Last week, I received an e-mail from someone asking me to promote his new project – a website for buying and selling used textbooks, to take the place of the often inoperable TUSBE. After checking out his site and posting some books of my own, I happily agreed to promote this wonderful new resource, and also got the chance to ask CourseTexts.ca co-creator Rajaie AlKorani a few questions about his endeavour.
Archive for the 'Desperation' Category
First, I’d like to apologize. To poetry fans. To English students. To anyone who’s had any cursory exposure to literature and the search for deeper meaning in words beyond how nicely they fit into blog post titles. And of course, to Mr Eliot.
April is the cruelest month, though, at least for students. It’s exam and final essay time, that moment when the pedagogical procrastination that manifests itself as culminating assignments of obscenely high value rears its ugly head. Or ass. Excuse me; I’m frustrated.
I am frustrated because just yesterday I completed the first of my two exams this semester (the other is on the 29th; go figure) and just this evening I incorrectly answered a Jeopardy question about a topic that had been on the exam. Now, I’m almost certain I got that question right on the test, which means that in the twenty or since, I forgot something fairly important. Something fairly important that I learnt in a class that cost almost a thousand dollars. Something important and expensive that I spent twenty-four hours of class time learning and another thirty or so studying.
Rather than try to project my own experience on to you (I’m honest like that), I’ll ask you to think back to your winter examinations. If you had to take them again, right now, how much lower would your mark be? 10%? 20? “But of course it will be lower,” you say. “That was months ago.” “But,” I say, “why would you take a class if not to learn? And what is learning if not remembering and understanding after the fact?” And therein lies the problem: final exams are not conducive to learning.
They’re not necessarily obstructive, either; there’s no evidence to suggest that culminating exams encourage the forgetting of information, but there’s very little to suggest that they actually evaluate what students will retain. The most common form of preparation is studying all the relevant material at once, over the course of a few weeks or days. This leads to cramming, which, even when it does lead to higher exam grades – which is not as often as you might think – it almost always leads to lower long-term retention. This can be attributed to the distinction between long-term memory and working memory. (Here I apologize again, to psychology and neuroscience students.) Speaking generally, working memory lasts only in the short term, when the mind is focused on a project and the brain is employing all necessary processes and stressors to complete that project. Once that project is done, the memory is largely discarded as it is no longer useful.1
Long-term memory, however, is not subject to the fallacies of short-term methods like cramming, and is activated by studying important material in smaller chunks over a large period of time. Think back to a class that had multiple smaller evaluations throughout the year. How well do you remember material from that course, compared to the others you took that year? I know that I can tell you way more about De Morgan’s Theorem than I can about religious imagery in Skyscrapers of the Midwest, and that I can offer much more insight into the influence of African culture in the Caribbean than I can to um, that Shaw play with the guns. Long-term memory is simply better stimulated through evaluations spread out across the year, rather than only once or twice.
These kinds of observations have not gone unnoticed. At Harvard University, for instance, only 23% of classes end in final exams.2 Elsewhere in the world, universities are slowly turning to alternative methods to final exams, including the obvious choice of fewer, smaller evaluations. Not as always, the University of Toronto is fairly slow to catch up (that’s the closest thing to a compliment that I can give right now.) Although the percentage of classes with final exams is decreasing, they are still the norm and, in fact, mandatory in first-year courses.3 Welcome to UofT!
I recognize that there isn’t any actually useful information in here. Regardless of whether or not you know how effective exam studying is, you probably still have to do it. It probably still sucks. And you probably won’t remember much of it in a short while. Cruel, eh?
For those out of the social media loop, student news feeds were overrun today by links to a public Facebook note by Sana Ali, the unopposed Team RENEW candidate running for the position of VP External in the on-going UTSU election. In her note, Ali forfeited the election and terminated her relationship with Team RENEW, and offered some heavy criticisms of the party’s practises regarding open discussion and diversity of thought. She describes attempts to “squash dissent and individuality”, and reveals that her official candidate statement was written for her by the team. She accuses Team RENEW of drastically altering their platform from past slates’, of choosing her because of her ethnicity, of restricting her communication with opposition, and of manipulating students’ ignorance and apathy so as to gain political advantage. Her criticisms are concise, clear, and specific; entirely unlike the whole of her former team’s platform.
At time of press, over one thousand students have liked Ali’s note, an impressive number considering how few follow student politics and how little time the content has had to spread. There are dozens of comments as well, almost all of which are complimentary, often lionizing. Ali’s note is being heralded by some as “an inspiration” and indeed it should be: she’s got us all caring, though perhaps just a little, about a one-sided election.
