On the 2007 Final Exams

The other day I gave one of my sections their final exam. The thing is mostly multiple choice but I do give them couple of optional open ended questions at the end of the test so that they can make up for the points they might have lost when they confused XML with SQL or when they told me that Excel is a database, and WWW==Internet. I put different sorts of questions there each semester but most of them are relatively common sense things that most people should get if they actually went to class, and at least skimmed through the lecture slides.

For example, I had a whole lecture on operating systems, where I explained what an OS is, what does it do, and compared and contrasted several modern operating systems. So I had few slides on windows, few slides on Mac OS and few slides on Linux and Unix. That included a slide on Gnu and GPL. Then I reiterated GPL when we talked about software licensing. So I figured I can ask them what operating system is distributed for free under GPL.

Most people left this question blank. Quite a few correctly answered that it was Linux. Then there was someone who put “the internet” in the answer box. WTF?

This pretty much tells me that this person not only doesn’t have the faintest clue what an operating system or GPL license is, but also does not really know how the internet works. And we have actually spent like 3 lectures on internet, networking, online security and web related topics alone. Furthermore, questions related to these topics were a large part of this exam.

And I really don’t think this was a simple case of mis-understanding the question. I mean, how many ways you can interpret:

What operating system is distributed for free under GPL (General Public License)?

Besides, someone asked me to clarify this question during the exam, and I specifically said that the answer is one of the 4 different operating systems we talked about in class like Windows, Mac OS, Unix and so on. I specifically didn’t say Linux so that I wouldn’t give it away but that should have clued them in that the answer is probably not “the internet”.

Of course another person answered the same question with “freeware”. Apparently I have failed to impart any sort of usable knowledge on these two people this semester. Sigh…

Another optional question I gave them was a bit dirty:

1+1=10. Explain why this is true.

The answer is one word: binary. We spent tons of time learning how to convert numbers into binary, I showed them a flash game that they could use to practice, and we went over binary once again when talking about IP addresses. Why do octets in the IP can only go up to 255? Because they are 8 bit long and 11111111b == 255.

I also told them the “there are only 10 kinds of people in the world” joke. They did not appreciate it, just like they didn’t think that recursive acronyms are cool :( but it should have been a hint. Some people got it, some left it blank, and one person got all philosophical on my ass:

This is true, because while the obvious answer is 2, there can be many interpretations and answers possible to the equation.

And I’m paraphrasing here, because the actual answer was a contorted, fragmentary sentence but I’m guessing that this was the gist of it. While obviously not the answer I was looking for, this is actually correct in a way. The correctness of that formula actually depends on the way we define the terms and operators which are it’s components. Usually when we write 1+1 we mean base 10 integers in Arabic numeral notation. I thought I was being clever when I silently switched the base, but by changing the rules according to which the equation was evaluated I really removed the whole framework that grounded this equation. I assumed that students will recognize 10 as binary 2 and guess that I switched the base.

Then again, if this was a C++ class, the students could say that I overloaded the operator “+” in such a way that a+b becomes a*(10*b) or something like that. And that would be an absolutely valid answer.

I could also assume that 1 is not a numeric value but a logical symbol and that in this fictional symbolic system 1+1 can be contracted as 10 in the same way as in English “is not” can be contracted to “isn’t”. Hell, when you assume that the symbols involved are not necessarily Arabic numerals there is an infinite number of possible reasons why this equation might be true.

So… Partial credit? I mean, I’m pretty sure the student was just trying to apply weapons grade bullshit to a question he/she had no clue about. But it made me think…

Anyway, this question will not appear on the other test.

[tags]school, exams, teaching, computer science, binary, operating system[/tags]

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8 Responses to On the 2007 Final Exams

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I would totally have gotten both of those right, and not from learning them in school.

    I guess it kinda points to them not being that techy outside of class if they get those wrong…

    And the internet as an OS.. insta-fail?

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  2. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    That’s pretty funny Luke. I really don’t envy ya having to teach a class like that. I presume it is some kinda “bonehead” Intro to computers class. I had to teach a class much like that back in the MS-DOS days, I tried to sneak in a few advanced Ideas, stuff like Turing machines and a discussion of the problem of trying to detect infinite loops in programs (I didn’t test them on any of that as it was not really “part of the class” … but It is important I think for people to realize exactly what the fuck a computer is.)

    I think that was the problem the student had who answered that an OS distributed for free under GPL was the Internet. Many lusers think that a computer is a device whose sole purpose is to surf the Internet chat and check your e-mail (some might also add Ms-Office to that list or other software, playing MP3’s et al).

    As an example of that one of my online friends on tagworld posted a blog saying she bought a new computer because hers broke… reading the blog I found out broke meant it was missing a driver. lol. But anyway after she bought a new laptop she took the “broken” one in to see if it could be it fixed and here’s what she had to say about what the pc tech told her:

    Boffin jargon is so condescending. How does it get that way? Why couldn’t someone just say “penneylane you silly duffer, you should back up every day or you’ll be stuffed!” Now, that I can understand. I have a theory about this jargonese thing that happens among computer boffins.

    I think pack-runners like your not so average boffin need to feel needed. It gives their lives meaning and substance. I mean why else would you knowingly condescend to communicate in a medium that is designed to connect people and enable efficient communication by purposely (and knowingly) speak in a language that excludes the very people you ‘re meant to be helping! And we thought it was a conspiracy by the machines!

    Now me illiterate idiot that I am always thought that a Boffin was a hobbit. lmao. I didn’t realize it was Australian slang for somebody with some fucking sense. I still don’t know what the fuck she means by pack-runner.

