Four Bits of Wood, but What a Difference
Apr. 4th 2003
With the registrar's help, we just managed to get the computers sorted in time for the exams, although I did need to eat in the lab (less of a sin to Ethiopians than not eating at all).

The exams were interesting. They weren't without problems but I think they went smoothly. I examined six students at a time in the computer lab for twenty minutes. Their exams (there were ten different ones to stop them discussing them) were just on using MS-Word. To be honest, the exam was more about getting the students to do something different, and to show my 'harder' side. This has certainly been shown.

One student turned up late to the first set of exams. I did not let him enter. I had been very careful to ask them to turn up ten minutes early. He was five minutes late for the exam, so a total of quarter of an hour late. I think he was quite surprised when I said, no he couldn't come in. I did let him resit but only because later exams had overrun when I marked them. Other students could have potentially turned up late and I would not have known. Suffice to say, no more turned up late.

A recurrent problem was failing to stop though. At the twenty minutes I would ask them to stop. I would even tap them on the shoulder. But, as I was going to tap the shoulder of another student, they would start to use the mouse or the keyboard again. Maybe it is because they are so used to 'needing' the marks that they are willing to risk all the marks. I would have liked to have failed all of those that continued but I believed (correctly as it turned out) that there would be so many doing this that it would not be practical. Instead, I disallowed them any marks for what they appeared to be doing. Sometimes, this meant that they dropped from being able to get a maximum of 25 to a maximum of 19.

During the exam I was keeping an eye on students that seemed to panic or just clicked buttons at random. Some of them accidently closed things before I could award marks. For these students I allowed a resit. Many students wanted a resit though. Two in particular I feel sorry for, but I decided not to make an allowance. One student assumed that to show me something he should wait until the end of the exam. He was the only student to assume the wrong thing, and he had already had a chance to practice so it is his fault. Another did score low marks on the exam. He is one of the best students at MIT but I didn't notice his exam going that badly. In fact, he just did the wrong question. One of the questions involves a lot of typing. This was deliberate. I knew that most students cannot type quickly. I stressed to all of them that they should abandon questions that take too long and concentrate on those that are worth more marks and can be done more quickly. This is to introduce a different idea to them - normally the exams are multiple choice and they do not have to have a strategy. I spent an hour in each lecture explaining strategies and that they can choose which questions to do. Not all of them took this information on board. Of all the students who have asked for a resit, it is this one that I feel most sorry for. He had tears welling in his eyes when he was asking me. I think I might be known as bastard Martin on the campus now. But, I am not here to win friends, and I have a feeling that this failure is going to be one of the most positive things in Embezza's life. Of course, it will take him time to gain that perspective.

One of the female students claimed, with the help of a male friend that she should be allowed to resit because she was a girl. I quickly threw this one out. I do try to ensure that the girls are taught and involved. However, the exam treated men and women equally. I didn't allow the resit.

I had given each student a trial exam before the real one. The exams were almost identical. Nearly all of the questions were identical, the exams differed in the text that they had to copy or format. The exams were fair, but somehow I think that there is going to be a bit of a stink on Monday. However, Ethiopians perform grading after marking. They assign letters (A, B, C, D, and F). The lecturer is entitled to assign these as he sees fit. The students are worried becuase their marks seem low compared to other courses. There will still be the same number of A's, B's and C's though. This means that there exams will probably not seem so low.

Friday was largely a waste for me. I spent the whole day doing little jobs that just kept appearing and keeping me from what I should have been doing. I hope that I can get the computers set up in the next week, but I also have to prepare next semester's courses. There seems to be a lot of things to take time away from me.

About the only useful thing on Friday was that I managed to get four pieces of wood to suspend my mosquito net. Although I did not have time to make anything on Friday. Instead I headed into town to meet the other VSOs. I was happy to hear of similar exam stories at the university.