There is something unintuitive in commending Ali’s action, though. How, exactly, is forfeiting noble? Why are we commending inaction? The answer is both chilling and condemnatory, not of Ali but of the campus that has nurtured the rise of Team RENEW: our state of political affairs is such that the most brazen, powerful action taken by one of our political candidates in recent memory is refusing to take part in something unethical. Ali’s decision is impressive because it is brave and principled, but the consequences of her decision are important not because they are good but because they are not bad. So surrounded are we by the haze of political doublespeak and the murk of self-serving governance that plain honesty’s dim glow is enough to draw us near.
I’m not going to chastise a body of tens of thousands of students, including me, if only because I know it could do no good. We, students, are among the most opinionated and vocal demographics in the world; we are surrounded by geniuses and innovators whose insights we absorb and analyze daily. The discord between our beliefs and refusal to act on them is so immense that there must be an underlying cause so powerful it not only compels us to apathy but blinds us to the extent.
I don’t believe, as Ali suggested, that there is a campus-wide epidemic of mass ignorance. Nor I believe that we are too lazy to mobilize. Apathy is a thing of its own kind; it is emotional inertia. We act only when we care, we care only when we must. We are not an active entity conflicted by the obstacles of ignorance or oppression; we are a motionless body with no apparent incentive to get up and improve our environment. There is, fortunately, unfortunately, simply nothing so terrible or unjust to compel us to take action at all.
I must confess that while I have never tried the much-vaunted greasy pork sandwich served up in a dirty ashtray (though it has unbounding appeal), there is nothing quite like fast food grease when battling the aftereffects of a bite from the rabid and snarling boarhound that is excessive alcohol consumption. The combination of an as of yet undeveloped frontal cortex and a freshly-purchased liver with not many miles on it breeds a dalliance between oneself and this pernicious beast and while this sloppy canine may present with wet kisses its bite packs a wallop like a donkey kick, a revelation usually reached at around 11 the next morn. The feeling is the kind common to all zombie movie extras, not the hankering for tasty brains; very few of them will take the method route there, but the disorientation, general queasiness, loss of self worth and the vague feeling your all too stunted brain can only guess is hunger. And as hunger appears the symptom with the easiest cure and your mind is host to deep thought-starved larvae it seems the quickest route to dispelling the regret shaped cloud around your skull.
Although it’s rare that last night will rear its pockmarked face in this way after upwards of 3 hours of unconsciousness, never underestimate a good expulsion of fluids through the mouth. Obviously one should aim for the most sanitary of conditions, ideally toilets or sinks rather than beds or friends, as most dorms won’t boast more than a Swiffer.
Now that yesterday’s abundant nutrition is done with one should continue on to today’s. As was said fast food, a pleasant phrase in and of itself, is a saviour in this instance, as its lack of any nutritional value doesn’t confuse your body into thinking there are worthwhile compounds in need of processing but rather just the daily grind of fats, calories, and other such gremlins that spend their days grid-locking your arteries. Muffins and other inventions of men who live on Drury Lane are recommended as they act like sponges to the hideous things you poured down your throat last night. Energy drinks will taste something akin to what you as a die-hard Harry Potter enthusiast can only assume goblin piss is like but will most certainly clear your mouth of the feeling that a cat has defecated in the back of your throat. Carbonated beverages of all types are encouraged, bolstering your now near-empty energy bar. Fruit is allowed but not preferred as their textures do little for the fragile state of the stomach. Keeping hydrated is a must as alcohol, despite being one, drains a lot of liquid from the body making it harder to recover than a merciful god should allow. If your brain feels like a bullet train, or an actual bullet, has entered it, then Advil or some facsimile thereof will be much appreciated by your head and anyone within a couple miles of you.
But of all the carbonated beverages, pharmaceuticals, and real food-imitators, the best thing for a hangover is a friend who was there the night before and can commiserate. Misery loves company, but it also likes someone sitting closer to the TV remote who’s horrible at rock-paper-scissors to provide the day’s entertainment.
Skip your morning classes, avoid the scene at the liposuction clinic from Fight Club and anything featuring morbidly obese housewives, and you’ll be good to go (go nowhere that is).
Just starting university? Moved out of your parents’ house? Suddenly realizing that living is really expensive? Read on, friend.
Moving out of the house, even if it’s just into a dorm with a mandatory meal plan, can be a sonic boom shock to the head in terms of adjusting, and, more importantly, money. I won’t go as far to tell you to steal toilet paper from the local McDonald’s, but for everything else….
1. Food: actually eat at the cafeteria. While there may be a surplus of people you’re trying to avoid and a lack of people not at your college, it’s the most efficient in the food option since you’re already paying. Stash fruit, cookies and anything else that you can stick in a sweatshirt kangaroo pouch for those late-night, early-morning, or in-class munchies. Not feeling the caf food? Be a typical student; pick a sub that you like and find out which day it sells at a reduced rate at Subway. Also: save your receipts, fill out a survey online and get a free cookie! (no, Subway is not paying me…much).
