The Upside of a Week’s Worth of Dinner

I’m usually quite busy. Not to the point where I can’t catch a breath, but I enjoy having things to do outside classes as well – I workout, I hang out with friends, I go on dates, I travel, I hike, I enjoy being active. It really helps because when you sit at the computer all day and then teach about computers the rest of the day, you’re really itching to just get up and get moving. I often say to my students that if they end up working with computers, they need to find themselves a hobby that’s as far away from technology as possible.

Not that I’ve always been like this. Ten years ago I was much more passive. I used to play basketball in high school, but, then at university I ditched it and played a lot of video games, or just watched a lot of movies. I know how my students feel, especially because university can be very stressful and sometimes you just don’t wanna do anything but chill. But, you gotta fight fire with fire, stay active, it’ll make you feel better.

My custom is to do more of what gets me excited. I like to do all my chores on separate days so I don’t forget anything, and then I don’t have to think about them until I have to do it again. My biggest challenge is food. I love food and I like cooking, but unless I’m really in the mood for a ceremoniously prepared meal, I like to cook beforehand, for the whole week.

I usually do this on Saturdays, because Sundays I like to cycle and see some friends. It took a while before I could catch the rhythm, but it really helped me, and it freed up a lot of time. I set a few hours every Saturday for cooking and pre-preparing everything, so that I have whatever I need on hand and neatly organized in my fridge and freezer.

I bought some new appliances via for this, like a hand mixer, a mandoline slicer, and a food vacuum sealer for storage, and it has honestly made my life so much easier! I can chop up and slice the veggies, store them or make a soup and freeze it, or make some veggie burger patties and freeze them (they can be cooked while frozen, actually), and fill up my fridge with delicious food. And the process is very meditative as well, try it and you’ll see!

What Good is a Watch that’s Only Right Twice a Day?

I want reliability and looks in a watch, and I thought I had this covered with what I have been wearing. However, one day when rushing to a lecture, I found that my watch was broken and it had thus made me late. I was rather mortified. I don’t like to exhibit bad habits to students and was perhaps overly apologetic to the class upon my tardy arrival. It’s not that this particular watch kept good time as a rule. I soon realized after purchasing it that it might be off now and then by one or two minutes. This time it was more than ten. I am determined to buy a better watch and set a good example. It is going to be a Casio watch. This is a well-known brand with a good reputation and you can choose from innumerable styles. You can get discounts on line or look for store sales in your area. This is what I did.

While you can go sporty, elegant with gold-tone, or classically simple in silver metal, the latter was the right one for me. It is by name the calendar date chronograph watch with round black dial and silvertone link band. You could say that this beauty is fully equipped to keep you on track and on time virtually all day long—something I could not say about my old one. Oddly enough, I paid more for the last watch and it really let me down. This one is a budget watch but is nevertheless reliable and gets rave reviews for looks and functionality. It has a round triple display black dial with calendar date display, three-hand movement and contrast markets. I like the black resin band, the 12/24 format and the fact that it is waterr4esistant to 100 meters. It’s not that I am going to wear it swimming or diving, but I want it to survive doing the dishes or washing the car. I almost got a different watch with an exchangeable leather band, but I find the bracelet style more modern.

Now I feel I can count on my timepiece to get me to class. In point of fact, I am often early. This has had its benefits as I like to converse with students who are equally early and it helps to build rapport. I related my story of the watch and everyone wanted to see it. I got new-found admiration and many accolades for my good taste. I decided to conduct a lesson about the history of watches and how they work. I brought my old watch and opened it in the back so everyone could see the mechanism. I took out the tiny pieces which fascinated even the most bored child in the bunch. I dared anyone to put it back together and, of course, it couldn’t be done. I talked about watch repairing tools and also brought in for display an example of a kit I had been given some time ago. I spread them out on the table. I had a rapt audience.

