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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Moving Numbers

I'm starting this entry on September 27th, but don't plan to publish it until this semester is finished. It could cause problems if any of my students managed to hunt it down, understand it, and apply it to their course work. And as much of a pain in the ass as that would be for them, some of them would rather do that than actually do the work required to get a good grade without cheating.

Cheating has always made me angry. I will admit that I did cheat once or twice in university ("college", for those of you who speak American). Without getting into the sordid details, I'll just say that I had a very geeky calculator that had some memory available for storing variables, programs, formulas, etc. I honestly can't remember whether I had to did into any of those formulas, but I definitely did the rest of the work the hard way. And I had a sneaking suspicion that the engineering profs didn't care what you had on your calculator, as long as you knew what you were doing with it.

So perhaps I'm a bit hypocritical, now that the shoe is on the other foot. But there are definitely degrees of cheating, and what I'm seeing takes things to an extreme degree. You see, I am using a program called Moodle to enrich my courses. Moodle is an Internet-based Learning program. My main uses are

1) handouts, because with 250+ students, it's a pain for me to do photocopies. This way they each download and print. All I have to do is have it up on the website the morning of class.

2) on-line quizzes, so that students have a chance to practice and apply what we studied in class, to prepare for the test and keep the material reasonably fresh in their minds

3) passing information, such as canceled classes, reminders of assignments, etc.

Uses 1 and 3 are fine, but the quizzes... The students who took my Present Continuous (PC) Quiz on the first day got pretty low grades, many of them in the 50-60% range, and took the entire 15 minutes to get that. Oddly enough, some of the students who took the same quiz the next day took a minute and a half to get 90%.

I smelled a rat.

My current solution is that their on-line quiz grade will be automatically adjusted down to meet their in-class test/quiz grades.

There. The semester is finished, it's the end of December, and I know how the whole thing turned out:

I decided that adjusting quiz grades to match the written test grade would be too much trouble, and maybe not fair. Instead, I minimized the impact of the quizzes on their grade. Each quiz was worth about 1.5% of their total grade. Not enough to worry about the cheaters, when the written test was worth 25%.

The problem came when I exported the data from the website and tried to import it to my grading spreadsheet. The Moodle would only export as Excel files, and my spreadsheet is Corel's Quattro Pro. It's an excellent spreadsheet, and I've been using it for years. Which may be the problem. The version I'm using was current a decade ago. And I don't use Excel at all, relying instead on's spreadsheet, Calc.

Oh, by the way, if you are not interested in computer stuff, you might want to skip the rest of this post, if you haven't already fallen asleep.

I ended up opening the Excel files with Calc, and then saving them in Calc as Quattro files. It was then quite easy to move the data into the correct sheet.

But when I tried to juggle the numbers, I got some funny results. 11.38 looked fine on the sheet, but when I tried to divide it by 14 and multiply by 100 to get the percentage, it came out zero. All of them came out zero.

I figured maybe it was a mistake in my lookup formulas.

No. They worked fine.

I went back to the data page and typed in 11.38 again over the top of the original 11.38.

Boom. Out pops 81%. The rest of the scores are still saying zero, but the one I typed in manually is working fine.

That suggests one solution: type in all the scores. But here's the thing: I am sitting next to a machine that can do 902,000,000 calculations per second. That's why I'm not adding up numbers on a piece of paper using a calculator as a mental crutch. There's already a mental U-Haul sitting on the desk, and all I have to do is figure out why the gears don't engage.

Those of you who use computers probably have some idea of how this story turns out.

Technical Explanation: Instead of exporting the files from Calc, I copied and pasted the numbers. This made them appear to Quattro as numbers, rather than the labels which it original thought they were. ("Why is this a problem?" is not nearly as important as the "How do I fix it?" to me, so don't ask why!)

Real World Impact Explanation: I spent more time figuring out how to solve the problem than it would have taken to type in all the numbers by hand. And if I had known this would be a problem, I could have paid one of my assistants to type it in by hand. This is how Horyon would interpret the results.

To me, however, the more numbers I put in by hand, the more likely I am to make a mistake. Also, I am now aware of this glitch, and will be able to recognize it and do something about it in the future. True, I will probably not remember the details of how to solve the problem, but the mental pathway will still be there. I will also be able to recognize similar problems, and deal with them, too.

Our grades were due on Thursday. Earlier in the week I was worried that I might accidentally finish on Wednesday, but as it turns out I had nothing to worry about. I left my office Thursday night around 11:00 p.m. I didn't have to do much number juggling to get the right balance of A's, B's, C's and etc.'s, and when I left my office mate, Dennis, was still working. Score!

Actually, for me finishing at 11 p.m. is early, but that's another post. Something from the archives. Check back later, I'll see if I can hunt it down.

In the mean time, you can read about what we were going through back in November 2003 righ here. I got a chuckle or two out of re-reading it. Hope you do, too. You might also enjoy this from April 2002. Just after starting the ill-fated Master's Degree. Ugh.



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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.