Existence continuation

As you have doubtless deduced from my total failure to keep you entertained over the last month and a half, I have in fact been a little busy. Possible illusions to the contrary notwithstanding, my existence is not synonymous with that of my blog. (At least, not yet it isn’t. This may change later in life when my consciousness is uploaded. I’ll keep you posted.)

First, it may be worth noting that, after more than six years, my PhD thesis is about to be officially approved. I shall thus enter the PhD afterlife, my soul having been judged and marked, and corrections thereto proclaimed. I shall wander the Earth instilling great wisdom in anyone mildly curious about the nature and mechanics of comparisons between different software inspection strategies, for such has been the tiny sliver of human experience to which I have contributed.

Second, I have simultaneously rewritten and lectured a unit on C programming in UNIX, a feat probably not entirely without precedent, although this has been my first real lecturing experience. It is said that writing your own lecture notes gives you much better preparation for lecturing than reusing someone else’s, and this was probably true. In hindsight I would recommend having all this done before the semester begins, though in any event I didn’t have much choice. Over the course of 14 weeks, I developed 10 lectures, 9 tutorial worksheets and associated tutors’ notes, 3 tests (including one exam) plus marking guides, 3 mock tests plus answer guides, and 1 assignment plus marking guide. That’s 26-42 distinct documents (depending on how you count them), whose combined content would rival a PhD thesis (and I know). This was in addition to 24 hours/week of actual face-to-face teaching.

Third, (as any teacher or lecturer will be all too aware) after the teaching comes the marking. Exam marking is easy – there is no feedback to give, and a fairly constrained context for creative idiocy. You get to see what students do well, and what they do poorly, and what questions could be improved for next time. Prac report marking is also relatively easy, though collating them all at the end seems to lead to the conclusion among some students that they just weren’t going to be marked at all.

Assignment marking is hard. In my case, this is partly because programming assignments do not really constrain creative idiocy. There are many ways to write a program correctly, but infinitely more ways to do it badly. It’s not as mind numbing as (I imagine) essay marking must be. The very worst essays (such as the incoherent, smudged dribblings written in high school English Lit exams by none other than yours truly), must be positively soul destroying to read and mark. You can mark a programming assignment partly by running it, but nevertheless, like an essay, it must also be read.

Reading said programming assignments was made at the same time more entertaining and more frustrating by a discovery I made towards the end. Imagine, if you will, twelve student essays (essays being an analogy here for programs) that are identical except for the substitution of synonyms, punctuation, fonts and paragraph breaks. Then imagine the students involved swearing blind that they merely discussed the topic and certainly never copied anything, and that of course they were the same because the question could only be answered one way.  Then imagine – and this is what really annoys me and my good colleague who was roped into conducting the investigation – that a large proportion of these students are, for want of a better term, good students and will easily pass the unit. (At least, they will if my suspicions about the severity of their punishments turns out to be correct.)

Now that’s all behind me, I come to my last (and continuing) major task for the year: trying to find a job. Then, absurdly, I might have some free time.