Problem solving!

Teaching is a whole new world nowadays. I faced three different problems today.

One of our sports teams has been exposed to COVID-19, and they’ve been quarantined and can’t come to class.
Solution: I’ll be recording my lectures for a while and passing them on to the affected students. Also, we’ve been working through some genetics problems, so I’m forwarding those for them to work on in their isolation chambers.

A student had a serious family crisis and had to miss the last exam, and is panicking over it.
Solution: For them, I’ll pretend that exam never happened, and their final grade will be based on the average of four exams, rather than five, like the rest of the class. The exams are cumulative so it’s not like they won’t be evaluated on part of the class.

One of my international students has been abruptly drafted into the military service for a certain Eurasian country, and is flying away from the US prematurely.
Wooo. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. Solution: I am arranging to email them a take-home final exam so they can get credit for the course, and I hope come back to finish up their degree.

I’m thinking now that I actually have it pretty easy. My job is to make everything as smooth and doable for the students who don’t have it so easy.

All we have to do next is end the pandemic, all other health problems, and end war, and teaching will get easier.


  1. fergl says

    Im not a lecturer but as part of my job i give a few lectures a year. Due to Covid they all were filmed which i hated. I was tense and thought they would look terrrible. When I saw them I looked fine. The joys of a pandemic.

  2. says

    The solution for Student #2 is quite odd. Normally, when a student has to miss the final, we give them an incomplete and then administer the exam later when they are able to take it. How will you know if the student has mastered 20% of the material?

  3. Who Cares says

    By having them take the subsequent exams that you can only score a passing grade on if you understand the subject matter in the missed exam.

  4. HappyHead says

    @Who Cares(#4):
    But if it’s the final exam, doesn’t that mean there aren’t any subsequent ones? I had a few students with similar issues when I was teaching, and usually used a makeup exam, though in one case the family emergency was on-going and expected to take far too long for a makeup exam to be reasonable, and did as PZ, averaging out the rest of the year’s work. It helped that I was familiar with the student and confident that they did know the material.

    My most difficult accommodation was when I had a legally blind student in my advanced web design class – if he pressed his nose against the paper, he could read letters with strong contrast that were as small as a quarter of an inch high, but the glow from a monitor was too much and he couldn’t read it at all. It was kind of a mixed thing – one of the subjects I taught was the legally mandated accessibility standards in Canada, and he was a great example of that, since he had a braille screen reader laptop (and was a faster typist than me). The colour theory section was a bit more challenging, but he still understood that better than a lot of the computer science students in the class. (My poor poor eyes… WHY do so many CS students seem to think drab olive green backgrounds and bright red letters are the awesomest combination ever? It never came from anyone in a different major…) If he hadn’t had to leave the country at the end of the semester, I was tempted to try to hire him as a teaching assistant.

  5. ajbjasus says

    Eurasia ?

    I know you have to not give away any confidential information, but that is one big old disparate chunk of old Pangea.

  6. killyosaur says

    @cervantes and @HappyHead:
    The exact statement was “missed the last exam” as in missed the previous exam, not the final. So that student still has 1 or more exams remaining to be used as a basis for their grade.

  7. lumipuna says

    Damn, who’s the latter student’s country going to war with? :-(

    Must be either Eastasia or Oceania.

    More seriously, various countries have regular peacetime conscription (usually for men only) for some sort of military training. Depending on the system, it might be difficult to predict when exactly you get called to service (usually shortly after reaching legal adulthood). If you’re studying in college, you might or might not be able to delay the service until after graduation.

  8. whheydt says

    Re; HappyHead @ #5…
    For my wife’s web page, she want black text on a white background. So that’s what I did. However, it probably doesn’t conform with anybody’s disabled access rules, mostly because of no descriptions on the (few) images, but I dare say the text is all you really need. (If you want to look at it… )

  9. says

    I so wish I had realized how awesome most of my college professors were while I was in college. Unfortunately, I had a very authoritarian, very hard to please father and feared most of my professors. :(
    But I definitely thank you, PZ, for helping me break free of my conditioning through your writings on this blog!