University, most of all, is stressing me out right now. I have a group presentation to give tomorrow and my partner is not responding to my messages. He’s in charge of putting the presentation together. Stress. *hiccup.* We’ve worked a fair bit on it but I feel our other commitments have taken more than their fair share of the time that we would have put towards it. I haven’t seen the presentation I’m going to give tomorrow. At best, we rehearse in the morning and we can pull off something decent. Just…not being in control (I’ve done/written my part of the project) makes me stressed.
I’ve also come into an unfortunate situation with an assignment result. I was penalised for not doing something that wasn’t mentioned in a section of the assessment criteria that had no marks allocated to it. And my lecturer says that my interpretation of a basic English sentence is flatly, ‘wrong.’
To be specific, the assignment was to implement three programs that would run in a series to process some data and give some output.
(No mark will be awarded to the report directly. IMPORTANT: A poor report may affect the marks of above tasks. No report, no marking, which may result in zero mark for the entire assignment.)
The assignment specification says:
Write a brief report in PDF format that includes the followings:
- Explain the methods, data structures, main components and work flow of your programs in ONE page.[… other stuff that is irrelevant. …]
So, that is what I did. Except, I am told, that “methods, data structures, main components and work flow of your programs” actually means “Give the entire context of the problem as stated in the assignment, and the solution in terms of the process rather than the code. But it also must be incredibly specific. If you implement a set intersection function, you have to detail precisely how it works.”
It says “explain the methods . . . of your programs.” This means I need to explain what my program does and how it does it, and with what data types. Apparently, I’m simply wrong. “Methods” is not meant to apply to “of your programs”. Neither is “data structures”. Only “main components and work flow” applies to “of your programs”. How is anyone supposed to know this from the specification alone?
Given the sentence, “Talk about your happiness, misery and excitement as a nurse” no-one would claim that “excitement” is the only factor qualified by “as a nurse”, and “happiness, misery” is meant to be taken in the context of life in general.
He made it doubly clear what he wanted, which I now completely understand – but missed the point that the fact that I now know what he wants has no bearing on whether it is reasonable to assume that I did when I was doing the assignment. I think it is fair to say that marks should not be deducted if the specification was followed as could be reasonably understood. At least not 25% of the marks. I’ve been penalised before for “adding” and “going beyond” what is required in a specification. I was told, “This is what it says to do, no more.” And now this. (Different lecturers, though.)
I said I used “set<int>” which is a specific data type, where he wanted a more abstract definition like “dictionary mapping data type used to correlate keys with values”. Or something like that. I argued that providing details of a set intersection function is pedantic. To that end, the specification says a BRIEF report. Everyone knows what addition, multiplication, vector cross product, set intersection, etc. is – we don’t need to explain it. I made passing mention to it to emphasise that I knew what was going on rather than using a built-in “intersection” method.
The problem with writing a complete and sufficient specification is that you know exactly what you want done. It is difficult to write a specification that is ambiguous to yourself – but quite easy to write one that is ambiguous to others. When I see the specification, I see the words on the page. I see the sentences that describe what to do, and I do it. When the examiner sees the specification, they see a shorthand version of what they really want and mean. “It’s clear!” he states, that “Explain the methods” implies I should regurgitate the problem that is given in the assignment. I did not want to write my report as though I am trying to teach him what he is teaching me, which could be read condescendingly. I thought describing my solution would be sufficient, but I was wrong.
He admits that nothing in my report gave him the idea that I was incapable of the course content covered by the assignment, and there was nothing in my report he didn’t understand but the way I presented it was not to his standard. He stated that I didn’t demonstrate my knowledge of why certain data types were used in the general context of the solution. “If I implemented it fully, correctly, and got the right result,” I asked, “doesn’t that prove that I understood the concepts, notwithstanding my different approach to presenting my work?” He paused on that one.
I asked, “Did you look at my code?” and he avoided the question twice. He said, “it’s not about code.” Well if it’s not about code then why get us to write it? It would have sufficed to write an essay on how one would theoretically solve the problem.
The bottom of this is that the spirit of learning has been pushed wayward – there is no doubt that I am capable of doing this. The lecturer confirms this. However, because my interpretation of the specification and his were different – I lose. My grades suffer. There is no way I can really rectify the situation – I’ve put forward an academic grievance process but I’m not sure how successful it will be. Biased though this is, I would consider my work to be at least an 18/20. Not 15/20. And not only that, numerous other students have had the same treatment. “It’s a common problem among the students,” I’m told, “but some of them got it.” More worryingly, “[I] did not lose as many marks as some students who lost marks for the same reason.”
These are students that are, like me, just going to be deterred from really engaging with the content because of the potential kick in the teeth that comes with every returned assignment. These are students that have spent many hours re-reading lecture slides and making sense of the lecture content, in order to produce a working program, which the assignment asks for. For what? To be penalised for the ambiguity of the criteria.
Why not ask? If you’re unsure of the criteria? I wasn’t unsure – the specification says X and I did X. I realise that the first assignment in a given class is usually the worst. You don’t know what the lecturer is expecting, but at the same time you don’t want to pester them with seemingly stupid questions that ask for the meaning of standard English words. “Use common sense,” I’ve been told. You just have to grin and bear the nominal mark deduction.
Talking to a friend in class, he tells me, “I don’t have the courage to [continue to] talk to the lecturer about this. He told me, ‘Don’t argue.'” My friend just accepts the loss of marks. I don’t really have that luxury- I have worked very hard for my outstanding academic reputation.
So how was your day?