Here’s some suggestions for this year: http://www.dailytoreador.com/opinion/article_78bd9f3c-e171-11df-bf3c-00127992bc8b.html
Archives For October 2010
Fewer and fewer college professors are opting to make student take a traditional, timed sit-down final exam. I think that’s a good thing.
Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
An article that appeared in The Boston Globe earlier this month titled “The test has been cancelled” looked into the decreasing usage – and indeed relevance – of classes having final exams at the end of the semester.
One big statistic they mention early on is that a mere 23 percent of Harvard classes last spring semester actually had final exams. This prompted the university to reverse their rules on the examination process – rather than informing the university when their class would not have a final, professors have to request permission to have a scheduled, seated exam.
This doesn’t really surprise me, and in fact I see it as a significant step forward. Most of the finals I’ve ever taken have come down to pure memorization of facts, usually by cramming a day or two before the final. This may not be different from a vast majority of college exams, but it’s a pain when a class is expected to have a final even if the structure of a class doesn’t benefit from it.
For example, I’m an English major and a philosophy minor. Generally speaking, neither of these course types lend themselves to typical sit-down exams. I’ve rarely had exams that are multiple-choice, saving me money on Scantrons but giving me more writer’s cramps due to Blue Book usage.
I’ve had more than one exam that tasked students with identifying the title, author and speaking characters in a given sample of text. Sure, doing so might prove that I read the books that were on the syllabus, but how can that skill help me really analyze the literature in question?
In philosophy in particular, how helpful is an exam to a student, really? I’ve had professors outright advise students to write a few short essays ahead of time, memorize them, then write them again in a Blue Book during the final. Where’s the benefit in that?
Personally, I’d rather write a 10-page essay on metaphysics due on the last day of class than write a few three-page essays that I have to write by hand in a three-hour final.
Similarly, I was thankful when my fellow honors astronomy students and I were tasked with doing a presentation rather than taking a final. While astronomy certainly contains enough facts and data to make exams possible, I felt I learned a lot more by doing a 15-minute presentation on dark matter than I would have by making sure I memorized the orbital period of Io for the three hours during the exam.
Granted, I wouldn’t say that finals should be tossed aside entirely. I think they can be useful in determining how much a beginner math student has learned during the semester, for example. It was also a good thing my Latin finals were never done at home, because it would have been far too easy for students to cheat with things like online translators.
Some professors at Tech still play by their own rules anyway. One of my professors this semester is rewarding near-perfect attendance with the option to skip the final, if desired. I intend to take full advantage of that offer.
But it’s important for professors to not be tied down by the traditional concept of a sit-down final exam. There are often better, more effective ways of judging a student’s performance and aptitude. We should perhaps encourage more creativity from professors when it comes to finals.
Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
I’m not huge on Halloween parties. I’m not much of an alcohol fan and seeing women dressed as sexy versions of the Ninja Turtles creeps me out more than it turns me on (not that my fiancée would appreciate me gawking at other women anyway).
If you’re like me and find the idea of staying in with horror movies a more appealing Halloween plan, then might I suggest some great video games to complement your viewing of “Paranormal Activity”?
“Costume Quest” — This downloadable title available on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network might not seem like an obvious choice to many, because it looks like a cute little kid’s game. But “Costume Quest,” from comedy gaming guru and “Brutal Legend” creator Tim Schaefer’s Double Fine Studios, is a fantastic RPG for all ages. It’s short, but for $15, I definitely recommend doing a little trick-or-treating and then turning into a giant robot to kill some goblins.
“Castlevania: Lords of Shadow” — This latest “Castlevania” title is extremely different from its predecessors and in fact starts off with bright and pretty gorgeous environments that don’t exactly evoke a Halloween-ish feel. However, over the course of the epic adventure, you will fight plenty of vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night. Dracula may not be the main threat this time, but there are still great references to Frankenstein’s monster or Death himself. I highly recommend this title even after Halloween ends.
“Saw” — The “Saw” franchise has become a Halloween staple for many horror fans, and the game from Konami received surprisingly OK reviews when it came out last year. “Saw II” was just released for the Xbox 360 and PS3, but I can’t speak to its quality, personally. So, play that one at your own risk for a variety of reasons.