    Needless to say i felt somewhat offended by her blog esp comments like “boffin need to feel needed. It gives their lives meaning and substance”. Peenylane is a sweet girl and all but certainly a bit simple minded ;) Still that comment bothers me because i get asked to fix alot of PCs and I’m actually getting sick of it. I certainly do NOT do it for attention. I’m also starting to say NO alot or mention money!

    Anyway it is clear that to her a computer is a device “that is designed to connect people and enable efficient communication” fucking news to me I always thought a computer was like a computing device. I actually have a 486 here which has never been hooked to the Internet! I used it to write code and stuff like that. Mostly code playing around with math too.

    I love telling people that 1+1=1 where + is OR and of course 1 means True. Logic being much more fundamental than mere arithmetic. Electrical engineers do sometimes use that notation + for Or and a dot for And and Xor is a plus with a circle around it. And of course 1+1 = 0 =10 (modulo 2). the philosophical answer given above is certainly true but i believe i would only count it as true if the student worded it well and knew enough math to give at least one example of “alternate interpretations” where 1+1=10.

    But in the context of your class 1+1 = 10 obviously refers to binary arithmetic. that would be my first thought seeing that expression.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Heh… I find it ironic how she chooses to use Australian expressions like “boffin” and “pack-runner” which are virtually unheard off in other parts of the world and will probably confuse most of internet users accustomed to the ubiquitous use of common American English while ranting that technical people actually *dare* to use technical terms that might be misunderstood by the general public.

    The main difference here is that she could replace “boffin” with a more generally accepted synonym and still get her point across. How do I say “have you defragmented your hard drive lately?” without using jargon words such as hard drive and defragment?

    The point here is that we do not often realize which words are jargon and which are not, just like she might forget that most people will not know about boffins.

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  4. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    Yeah it is kinda ironic isn’t it Luke.

    Some people do throw around alot of Jargon to impress people or whatever. But I’ve NEVER saw a pc tech do it. Sure they might use words like defrag, dll driver or whatever but these are words a windows or computer user needs to know. They might not need to know for example how to make there own dlls or even what DLL stands for (Dynamic link library) but they should know that windows uses some files that end in .dll and these files are necessary for Windows or other software to work. Do NOT go around deleting them and shit and if one by chance disappears it is no big deal to fix it. the machine is not broke it just has a missing file.

    IMHO, the kinda stuff you are covering your class plus probably a bit more is as necessary to using a PC and understanding computer technology as knowing the driving laws are to operating a automobile, or knowing the basics of auto maintenance (put gas in it and change the oil and shit lol) If you don’t know that much your car will fuck up and the police will mess with ya.

    Computers are very similar if ya don’t know the basics your computer will crash and burn eventually.

    I don’t understand ppl like that because I am a very curious person. I want to at least have some idea how things work how and why things are the way they are in the world and so on. People that don’t care about things like this and don’t have what i call basic cultural literacy actually sorta scare me because they FUCKING can vote.

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  5. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    ‘pack-runner’ is someone who goes along with the crowd, someone who doesn’t stand out – they run with the pack rather than out by themselves. ‘boffin’ is understood in more places than just Australia, check your wiki link :)

    but “I think pack-runners like your not so average boffin need to feel needed” doesn’t really make sense. She’s mixing ‘pack-runner’ (‘run of the mill’) with ‘not so average’ (‘not run of the mill’) and it doesn’t quite gel right.

    In any case, I can guarantee you that had she been told to back up every day, she wouldn’t have until she lost her first important data. Interesting also that she doesn’t consider ‘back up’ to be jargon. Outside of the computer world, ‘back up’ means ‘support’, not really analagous to the more exact ‘replication for recovery of identical data/service purposes’ as it means in IT.

    Also: perhaps point out to penneylane just how much every geek worth his salt is sick of fixing family-n-friends’ computers, and hence actually doesn’t want to feel needed in that way.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Actually this kinda makes sense now. They keep asking us to fix their machines because they apparently think we like it. They think that we love removing spyware from their machines, and that giving us more work makes us feel needed. LOL

    All of a sudden it all makes sense now!

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  7. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m trying to think of a jargonised form of “penneylane you silly duffer, you should back up every day or you’ll be stuffed!”

    There’s really nothing technical there apart from backups, which she already seems to understand.

    I wouldn’t use her specific slang, but “You need to take regular backups as a defence against [insert threats to data here]” would cover it. Maybe the person she spoke to went into too much techy detail on the threats when she really just wanted to be told what to do, not why to do it.

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  8. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    Matt`Penny’s computer was missing a driver of some sort and it was important enough to the OS that it either would not boot up or if it did boot didn’t work right. In her blog post she was kinda vague on it all. But i suspect the PC tech ask her if she had a copy of the driver or had backed up stuff like that. He probably even used the name of the file in the question or something like that. Some people back up there own files but ignore system files and misplace 3rd party installation disks. So anyway the pc tech probably had to go online and try to find the damn driver and if it was some off the wall 3rd party thing might have had problems finding it, tho I’ve never had a problem finding drivers. But then again I don’t repair PCs day in and day out.

    So who knows what the tech told her but I do know penny didn’t understand it and in the end she simplified whatever he said to the back up your damn shit statement. Good advice tho I’m terrible at backing shit up other maybe stuff i write or code i might play with. Anything else i figure i can deal with if the shit hits the fan.

    And btw I pennys not exactly dumb just doesn’t understand computer stuff much. And in my experience that also means doesn’t understand math or probably much science. Some people just don’t get math period. To me math is the issue because if ya are good in math computer stuff is a breeze. (math here means honest to goddess real math not stupid shit ya learned in public school, lol)

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