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If you’ve ever been in a class with a curve you’ve probably thought to yourself, “How can I find a way to take advantage of this?” That’s probably because if you’ve ever been in a class at all you’ve wondered to yourself, “How can I do the bare minimum to succeed?” No? Just me? STOP LYING.
Truly though, it’s impossible to go into a class with a grading curve and not at least once fantasize about taking advantage of the seemingly easy-to-take-advantage-of system. But, obviously, that’s always easier said than done, much easier. Even if you were in a class with no one but your fraternity brothers someone would find a way to accidentally ruin the ruse, probably a pledge, and even if it weren’t a pledge’s fault, obviously the pledge would be blamed. It’s the circle of life, or something.
Although most students never realize their dream of gaming their curve, students at Johns Hopkins University did. They took advantage of that curve like it was a freshman whom you have convinced you’re the football team’s place kicker, “Oh really, I’m not? Then why’s my right calf so huge? That’s what I thought. Now let’s take shots in my room.”
Since he started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 2005, Professor Peter Frölich has maintained a grading curve in which each class’s highest grade on the final counts as an A, with all other scores adjusted accordingly. So if a midterm is worth 40 points, and the highest actual score is 36 points, “that person gets 100 percent and everybody else gets a percentage relative to it,” said Frölich.
This approach, Frölich said, is the “most predictable and consistent way” of comparing students’ work to their peers’, and it worked well.
At least it did until the end of the fall term at Hopkins, that is.
As the semester ended in December, students in Frölich’s “Intermediate Programming”, “Computer Science Fundamentals,” and “Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers” classes decided to test the limits of the policy, and collectively planned to boycott the final. Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Frölich’s curve, meant every student received an A.
I salute these students, because that takes balls. The problem with trying to game a curve is that even if you succeed, the professor might still say, “Well that was cute, but fuck you, you’re taking the final the right way or you all get Fs.” I can’t imagine any of my classes that had a curve (which weren’t many) turning out any other way under the same circumstances. But that’s the thing about colleges that pride themselves on having incredibly intelligent students — they tend to reward intelligence, even if it’s unorthodox.
“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Frölich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up…. Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though.
This is a great paragraph, because it make the whole thing sound like an “exam strike.” There was even a picket line to keep out any potential scab nerds who wanted to take the exam “honestly.” Imagining Johns Hopkins computer programming students standing united in a line like 20th century factory workers, intimidating one honest nerd into joining them even though he doesn’t want to makes me smile.
Frölich took a surprisingly philosophical view of his students’ machinations, crediting their collaborative spirit.
What a load of bullshit. Whenever a few fraternity brothers and I got caught cheating no one credited our “collaborative spirit.” Apparently the school didn’t understand the amount of teamwork it took to break into that building at night, use a plunger to incapacitate the janitor who happened to be there because our pledge scout, Queef (I forget his real name), didn’t write down the janitor’s shift time right (balled), and steal those test samples. We would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling security systems and police officers…plus we were drunk. Honestly there was a lot more “collaborative spirit” than “collaborative effort.” On the bright side, since we made Queef incapacitate the janitor he was the only one who picked up assault charges.
“The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done,” he said via e-mail. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn’t expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.”
Although Frölich conceded that he did not include such a “loophole” in the policy “with the goal of students exploiting it,” he decided to honor it after the boycott.
Well, isn’t that nice. A couple kids worked together to cheat and we call it ‘teamwork.’ Meanwhile back when I was in school, jockeying to sit next to the Asians so I could copy their test was actual cheating…and racist. What’s that? It’s still racist? Fair enough.
Congratulations, Johns Hopkins students, you’re so smart that even when you cheat people call you smart. HORSE SHIT.
[via Inside Higher Ed]