“Alan Wake” — One of my favorite games of the year, “Alan Wake” comes from the developers of the acclaimed “Max Payne” games and follows horror author Alan Wake through a nightmarish journey to save his wife from a dark presence. The story, told in an episodic format – similar to a TV show – is usually very engaging, and the atmosphere is sufficiently creepy.
“Left4Dead 1 or 2” — If you just want to spend your Halloween weekend slaughtering zombies, or being a zombie yourself, you won’t find a better multiplayer choice than “Left4Dead.” It’s more action-packed than scary, but working together with three friends to escape a scenario alive can be a great way to spend your time.
“Dead Rising 2” — Want to slaughter thousands upon thousands of zombies with lawnmowers, electric rakes, spiked bats, drill buckets and more? “Dead Rising 2” is your best option. Dropping players in a Las Vegas-esque environment with plenty of tools available for zombie genocide, the game aims for the part of your brain that gets pleasure from dismembering the living dead.
“Amnesia: The Dark Descent” — I’ll be honest, I haven’t played this one yet, but it might be how I personally spend my Halloween night. From the creators of the terrific and scary “Penumbra” games, “Amnesia” is supposedly pretty terrifying. It appears to be a slow moving adventure heavily inspired by the likes of H.P Lovecraft, which welcomes gamers to play with the lights off. It’s received a ton of critical acclaim, so I’m anxious to check it out myself.
There are plenty of other options from years past, of course. Any of the “Silent Hill” or “Resident Evil” games could provide some great thrills, and I’m personally a fan of the horrific sci-fi adventure “Dead Space.”
If you want some more light-hearted antics, there are some horror-themed WiiWare titles you can download, as well as gaming classics like “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” or the older “Castlevania” titles available on the Wii Virtual Console.
However you spend your holiday, stay safe and have fun.
Hey all. The Daily Toreador recently got a new website, which is a vast improvement on the old one and should let our staff do some cool stuff in the future. However, that also means that the links to all of my old content are entirely different (in some cases, possibly missing entirely). It’ll take me awhile to relink everything, or potentially re-upload all those old reviews and columns and make them local on this blog.
In the meantime, if you really want to access something I wrote in the distant past for The DT, you can search for it on the DT’s website.
Originally published in The Daily Toreador. Photo from Flickr.
When we first leave for college, we’re told by many adults that college will give us a taste of “the real world,” but that’s not entirely true, is it? After all, the real world usually doesn’t involve games like Humans vs. Zombies.
Sure, many adults play “Left 4 Dead” or other zombie video games, and zombies movies often manage to be box office hits, no matter their quality. Some adults may even play tag, though this is usually with children. But you don’t usually see college graduates walking around town with bandanas and Nerf guns, playing a massive game of Cops and Robbers. That’s not to say it’s impossible – the website for Humans vs. Zombies notes that there’s no reason it can’t be played in retirement homes – it’s just a lot less likely.
Though, now that I think about it, wouldn’t it be awesome if we did see more “mature” adults take part in the game? I’d particularly love to see Steve Jobs walk out of Apple HQ with a bandana around his arm and toy gun at his side.
For those not yet aware, and who are perhaps wondering what the crap is going on with some students on campus this week, Humans vs. Zombies (usually referred to as HvZ) is a large-scale game of tag where one group, the humans, is trying to avoid being tagged by the rival group, the zombies. Humans can stun zombies for 15 minutes by shooting them with a Nerf gun or throwing a sock at them. If a human is tagged, they are turned into a zombie a couple hours later and have to turn on their former, living brethren.
Not knowing this can make for some awkward looks at HvZ players. This was particularly humorous on Monday, as it was Tech’s University Day. Maybe a bunch of kids running around with toy guns didn’t present the most prestigious image of our great university to the many parents and high school kids who were visiting, but that just made it a bit more special to me.
It may not be all fun and games, of course. While the HvZ website lists strict and very sensible rules for safety, Stephen Colbert has named the game the No. 1 threat to America on his “Threatdown” segment. He argues that it’s all fun and games until the real zombie outbreak hits, after which all hell will break loose.
I’m not playing HvZ myself, and I must confess that I wasn’t even aware of it until it was too late to sign up for this match. I’m not sure if I would have enlisted for the game had I known about it earlier, but I do love the fact that it exists. In a lot of ways, this is exactly what makes the college experience worthwhile. While there’s no rule against games like this existing outside the college campus, universities are still where these things always crop up and later thrive.
