This morning, my students wrote the final exam for their History 2EE3 course. It’s a three-hour exam consisting of a short-answer portion (writing five terms from eight choices) and an essay question (four were distributed on the course study guide, and one showed up on the exam). Study guides can be daunting things. I provided close to 90 terms I expected students to know. The alternative was to not provide a study guide and expect students to be familiar with all the material covered, but I felt there was some pedagogical merit to them having a list of terms that might help them to organize their thoughts around course themes. This wasn’t designed as a shortcut study guide, but rather a method of helping students to pick up on the big-picture questions associated with the course. My weekend will be spent determining how well I communicated the course themes and ideas and how well students made the connections across time and place.
In a recent lecture on the history of the computer, though, I couldn’t resist giving the students inside help. On the slideshow’s opening page, looking a bit like part of the slide’s design, was a slew of binary (edited to add the screen capture and clarify the binary message):
If you’re familiar with binary, you might be able to read the the first box, which says “SHH! It’s a secret!” It was all a bit of play; the second box invited students who deciphered the binary to tweet “#2EE3 got it.”
Three students replied out of a hundred. One had his brother tweet for him inside of 48 hours. The second approached me after class a week later. I don’t know if these are good odds or bad odds, but it was a nice little inside game. A big part of the course had been the human affinity for order and patterns, and these perceptive students had picked up on the fact that the random sequence of 0s and 1s were not, in fact, random. What neither student mention to me, though, was that they had noticed similar messages coded into subsequent pages of the slideshow, which consisted of the terms that would show up on the final exam. For example:
Maybe they saw this and were able to render their exam preparation more efficient; maybe not. The third student tweeted on the eve of the final, claiming she had just become a lot less stressed about the morning’s final, which, I assume, means she cracked the code throughout the slideshow.
It was a good semester, though, and I enjoyed teaching my survey of science and technology in world history. It’s a fun course, and rewarding to see a swath of students from across the various faculties on campus. I’m always fascinated by how they take to the course in drastically different ways. I look forward to teaching History 2EE3 again next September.