B.3 FAQs

B.3.1 What week is it?

[insert your own quarantine joke here]

Which week are we on?

This matters because there are limits on how many things you can do in a week (Target Assessments, discussion posts for credit). Of course, the exact boundary isn’t as important, since I don’t really care if you want to do Assessments at 3:00 in the morning.

Moodle considers the semester to have 15 weeks; Week 1 starts Sunday, 8/29 and Week 15 starts Sunday, 12/5. Weeks with breaks or days off still count, though there are a few adjustments to how things work.

When does the week change over?

The week boundary is 12:01 am Eastern time on Sunday morning. If you are a night owl and you post something at 1:00 am on Sunday that you want to count toward the previous week, let the TAs know about it.

B.3.2 Prerequisites

I’m not sure if I meet the prerequisites.

Contact me. It’s possible to do a certain amount of catching up if you have the time to spend on it, but this course moves fast; so it’s best if we work out what you’re facing right away.

B.3.3 Whyyyy?

If this is a question about the world in general, whoo, your guess is as good as mine. But I do have an answer for:

Why is the course structured this way? / Why are you doing [weird course thing]? / Why do I need to do [weird course thing]?

Short answer: it’s not because I want you to be miserable. I’ve done my best to set up the course in alignment with my principles, with current research on how students learn, with my own classroom experience, and with the requirements of this still-very-strange year. This course isn’t perfect, and neither are all of my decisions, but there is a reason behind all of them. I’m very happy to talk with you about these issues, so if you’re wondering about the purpose of an assignment, or the reasoning behind a policy, ask me!

If you feel like you’re having trouble working with some structure or requirement, I also encourage you to talk to me. One of the ancillary skills you’ll exercise in this class is meta-assessment: thinking about what you learn and how you learn it. We can talk about what you’re currently experiencing and how we might improve it.

B.3.4 Feedback/scoring questions

I want to talk about an assessment of my work.

If you have questions about your work or the feedback you got on an assignment, great! The whole point of feedback is for you to use it, and that only works if it’s clear to you. If you’re wondering about a specific thing, like a practice problem, start by checking your solution with a classmate (if you’re comfortable doing so) and see if you can work out what the issue is. If things are still unclear, contact me and we’ll talk about it.

If you feel like one of your ESPN scores might be inaccurate, contact me. Tell me about your question and if there are any particular issues I should pay attention to (like “I think you skipped a page”), and I’ll re-assess the assignment as a whole.

B.3.5 Getting stuck

I’m stuck on a practice problem/the project.

First, take a break. Go walk around for five or ten minutes, go outside if you can and it’s not disgustingly cold out, drink some water, stretch. Now go back and see if you can isolate where you’re stuck; try to come up with some specific questions. Check for answers on the discussion boards or with your classmates (see “Should I join a study group?”). If you still have questions, come to office hours or contact me. There are no due dates for practice problems; take your time!

But this project component is due in an hour!

Still try taking a break; you’d be amazed how much it can help. Then complete the work as best you can. Write a short note or two about the process, like “I tried X, but it didn’t work” or “I’m pretty sure this is only true if Y.” Then submit it, take a deep breath, and make a note to give yourself more time to do the next assignment. The important thing is that you master the skills and concepts, even if it doesn’t happen right now.

B.3.6 Staying on track

I feel like I’m falling behind.

Two rules here: 1) Don’t panic, and 2) Don’t check out. If you take active steps, like evaluating your study habits, establishing a solid routine, and connecting with me and your classmates, you can catch up. The beauty of proficiency grading is that I don’t care when you master a concept or skill, just that you do so by the end of the course.

I want to work ahead!

Good for you! I like to spend November writing a novel, myself :)

Officially, there are no restrictions on how early you can do anything in this class (though even if you work ahead, you need to continue contributing to the community: submitting pre-class questions, attending live sessions, and posting on discussion boards). In general, I don’t post readings or practice problems super far in advance, as this allows me to make adjustments based on how things are going in class. But if you’ve gone through everything that’s currently available and want more, just let me know.

You can attempt Target Assessments on any module for which we have had all the class meetings, and you can ask about any topic in office hours or on discussion boards. Projects are a bit trickier since the feedback part involves other people; try to find someone who’s also interested in starting the project early, and get in touch with me so we can work out a plan.

B.3.7 Study buddies

Should I join a study group with other students?

Yes, provisionally.

I definitely recommend working with your classmates as you go over the material; you can often learn more from explaining things to each other than you do from listening to me. You’re also welcome to work together on responses, pre-class questions, and practice problems, though I do require that you write them up on your own (don’t just copy and paste!), and include the names of anyone you worked with.

You can use the relevant discussion board on Moodle to organize study groups or study sessions. You might ask for study buddies, announce that you’ll be working on X topic at Y time and invite others to join you, coordinate an office-hours flash mob where a bunch of you have the same question, etc. I’m very happy to meet with groups of students in my own appointments as well, if several of you aren’t able to make it to scheduled office hours.

When you join a study group, though, you need to be careful that everyone is an active participant, including you. If you’re working with a more experienced student, it can be easy to nod along as they explain everything – then discover later that you can’t generate those answers on your own. So be rigorous about making sure that you, individually, understand everything that’s discussed in your study group. (If you’re the more experienced student in the group, your job is not to dominate! Give less confident students space to come up with the answers themselves. This can be a really valuable experience for all of you.) Regardless of your experience level, remember to stay constructive and respectful of everyone’s contributions.

B.3.8 Accommodations

I have special classroom needs, or special consideration for assignments.

Drop me an email, talk to me about it after class, or grab an appointment. We’ll work out how things will go. See more details here.

B.3.9 Schedule conflicts

I have a conflict with class.

If it’s a one-time thing, don’t worry about it too much. Let me know in advance if at all possible (our class isn’t huge so I may have to shift lab groups around or something). You won’t get engagement credit for the activity you miss, but there’s leeway built into the engagement expectations – I kind of assume people will miss a couple of days over the course of the semester for one reason or another. You’re still welcome to submit pre-class questions for that day. Afterwards, make sure you check in with a classmate to find out what we discussed!

If it’s an ongoing conflict, talk to me about it.

I have a conflict with a project presentation. Contact me right away to try to work out alternate arrangements. We may be able to work out some flexibility in timing, if we can find groupmates who have similar availability. Note that, in accordance with college policy, I do not allow rescheduling because of travel plans.

B.3.10 Sleep!

Should I sacrifice sleep to study?


Seriously, don’t. Losing sleep makes your brain work less well, so you’ll learn less, and be less able to recall what you’ve learned when you need it. Losing sleep over an extended period of time can lead to serious physical and mental health problems.

Get sleep, take care of yourself, and you’ll be ready to learn and to help your peers learn with your contributions to the class. Also, you’ll be a lot happier about it.