Friday, April 17, 2009

Post-Exam Recap

My students wrote their final exam this week. The subject matter is Canadian history from pre-contact to the present era, so a survey course of the entirety of Canadian history. History can get complicated, long and involved. Sometimes it's hard to boil down an event or person into a short definitive answer.

The first section of our exam was comprised of Identification and Significance questions. This is pretty standard for History exams. You get a bunch of terms, pick out the required number and then describe in 3-5 lines (or more if you're taking the shotgun approach to answers or suffer from verbal diarrhea) what/who/when/where the term was/is and how/why it is important to the overall scope of Canadian history. Simple, right? Sometimes it's anything but.

Sometimes you get some amazingly bizarre answers and you just have to wonder how their brain functions and what lecture they attended or what textbook they were reading. I had a couple of answers like that this exam. My favourite is one I'll share. I don't know what the legalities of this are, but there are no names for the guilty party.

The ID question was the Quiet Revolution. For those of you who are not versed in Canadian history, the Quiet Revolution occurred between 1960-66 in Quebec. It was a time of rapid, but nonviolent change, whereby Quebec underwent drastic evolutions in its political, social, economic and cultural structures led by Liberal Premier Jean Lesage. The Roman Catholic church's influence rapidly waned and a growing number of Quebeckers became sovereigntists, which gave rise to the separatist movements.

This particular student however, has a very different interpretation of what the Quiet Revolution meant in Canadian History:

"The Quiet Revolution is a staple of Canada's pacifistic history. When the Canadian government is mad at another country instead of outlining the problems like educated government officials they will not speak to you. If you call they will breath heavily on the phone but not utter a word. In essence a quiet revolt."

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Exam Day

This afternoon my students write their final exam. It's a three hour exam that encompasses all of Canadian history from contact to the present, or at least the 1990's. While I have a sense of relief that it's all coming to an end once I finish marking later this week, I also have an impending sense of dread. It means that yet another school year is drawing to a close and I am no further along in my goal than I was last year at this time.

There's also this giant vacuum left in my week since most of my work and thoughts have been focused around my tutorial prep and other concerns related to my students. My work kind of gets scheduled in around their needs, or shunted off to the side for big marking stints or problems in the classroom. Now that this impediment is removed I have to find something else around which to organize my week. I'm thinking that some time in the gym is more than necessary since I've gotten quite lumpy this past winter.

There are some students that I'll be happy to say good-bye to since they were a pain in my ass from day one. However, there is also a small group of students that I will miss. They are the ones who brought a sense of humour to my classroom. The ones who taught me something about myself, or brought a fresh perspective to the material under examination- some angle that I had never considered before. The students who helped me refine my teaching skills and develop my teaching philosophy. They are the students that I worked for, that I crafted my material for and helped along where ever I could. They are the students that I won't forget and that I'll wish well in their future endeavours. They are the students that remind me why I chose to enter the Ph.D program with the hope of teaching in a University one day. The ones who remind me why I love what I do, particularly on those bleak and hopeless days.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Love/Hate Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with a website: Rate Your Students. Billed as "an oasis in the academic desert" (among other things), RYS is a place where academics from around the globe, but mainly it seems from the States, can post about their job in a frank and open manner. It started in reaction against the "Rate My Professors" website, where students can post anonymous comments and reviews of professors and their courses. Those in academia wanted a similar forum to unload on students, their jobs and the problems inherent in the system- and do they ever.

RYS looks beyond the Ivory Tower and gives a grittier, more realistic portrait of academia. At times it can be instructive and gives me hope, but the vast majority of it makes me depressed that I ever chose academia. It also makes me fearful of my future job prospects and ability to flourish in such an environment. Some days reading RYS can leave my stomach in knots of anxiety and ramp up those feelings of being unprepared, an abysmal failure and completely unsuited for graduate school, let alone teaching.

I only read RYS sparingly because of the negative reaction it gives me. I'll usually check in once or twice a month at most and read a bunch of pages in a row until I sicken myself and leave. Every once in a while I'll find something worth holding on to and remembering for later, which is what keeps me coming back. I know there are a lot of things wrong with post-secondary education, and I don't particularly see things changing in the near future. I think it would be healthier for me if I could just quit that site, but I keep getting drawn back in.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

King's Quest 4- The Perils of Rosella

I'm not the biggest video game player. In fact I'd go so far as to say that I don't play video games. However, as a child my parents bought a Tandy 1000 back in the mid-80's and occasionally I would play games. This of course was dependent on whether or not one of my brother's was playing the computer or not. If they were on the computer I wasn't getting any game time, which meant that I would be sitting there watching them play on the off chance that they might let me take the occasional turn. The only games I really remember playing were Larry Bird vs. Dr. J basketball, Wheel of Fortune and Jump Man. What I do remember watching a lot of was the Sierra King's Quest series of games.

Opening Screen Shot

I remember King's Quest 4- The Perils of Rosella the most. Maybe it was because the graphics were becoming more advance at that point, or I was getting older and more interested in the logical, problem solving aspects of the Sierra series, but mostly I think it's because the lead character was a female. This was an entirely new concept in the gaming world and I loved that she was the one to go on the adventure this time, not her brother. Recently I discovered that someone at Sierra had reconfigured the old KQ series to work on modern machines and released the whole thing on CD. While that point made me excited again, I was thrilled when I learned that I could actually play the games on my Mac with the help of the DOSBox program!

The two screens I remember the most from back in 1988- the Seven Dwarves Cottage and the Fishermans wharf.

I quickly found a torrent with the whole 7 game series and downloaded it. While I was looking I also found a torrent that had a bunch of the other popular Sierra games, like the Police Quest and Space Quest franchises, which I also snagged. I went straight to KQ4 and have been playing it off and on for the past couple of weeks. It is every bit as cheesy and awesome as I remember as a child, only better because this time I was the one playing every second of it.