumed that other drivers would stop and wait for him. He also admitted that he was using his mirrors to assist him in backing, not for checking the road he was blocking. Assuming anything is bad driving, but both drivers made assumptions about the other, which resulted in a collision.

Y’s car was slightly damaged, but it’ll have to be professionally fixed as it’s a gouge, not a dent that can be straightened. The small Mexican man’s big pick-up had no damage, which seems to be the way these things go. I played the role of referee and told each man he was incorrect in his assumption – and it’s both their faults, so move on. Y is going to take his car to a guy he knows up the hill for damage estimates and we’ll pay to have it fixed. Not the way we intended to spend an income tax refund, but there’s no use in spending any time at all in whose fault it was and who has to pay whom.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Same Old/Same Old

As my movie buddy and I left the theater after viewing Son of God, the three ladies ahead of us were sharing their experience with the film. One of them was really disgusted by the fact that there was "nothing new" in the story! Movie Buddy and I guffawed, both leaping to the conclusion that yep, the story is 2000 years old and there's really nothing new in the telling or retelling of the plot: Jesus is born, he lives, he spends 40 days in the wilderness, he's crucificed, he arises on the third day.

My son, when I shared the story of the disappointed movie viewer with him, provided another perspective: the same film was part of a TV series that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey made about The Bible. It appears (I have no personal knowledge) that Burnett and Downey clipped out the relevant parts from The Bible mini-series and turned it into a feature-length film titled Son of God.

With that said, the "nothing new" comment makes a whole lot more sense than expecting a new twist on the same old/same old Jesus story!