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]