Getting Cold Feet

The expression getting cold feet implies fear of going through with something you have committed to such as an engagement or a wedding. It is a negative saying by association. No one likes to have cold feet and when you do, you seek refuge. Hence it is a phrase that is descriptive and apt. While I have never had the metaphoric kind of cold feet, I certainly have experienced them literally. It often happens in my bathroom, the one with the icy cold tile floor and no central heating. Taking a shower or even a bath on a cold winter morning is not a pleasant experience. I just strew towels down on the floor, but it makes for a lot of laundry after a few days. The towels keep piling up. The old bathroom used to have an old-fashioned radiator: the room is that old, but it no longer functions. I am always surprised when they do. They have been around for hundreds of years. I can’t put in central heating as the house doesn’t have the ductwork so I am going to have to come up with another solution.

A small portable space heater like one of these will do the job. Just keep it away from water. Find a nice spot for it under the sink or behind the toilet and aim it toward the center of the room. If you turn it on a half hour before your shower, you will avoid those cold feet I have been talking about. The heaters, while not made specifically for bathrooms, have safety shut off features so you don’t accidentally keep it running and inadvertently cause a fire. You must always read the instructions for electrical equipment and heed the hazard warnings. Some heaters will fit on a counter top in the bathroom if it is large enough but I prefer to put it on the floor as long as no one trips over the cord. On the counter, it could get knocked over and there are consequences. In spite of the metal covers, you could get burned.

I have been so happy with the floor heater that I have stopped putting on my socks in the bathroom. There isn’t a convenient place to sit down. I am also so happy with the amount of heat it generates for its small size that I might get one for the bedroom to be used during the winter months. In the kitchen, I can just turn on the stove and the room becomes toasty, but the bedroom is almost as bad as the bathroom although it has a carpet on the floor. Just placing a space heater a foot or two from the bed will be an encouragement to get up on a frosty morning. You can get large size space heaters for the living room but they take up a lot of room and are unsightly. If you get a medium size, it is quite portable and you can move it around as you like.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

I love aphorisms, even the trite ones like “good fences make good neighbors.” There is a kernel of truth in them all. I make lists of the ones I find on line. It is a little idiosyncrasy I have. Who knows when you will use them, maybe in a blog! I certainly have good neighbors so the fence must be intact. The fence keeps us apart and respects our privacy. I actually live in an apartment building so there are many residents on all sides and sooner or later you come to know each and every one.

We often meet on the patio where there is a communal grill and we discuss how much fun it would be to have a pool like most apartments. But alas, we do not. A hot tub would be a close second and there is just enough space to accommodate a medium-sized one. We decided to take up a collection and pool our money and see what we could afford to buy. An acrylic or modular unit would be prohibitive but we have found that you can get an inflatable version for a fair price and it even comes with a heating unit that will not damage the material. It is a grown up version of a kiddie pool. For a little more money you can get spray jet attachments you can rig up to a hose, but we can only afford to be modest at the moment.

We found a nice inflatable hot tub at a local vendor. It was on special and so we had more than enough money donated by interested residents to cover the cost and include some detachable trays for drinks. It fit in a van and all we needed was an air compressor. We inaugurated the hot tub one summer night. As many of us as could fit piled in for a warm soak. We had chilled bottles of wine and snacks at the ready and it was a great social gathering. You can have your grilled dinner before or after. Our only concern is protecting the hot tub from vandals who might want to poke a hole or two inside.

We keep it filled with water and have a plastic tarp covering to keep it clean. This is so no one has the job of maintenance. Eventually we may have to take turns. There is one neighbor who complains, stating “it’s not my job.” There is always one bad apple in every group. We definitely need to erect a fence between his apartment unit and the hot tub. Fortunately, everyone else is a good sport. You do get branches and leaves on the hot tub cover and such garden debris can be annoying. So it was a successful communal venture and we are making new friends—maybe minus that one crabby guy. When the building owner sees how great the hot tub is, maybe he will see fit to install a more expensive permanent one.

Packing for a Trip

I finally get to tear myself away from my computer and go on a trip. It is long overdue. I have been working hard on a particular project and for several long months, it has been part of my every waking minute. Taking time off is necessary upon occasion even if it is for a very short time. It clears the mind of debris and gets it ready to begin a new round of creativity. Isn’t that what work is all about? You want to be fresh and innovative with your ideas so you need to clear out the cobwebs now and then.

