Marking Season

I have an uncle who was once a flight engineer on long haul flights and he described flying as long periods of extreme boredom interrupted by occasional episodes of sheer terror. Marking lab reports is a bit like that, except that the range of emotions is more varied – and there’s no terror involved. In amongst the periods of excruciating tedium come moments of frustration, bewilderment, anger and even rage. Sometimes one is helplessly reduced to bouts of uncontrollable giggles. I had one of the latter recently when one student who obviously couldn’t figure out how to insert the Greek letter, µ, resorted to using ‘Mew’ for viscosity. Obviously a cat owner. Another student who was probably not that familiar with MathType or the Word equation editor, inserted all his equations in 36pt font. If nothing else, they stood out against the 12pt font used elsewhere in the text.

I like to write the odd comment on lab reports and if you follow my marking you will see them evolve something like this:

units     units!    Units!   UNITS!!     UNITS!!!!!

These relate to the infuriating tendency of many students to present graphs without units on the axis labels, not matter how often you remind them. Indeed, students’ failure to follow guidelines drives me mad, especially when the student goes to great lengths to include material in the report that I have repeatedly stated is not required.

Anyway, I plan a small change in 2013. At the moment, I am reading a book, ‘The Checklist Manifesto’, which basically advocates the use of checklists, like those used by pilots, to eliminate errors in a wide range of fields. I think I will introduce checklists next year. Students will have to sign off on a checklist and attach it to his/her report. This way, they might get into the habit of actually following guidelines. My blood pressure will also be better controlled.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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4 Responses to Marking Season

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Marking Season

  2. Niall says:

    looking over my reports from previous years, i always wonder how wrote such crap, Units, If you get nothing else right, get them right! Remember the mishap by NASA a few years previously? they outsourced some calculations or something to europe, of course, needless to say, no one check the units! so millions of dollars, and 6 months later and tracking the probe all the way to some distant planet, the probe crashes into the plant surface. i think the top guys at NASA may of also said “units units! Units! UNITS!! UNITS!!!!!” Occasionally we all make a balls of it, no matter who we are

  3. cormac says:

    I always thought it was ‘knee’ , that funny n, we used for viscosity!

  4. Pingback: Gregory Smith

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