2. Partying: while clubs and pubs can get very expensive very fast, partying at home/the dorm with some LCBO product, or just good old fashioned Boggle and the friends you actually enjoy spending time with can be a cheap and ultimately more enjoyable alternative. Sponsored club and pub nights or 4 dollar cocktail events can also offer a cheaper entrance fee to a good time.
3. Other Entertainment: movie Tuesdays are a particular guilty-pleasure of mine, especially when the Carlton theatre close by offers a five-dollar flat movie ticket on Tuesdays and reasonably priced popcorn. At the welfare level? Skip the concession stand and pack your own, pop some microwavable bagged corn, some canned pop, and Bulk Barn spoils, and bring a big purse. Living on the street level? Stay home and watch a DVD (Bay Street Videos has an impressive selection), or if you are of the current generation, download online: add friends and Orville Redenbacher to both for immediate effect.
4. Toiletries/clothing/other: if your parents are anything like mine, this is where you get with the emotional moocherie. Pick up toothpaste, deodorant, or stylish footwear when you’re out with your parents. Casually slip your items onto the counter and flash an I’m-the-fruit-of-your-loins smile and they’re all yours, free of charge.
5. Walk around a little! As a downtown area Toronto offers more than its fair share of nut-jobs with fliers on street-corners and its true that while most stick to unwanted religious advice there are the rare few who hand out coupons/ free Reese’s Pieces/diet soda.
6. Transport: grab friends with cars who are comfortable footing the gas bill or stick to public transport. If you commute daily grab, a metropass; if not use the matching limbs sprouting out of your pelvis and walk! Technically everything is within walking distance…short of other continents.
7. Get a job, ya mook!
Given hormonal changes, weird smells, and an actual workload, university can be a handful at times, on the brainpan and the wallet. Keep it simple, avoid the caviar and champagne, and if all else fails the toilet paper at McDonald’s is really not so bad…
I’ve written before about pseudo-psychology and the way the mind – or my mind, at least – skews my perception of events and information to make false patterns. This happens a lot when it comes to assignment season, or exam season, or other relatively small periods of time defined by a particular event. I find it surprising, then, that I experience second semester in a vastly different way than I do the first.
In first semester, I can’t even remember how many months are between September and December; the time between the first class and the first exam seems indefinite, as if the calendar’s been printed over too many pages to be of much use. September is – what, three or four weeks of classes? October is four, and so is November, but one of them has a break. Then December… do I count December? Second semester, though, is exactly twelve weeks, with a one-week break in February. Not only do I know exactly how long it is from start to finish, I also know exactly how far through the semester I am at any given point. At the end of January of last semester, I made this startling (grade 3-level) discovery:
Week 1: 1/12 of semester
Week 2: 1/6 of semester
Week 3: 1/4 of semester
Week 4: 1/3 of semester
Week 6: 1/2 of Semester
The first half of the semester seems to fly by, and with each passing week the end seems disproportionately nearer. You can go from being 1/12 done your studies to 1/6 in only one week! And that’s not all: call now, and we’ll also give you a free, limited time… you get the idea.
University can be intimidating and unpleasant. When people tell you how to cope, they tell you to think positive thoughts and focus on the things that make you happy. But sometimes, nothing makes you happy and everything seems awful. When that happens, focus on the one universal positive of negative experiences: this, too, shall pass. Pretty quickly, if you think about it.
U of T is full of unique opportunities. They’re the bread and butter of this blog and my life; there are few things I like more than learning about a hidden spot or quirky club or meaningful volunteer position on campus. I scour the blogs and papers as often as I can, holding up event listings to my mental calendar and wondering if I can fit in a play, philosophy discussion, and homework in one afternoon. (I can.)
That’s why I was surprised and a little embarrassed to realize that U of T has had an entire faculty of performers right underneath my nose (and Museum Station) this whole time. The Faculty of Music is full to the brim of brilliant composers and performers, and features them in free shows at least once a week. Couple in the fact that a sudden epiphany (read: episode of Frasier) made me realize how much culture is missing from my life, and suddenly I’m cruising the Faculty of Music website for upcoming events.
In the past two days alone, I’ve seen the finals of a concerto competition (that bassoonist nailed it), listened to new pop pieces by students with classical backgrounds, and [I'm not sure what the verb is] an experimental theatrical music… thing in honour of the 10th anniversary of the passing of its composer. The last two events were part of the Faculty’s New Music Festival, which runs until the 27th and features nine more free shows. I’ll go to as many as I can.