So I was heading out on a short road trip and made a list of what to pack. I have duffel bags, backpacks, a cooler, and assorted odds and ends like a Swiss army knife from which to choose. It is all a matter of how much space I have in the car. I am not too worried about the knife of course. It is about as compact as you can get. What I am not sure about is a portable air compressor. It is part of an emergency roadside kit in case of flat tires. I had one once when I had failed to provide such a kit and found myself waiting for hours for help to arrive. This time I will not be caught by surprise. You think it won’t happen to you, but don’t kid yourself. Fortunately, I had a replacement tire or I would have had to have been towed. When you are in rural areas, they don’t just come by. The first thing I am going to make room for in my car is this emergency kit and the essential air compressor. I have had it for years for my bicycle but now it has taken up permanent residence in the car. I have little need now for my bike. I was also most going to give it away or donate it to a garage sale for a charity, but I am glad that I thought better at the time. I tested it and it works perfectly so it is the charity’s loss. I will keep it in my possession. I know how to change a tire when on the road, but if the compressor works and you can inflate the tire to get to the nearest gas station, you are better off.

If someone is trying to think of a gift for you, the person who has everything, drop a hit about an air compressor. You will find it as handy and useful as I have. If you have teenage kids, they might like one for their cars if they are ever alone on the open road. Anyone can get a flat tire and feel helpless. Take precautions with everyone in the family and provide a well-supplied emergency kit. Explain how to use it. Remind them that in certain areas, cell phones don’t work.

Furry Companion for the Weekend

It is not uncommon for me to do a favor for a friend. In fact, I relish doing something nice for someone else once in a mind. Most of mine have agreed to help me out when needed. It might be a ride to the airport, running an errand when I am sick, or taking my car in for repairs. I am glad to reciprocate and you never know what it might entail. It might just have to do with borrowing something like a pressure washer or cordless drill. It usually is something ordinary and simple. Sometimes it can take an odd turn such as pet sitting for a weekend. It is not my greatest joy to have a furry companion for a short period of time as I am concerned about “accidents” but I agree with a smile on my face and an attitude of acceptance.

The mutt in question is a medium sized dog and over all I would say well behaved. My friend is going on a short vacation and is loath to stow the dog at a kennel. He gets very upset around strange animals and it would be cruel indeed to find him other lodging than my apartment. He cares about the emotional well-being of his precious pet. I just hope, however, he doesn’t like to chew on shoes or scratch the furniture. I am told he does not. My friend said I hardly would ask this favor if I thought it would be a problem. I think you will find the dog a pleasure and easy to handle. Don ‘t worry about behavior, he adds. He is super well trained. He already knows you and it will be an easy juxtaposition. I am thanking you in advance for being a loyal friend.

I get the house ready for the pet’s visit by putting away shoes or items that might look tempting. I am told that the pet likes to sleep on his master’s bed, so I take precautions in this regard. I read reviews online and found the best mattress protector, which I have wanted to get for a while anyway as they keep out dust and bugs. If there should be a midnight “accident” I will only have to wash my sheets and the mattress will not even have to air out. A good cover is water tight. Parents use them for their young children before they are potty trained. I don’t mention this to my friend lest he get offended at my assumption about his dog. I wouldn’t want to suggest that he will be a bother or ill trained. If he feels more comfortable on the bed, more like he is at home, then so be it. It will be allowed. He is a friendly and cuddly animal and will be good for some bodily warmth.

The weekend passed with incident and the mattress cover didn’t have to be tested. I am sure it would have done its job. I will miss the little fellow and mentioned that he was welcome back any time.

A Guy’s Tips for Cleaning in a Hurry

Given that I sit in front of a computer for hours on end, I don’t often reflect on cleaning the house. It isn’t my top priority but once in a while I notice that things need attention. Can I tear myself away from my work to handle mundane tasks? I would rather be doing something in the cyber world which is where my talents lie. But computer aficionados still have a regular life. They have to go shopping, do the wash, run errands, wash the car and get gas, and tidy up the kitchen. You should set one day a week for such things or they may never get done. That is my tip for handling cleaning.