Despite the “us versus them” mentality that the game promotes, I can already see the social benefits of the experience. When walking to my car after class earlier this week, I noticed two human players, who didn’t seem to know each other, notice the familiar bandana on each other’s arms and decide to meet up. Within seconds, they were sharing their game experiences and discussing strategies for the rest of the week.
As of this writing, though, I haven’t personally seen a single zombie player – just a ton of shifty-eyed humans. Granted, a couple of my coworkers have claimed to see some out and about, so maybe they’re just hiding from me. Or maybe the humans are just awesome and haven’t been turned, and maybe the zombies really need to step it up. Regardless, I hope to see a lot more of the living dead wreaking havoc in the near future. It would make the walks to class more exciting.
The column is here, regardless.
Wii Party is a party game for the Wii. Surprise! But it’s actually not bad, especially if you’ve got a good group of friends to play with. Check out my full review on The Daily Toreador website.
Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
When perusing through the Opinions section of CNN.com, as I sometimes do, the headline “Public schools need religion” caught my eye. I then saw the same column, nearly word for word in some cases, on USAToday.com’s Opinions section. (Stand down, plagiarism police. They were both written by the same guy, at least.)
In both pieces, author Stephen Prothero argues that religious literacy in America is a mess, and no matter your beliefs, that needs to be fixed. He makes a compelling argument.
As I’m not shy in saying, I’m a Christian, but I’m generally OK with keeping our public schools non-religious. I don’t need a principal to lead the school in prayer or a science teacher to teach creationism in order to feel good about my religion. But when thinking about it, there’s a lot of good that could come from teaching a bit of religion – not exclusively Christianity, mind you – in public schools.
Prothero’s columns come in the wake of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s recent poll, which he evidently had a part in overseeing. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey polled a variety of people on many religious questions and gauged, approximately, how well Americans from various walks of life know their religious facts.
The results have mostly been making rounds because of the fact that atheists and agnostics scored better than any religious group on the list, “proving” that non-believers know more about a god they don’t believe in than people who worship God on a regular basis. Never mind the fact that such people still only got 66 percent of the answers right (“a D,” Prothero points out), or that Mormons and Jews were not far behind.
Of course, a ton can be said about how this might show a failure of churches or home education. Roman Catholics ranked last – many not even correctly identifying Genesis as the first book of the Bible – despite them stereotypically being thought of as having rather strict religious education. However, when the majority of Americans can only get 50 percent of questions on such a quiz right, despite the majority of Americans believing in God, this is probably something we all need to address.
Remember, for instance, that most of these people do still vote. If their religion plays a huge part in how they vote come Election Day, don’t you want them to at least know what their religion believes?
But there’s a lot more than that. Especially in a post-9/11 world, many in our nation are crippled with fear of the Muslim religion. Almost all of this fear comes from a complete misunderstanding of what Muslims actually believe. Why shouldn’t they learn such things in school, instead of going entirely off of what a group of extremist terrorists do?
Even if you’re like Christopher Hitchens and think that religion in all forms is a plague upon humanity that should be wiped out, at the very least shouldn’t you know your enemy?
Teaching religions in schools shouldn’t be a scary thought, anyway. The way I see it, it’s pretty necessary in understanding much of history. Like it or not, human history is absolutely littered with religious influence, good and bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think schools should try to encourage the practices or one religion over another, and in fact teachers should stay as far away from such things as possible. But a general overview of at least a wide variety of religions could be pretty beneficial to learning, and I think it could help promote religious tolerance. It’s easier to understand each other’s differences if we’re at least close to the same page.
And I don’t think we can say, “No, keep all religion out of schools, and leave religious education to the parents.” Often, it’s the parents that are helping spread all this misinformation, because no one taught them this stuff, either. It was adults, not high school kids, who were trying to burn Qurans. If you’re a liberal, you can think of it this way: Do you want some people’s only religious education to come from their racist, ultra-conservative parents?
Personally, I’m more ignorant about many world religions than I’d like to be. I know precious little about Hinduism, for example, and the only thing I really know about Shinto is that it exists. Obviously I can remedy that through self-education or even a few classes here on campus, but I do wish I had gotten a head start earlier in life.