Day 23: Self-cleaning tracks

14 10 2009

Today we started class with an event I call “show me your apps”. I demonstrated one silly game I had downloaded, then invited students to show off their favorites,  using the document camera to demonstrate for the class. One student demo’ed a shooting game called “Space Beef,” and a second showed us an app that does nothing but make gun sounds(?). A third demonstrated an app that swaps people’s faces in pictures, and he shared us a really creepy shot of the guy and girl he sits next to, each wearing the other one’s body and hair. The fourth actually sang for us, using an auto-tuner app (that would be T Pain if you’re young, Cher if you’re older) to tweak his voice and provide a background beat. While sorely tempted to grab the iPhone and join in, I restrained myself.

Today marked the official halfway point of the semester, and I conducted a small experiment. I checked attendance (manually, as part of my ongoing efforts to create a smooth automated system), then I announced that students could leave class without penalty. I also announced that those who stayed would be expected to sit at the front and participate, after which I left the room for two minutes. I returned to find the room…..

…about 80% full. As I suspected, the serious students stuck around, so we had a very pleasant, engaging class discussion about today’s topic.

As a long-term goal I have determined that I must move to an attendance system that is ‘self-cleaning’. This term comes from NASCAR, and describes a few of the faster, more steeply banked tracks, at which any crash debris is automatically pulled by gravity down onto the infield. In my mind, the simplest attendance system is one which requires no intervention from me; ideally, missing a day of class would reduce a student’s grade by a set percentage because he couldn’t answer the relevant test items. Alas, a perfect correlation between in-class experience and test performance is not practical to achieve…

So as a next-best alternative I would like to have a small, automatically graded activity sometime during each class. These activities would be part of the normal class scoring, so if you are absent you simply don’t get those points. The devil is always in the details, of course, but that’s the general idea: the penalty for missing class is poor performance on the exam, coupled with foregoing the chance to earn points during the session.

Of course at those self-cleaning tracks they do tend to have lots of crashes; I wonder if my freshman crash rate will rise when attendance is not directly counted?




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