I have another one. If you are in a hurry and don’t want to bother to get out and assemble a big vacuum, use a handheld version. They are easy to store. You grab it, plug it in, add an attachment, and go. They are powerful enough to handle most jobs. If you have dusty wood floors, a wet mop might be better, but you can handle most piles of debris with the best handheld vacuums with the basic attachment. The brush can be used for furniture, window sills, curtains, and the like. These small marvels have everything the big ones do only in a diminutive size. If I have people coming over and I spot some dirt, I can get ready in minutes. If I have a date, I particularly want the place to look nice. If it so happens that cleaning is needed on a non-cleaning designated day, so be it. I have to try. I wouldn’t invite people over, especially a date, if I couldn’t make the house acceptable for guests. Okay, I confess. There are times when I actually get up and leave the computer.

Working on a computer is a true way of life but I find time for socializing. Otherwise I would be pretty one-dimensional. Most people know me and how I spend my time and when invited over they grab the chance to see me unoccupied by my computer life. My computer work area often gets the dustiest and needs a good overhaul once in a while, not to mention the keyboard and screen. The handheld vac works great in small spaces due to its size. Once in a great while I have to clean the vac itself and empty the bag. It never is that full given the small amount of cleaning that I do. I have a large vacuum for the carpet but I can’t say it gets much use. A couple times a year I shake out the rug and do a light vacuuming. If it looks clean, then it must be. I say get a mini vac and see what it can do to save you time. It is there in a pinch if you need it and have been a little overly neglectful.

Fresh Start

At the start of each school year, it feels like a new beginning. Summer vacation has come and gone and your mind has been drifting to thoughts of the beach, walks in the park, or visiting family and friends in other cities. It takes a mental effort to switch gears and get back to normal. This is as it should be. We all need a break to feel renewed when the time comes to resume normal activities. If you cut your time off short, you will pay the price. You will feel burn out that much faster unless you are a virtual workaholic. Some say that when it comes to computers, this may describe my personality. But even I need a respite from routine so I cease work when it is time and I resume it when appropriate.

Getting ready for the new school year means reviewing what I have done last year and what new projects beckon. There are things you don’t have time to complete and no one says they can’t carry on indefinitely. After such reflection, I also check my supplies and note down what I need in terms of printer paper, note pads, pens and pencils, and more. This year I want an electric stapler to replace the manual model that never seems to work. The staples get stuck on a regular basis and sometimes I can’t exert enough pressure when I use it on a stack of papers. I want something that will do for heavy duty jobs and I don’t mind if I have to plug it in. I have book size manuscripts that require a butterfly clip and I prefer something more stable and permanent. My colleagues and I exchange papers often and it is easier to give them something properly stapled.

I always notice when their stacks fall apart and I have to put them back together. It is annoying to say the least. Electric staplers are also good for art projects and for fixing flyers and posters to the wall. It will be used a great deal this school year I am sure. If I get a good, well-made model I am sure it will last. Then students with their clumsy fingers can make use of it. I will just make sure no one staples themselves when loading it with staples. Electric appliances have their risks. It will just be a matter of a little instruction. One accident and the stapler is only for me. I can just see some colorful posters now stapled to the classroom walls with handy words of wisdom and special lessons of life. We can also use the stapler to decorate the gym for special events that require crepe paper adornment. You can blow up pictures and use the stapler to add them to your décor. Art students also stretch their painting canvases over wood frame bars. They tell me the manual type of stapler is cumbersome. So my list for school supplies is ready and I am about to set out on a shopping spree at the hardware store.

A Sad State of Affairs

Gun issues are always controversial with many for and equally as many against. Many people have good explanations for wanting a gun and they may well be perfectly justified. In the wrong hands, a gun is a deadly weapon. We know that the responsible use of a gun and careful storage of weapons in a gun safe is mandatory and that children should never have access of any type. Owning a gun is a responsibility and only those with the proper attitude should be allowed to carry one. I know someone who left his gun safe open just for a few minutes and his son took the opportunity to have a look at his father’s new rifle. This can cause a devastating accident although luckily it didn’t. You can never be too careful. It is a number one priority for gun owners. There must be rules in the family with no exceptions.

