I’ve come to the realization that a little chronic pain can be good for the soul. That is, if the chronic is not too chronic. Readers of this blog may remember my whining and complaining about neck pain—a recovery and more pain.
I am now delighted to report the absence of pain—so palpable that I can acutely feel it. This is mostly due to my highly dedicated and knowledgeable physical therapist, along with heat, electrical stimulation, proper ergonomics, better posture and a series of exercises designed to strengthen unused muscles while at the same time preventing activation of overused muscles. Thank you physical therapy!
I’m celebrating, but I’m going to be doing my best to avoid going through this process again.
One of the first things I’ve learned is that meetings can be bad for the body. At all cost, I find it crucial to get up and stretch as many times as necessary, no matter how shocked the other people in the room appear to be by my eccentric behavior. I’ve been standing and bending and stretching at national meetings for grant review, as well as at local meetings in my own institute.
At a recent curriculum meeting, I found myself sitting right back down in my chair when the topic of bathroom breaks during exams came up for discussion. It turns out that at a certain institute, in certain courses, graduate students have been requesting bathroom breaks at an alarming rate during the course of three-hour exams. Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
However, intelligence reports have been leaked (no not through Wikileaks) maintaining the students have been pulling notes or cell phones out of their pockets in the restroom/bathroom/w.c.—which of course is cheating.
Years ago, the response to cheats often used to be that those who cheat are really cheating themselves, because they haven’t learned properly. But this doesn’t do the trick—especially since the students are graded on a curve, and there is fierce competition for fellowships and other rewards.
This makes it incumbent upon course coordinators to ensure that justice is served.
Easier said than done.
In fact, how does one accomplish this? Multiple ideas were put forth:
1) Restrict students to one restroom break during the course of the exam.
Does this help? Once can be enough for cheating, yet might not be enough for a student with a weak bladder or stomach upset.
2) Chaperone students into the restroom.
This would require, in addition to the instructor proctoring the exam, a female and male teaching assistant to sit there for three hours solely for the purpose of escorting students to the restroom. How productive! And then what? Do they venture into the stalls with the students? Or frisk them before going in? Or should we purchase a body-scan machine that “sees through the clothing of an individual”—like the TSA (Transportation Security Authority) at US airports?
So what can course coordinators do?
Another idea was to split the exam into several sections. A student leaving for the restroom would have to finish and turn in his or her test section before going to the restroom. Each test section could be designed to take about 45 min. or an hour, with a five-minute restroom break before the next section starts.
Does this solve the problem? I don’t know. For one, what happens if the student genuinely or disingenuously asks for the restroom after 15 min.? Does he or she need to forfeit that entire test section? Would that be fair? An additional issue is that some students are stronger in some sections and others are better at different sections. Traditionally, the three-hour exam has allowed students were good at one section to whiz through it quickly and spend a lot of time on the sections that they find difficult. With this new proposal, students would lose this advantage.
I don’t have an answer, but would be curious to hear how these issues are dealt with “over the pond” or at any other institutions. Also, if anyone has any creative ideas to deal with these messy issues, I’d love to hear from you.