While we know that the unlawful ownership of guns causes most gunshot deaths, people these days are concerned about terrorism and their own safety. It isn’t an abstract issue in France or Germany—a long way from home– but terrorism resides at home in your midst as we have seen in recent horrific news stories. It is very frightening and intimidating to think your neighbor may be threatening society. Some people feel they need protection and they have this right although guns often get in the wrong hands. There are many arguments on both sides of the issue that have to be considered. I have elected to consider buying a gun and a locked gun safe to house it. I am going to contemplate this for a long time and weigh the inevitable pros and cons. It doesn’t take much to have an accident. However, if you feel that you are in jeopardy of being robbed, it may make you feel more secure. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors and weigh their opinions if you have any doubts. It is in a sense a public issue with far-reaching import. Get a consensus before you go forward and you will feel more satisfied about your decision.

The stories about children shooting themselves or their friends are the biggest deterrent there is and it happens all too often with great tragedy. Kids must be educated in weapons and how to leave them locked in their safes. There is never a time to show off a gun to a friend, no matter how old the child. A discussion of guns is appropriate if there is one in the family. Decide if you think the kids should know where it is. Never leave it loaded. It is for an emergency situation and loading will precede potential usage. A small gun safe is usually enough for a few weapons. If you are a collector, then guns have already been part of the family environment. Make sure that a collection is housed properly in a gun safe large enough to accommodate all of them.

Dealing with Students

Dealing with Students

More and more often, students are coming to me with their problems. When I started here, visits from students mostly revolved around class or another aspect of my field—occasionally they were seeking advice about a colleague in the same department—but now it is a mix of everything. They are coming to me with actual problems. Problems with expenses. Roommates. Relationships. If I had the answers to all that, I would not have decided to remain in academia, would I? I would have a successful talk show in America and a best-selling book; I would be making much more than I do now. Why do students think I, computer geek and humble professor Thomas, have all the answers? I certainly do not act as if I want to be their friend. I come in, I teach them, I give them an assignment, I leave. I come in, check over their lab progress, correct them, I leave. I grade their papers and return them. Should that not give me a free pass from also listening to Marie’s disastrous roommate Amiee? You may think so, and yet, there was Marie in my office last week, telling me her Unix project would be delayed because the evil saboteur Amiee blew all the fuses in their apartment because of an over the top weekend party. As if we do not have Unix machines at the computer lab. I reminded the long-suffering Marie of this fact, which made her immediately blush and slink out of my office. I am not sure why I am supposed to care about this.

Although I am required to have an open door policy by the University, I have stopped announcing it to the students. They find out anyway, probably through some other teacher. I have started asking questions as soon as they sit down across the desk from me to determine if it is of an academic nature. I try to be polite because I need students in my classes every semester or they will fire me for talking to empty seats. I think that even if I told them to only disturb me for emergencies, there would be some debate over what an emergency actually entails.

I love when they come with relevant questions or to ask advice about a course topic. Such bright minds, sometimes so caught up in the wrong part of a programming or hardware problem. We can talk out any hardware or software problem together. I see the light in their eyes when they finally understand the answer. I cannot always see that light while lecturing because the majority of what I see is the backs of laptops and the tops of heads reverently transcribing my every word. I rarely see them look me in the eye in the classroom. Maybe they see my excitement when they are able to find the answers and mistake that for a general interest in their lives. I may never know the reason.

And so they knock. One is knocking right now, in fact. I must go.

A Day Off From Grading Papers

What a wonderful weekend! I arranged it so that all of my students were in between assignments. No tests to grade, no programs to evaluate, no assignments to read. An entire two days to be away from the computer screen, free from my office and my desk! I am impressed that I was able to coordinate all of my classes this way, especially because it turned out that the weather was supposed to be wonderful. I am sure that my students did not might having some free time this weekend also. After my last class on Friday, I stopped by the grocer’s and bought all the ingredients I would need for the next few days, and then home to start enjoying my free time. The plan was to prep all of the next day’s lunch because Saturday I had a date with the lovely Patrice, a colleague from the Humanities Department who teaches literature. I started making what I hoped would be a charming meal—fresh baked bread (I made it myself. It is not as hard as one would think, and it makes the apartment smell heavenly. Of course, it is also delicious), a variety of cheese and fruit, a bottle of wine, and some simple sandwiches.  This took a few hours and when I was done, I headed off to sleep, to dream of the coming day and of Patrice’s long black hair.

The next day, Patrice arrived precisely on time, and after a quick tour of my place, we went downstairs together and across to a small park. We sat and had lunch, chatting about how our semesters are going. Patrice has had her fill of Rimbaud quotations but is very much looking forward to talking to her students about contemporary literature. For my part, I said that I see C++ at night when I close my eyes to go to sleep. I have some incredibly adept students this year, and I am very excited to see what they will come up with for their final coding projects. I told Patrice about some assignments my students are working on, and she informed me of some recent essay topics she’d received lately. She is going to encourage one of her students to try and publish something, I was not sure exactly what, because I became distracted by the wonderful food we were eating. I was glad Patrice was not grading me on my attention skills!

We walked back to my place hand in hand, and it was a wonderful evening. We said our goodnights, and then I went to sleep. I stayed in bed for most of Sunday, simply because I was able to. I am not sure if I will have that luxury again for the rest of the semester, so it felt like an excellent use of my time. When I get back to the university on Monday, I will be teaching one class about how to create an ad-hoc printer driver, and another class about rendering. Both lectures are fun in their own right, so they are something to look forward to even as this spectacular weekend winds down.

Grading Dilemmas

Over the years, I have had some interesting experiences with grading students on their work. I do not grade on a curve because I feel that a grade you earn should be the grade you receive, and I should not feel obligated to give out a certain number of A’s or be limited if everyone does a nice job—no, that one is my cue to make the next test harder!

My goal is always to challenge the students, yet not leave them at a disadvantage. In other words, if they study the texts I assign and pay attention during lectures, chances are they will get a satisfactory grade. When it comes to testing, I always make sure that I pull the questions directly from one source or the other so that everyone has the same opportunity to do well. With practical work and computer lab, I do occasionally give them projects that have the potential to be more complicated than what we have gone over in class, true, but I do not mark it against a student if they decide not to accept the challenge. For example, in one of my Unix classes, I had the students create a program. Some made simple text-based programs that fit the parameters of the assignment while others added graphics. Obviously, if the coding was clean, I gave the ones who added graphics a better grade, but I did not penalize the students who made text-only programs if those programs also ran correctly. When it is a situation like this, I am very glad that I can hand out however many good scores as I see fit to and am not hampered by some sort of arbitrary sliding scale.

I do occasionally have students who claim that a question, test, or assignment is unfair. I try not to encourage this and tend to tell the student to see me after class. Some do wait until after the lecture and then choose to tell me, in private, why they felt it was unfair and what they think I can do about it. Not often, but there has been a time or two where I accidentally chose something in a chapter we had not yet discussed, or something similar to that. In those cases, I am proud to say that I am not too big to admit my mistakes! Most of the time, however, after talking to the student, I am able to help jostle their memory to when the topic was discussed or when it was supposed to have been read.

There have been other occasions where students are failing and ask for extra credit. I am typically willing to give extra credit if the student has been in class most of the semester and likely is just struggling with time management or a specific segment of the course. When that is the case, I try to assign extra assignments that are more than just ‘busy work’ but can help ease them into the concepts they are having trouble with. However, if it is a student who never shows, does not take notes, routinely has excuses or late assignments, it is unlikely that I will be interested to work with this student. I do not subscribe to the get it done at the finish line mentality some people have. This can make me unpopular with the students, which is also something I am OK with.

What about you? Any grading dilemmas in your career?

The Start of a New Semester

The Start of a New Semester

Between semesters, I sit down with my course load and determine exactly where I want each class to go. The planning phase, for me, is the most stressful but also the most fun. I can work out the arc of topics I want to cover, blending each one seamlessly into the next so that it all flows into one easy progression of knowledge. Once I have the general roadmap, I fill in the stops: the week by week subtopics to get us from place to place. Then I can set up each lecture’s framework. I like to be organized and it helps me to have a system like this; it allows for flexibility within each lecture but also provides me with structure so that I don’t get derailed or bogged down in one subject and not get anywhere with the students. It also enables me to choose textbooks that enhance the lectures effectively. I always try to order one book for each class that will be useful both in class and as a solid reference on the topic that they can use later in their programming or IT fields.Although, with the rate that technology has been advancing, this has been harder and harder to do.

And then there are the students. Ah, the students. I love the beginning of a semester. The smell of fresh textbooks, the classroom packed full of endless potential and enthusiasm. There are typically some returning students that are familiar faces but there is always a sea of new ones to learn. Many have no impression of me at all yet; they size me up, ready to decide if they will learn anything at all from me or if I will be a boring windbag with nothing of value to say. I like to think that I often surprise them and they decide the class will be worthwhile. I am not saying that out of conceit, either. I have one of the higher student retention rates in the department. Once the students listen to my first few lectures, they tend to stay around until the end of the term. One of my colleagues claims that is it because I get the more interesting topics and that there is some favoritism, but he is old and has not kept up with new technologies and advances. In the computer science field, that is the kiss of death. So he is stuck with the intro classes, teaching students what mousepads are and other such nonsense the majority of them already know. These children have grown up with computers and the internet, they know more than he does! He should be grateful—his students cannot drop his class, they are stuck there for a graduation requirement. He always has a built in audience who has to at least attempt to pass the course, or they are doomed to repeat it!

Yes, the dawn of the semester is my favorite. The students are not yet bogged down with assignments coming at them from all sides or exhausted from all-nighters. Their enthusiasm has not yet been tamped down by poor grades or challenging assignments that they cannot understand. What a glorious time of year!

Creating Assignments to Showcase Talent

I like to stump my students occasionally to force them out of their comfort zones. I cannot require them to be curious, but I can try to inspire it through assignments that at least appear extremely difficult. This year, I am teaching a 3D class. The course has been extremely popular, and I imagine most of the students in attendance envision lucrative careers for themselves where they are making animated movies and digital effects. At the midpoint of the semester, I tasked the students with creating a virtual art museum. They had to find artwork to display in the museum, create walls for the pieces to “hang” on, display their lighting skills by illuminating each piece, and replicate the feel of walking through a real museum’s various rooms and corridors. This type of assignment combines much of what we had gone over in class, plus one or two things that we had not yet covered. For example, I did not specifically go over things like creating a wood texture to frame the artwork in, but it was not necessary to complete the assignment. However, an assignment like this may spark a student’s desire to learn other, more complex, textures than what we were able to cover in class.

I prefer assignments like this because I can gain a lot of information about both the student and how successful I was in teaching the subject matter. Will they color the walls, and if so, how many colors? If they do not, is it because they thought it was unnecessary or because they were unable to? Will they go out of their way to illuminate each piece appropriately, or will they all be uniformly lit (and if so, will it be out of laziness or lack of understanding?) I do not get this kind of insight through rote examinations where the students are regurgitating things that I have told them, potentially without even understanding the concepts. Assignments like this allow the students to actually showcase their talent and demonstrate that the concepts taught in theclass have a practical use in the real world.

There was much grumbling and grousing when I first gave the assignment, which did not surprise me. However, over the course of students actually working on their museums, some of their attitudes changed dramatically. They began to have a vested interest in how the project was coming together, and what their overall concept was going to be. Suddenly, they were interested in talking about what art they were using, how they were going to display things, how many rooms a museum should have… there were some interesting conversations going on. The students all turned in their assignments and seemed genuinely proud of themselves.

I was very happy that they decided it was a worthwhile assignment because it only gets harder from here. Their final task will be to make a (very) short film!