02 November 2006

Pushing and pulling

Another day of class is past, and I learn a little more every day. Some of what I learn is actually about XXX Engineering. Other educational lessons are about people, my employer's policies and what makes engineers 'tick.'

Fundamentals of XXX Engineering is just one small part of a series of courses my employer offers to its baby engineers. The gang of young-uns in my class are mostly fresh from university. They are, as I mentioned yesterday, from all over the world, including a few countries that did not yet exist when I was their age. (Scary)

They are part of my employer's effort to hire these kids out of school, before some competitor or big oil company notices that they are breathing. (The oil industry is a hot place to be right now.) Their studies are part of an 8-month "boot camp" of sorts, teaching them all about the different jobs they might do with my employer, and teaching them the basics of engineering for each of 10 or so various job categories.

The classes for each specialty comprise four days of instruction and one long final exam. On each instruction day after the first day, there is also a "quiz," so as of today we've had three tests, and tomorrow (Friday) we'll have our final exam. To "pass" the class, you must have either an 80% average on all four tests, or 80% on the final itself.

The foreign students note that if they fail two of these Fundamentals of XYZ Engineering courses, they are sent home & probably lose their jobs. So they are very intense about their tests. Furthermore, there is a rumor of a prize: If you get 100% on all four tests in a class, you get a jacket embroidered with the word "ACE." No one in this group has seen one, and several of the most competitive guys are extremely eager to be the first to earn one.

Many classmates -- expecially the non-native English speakers -- find the tests very difficult because the teacher has tried to be 'tricky' with the questions. He uses sentence structures like, "True or false: The bubbles in Coke are not a factor in pushing the straw out of the can." So you have to determine the truthiness or falsiness of a "not," which is hard even for native English speakers. (It's hard enough to do this stuff without some teacher messing with words just to try to confuse you, right?)

His standard answer to student queries about test questions all week has been, "What does the question say? Read it carefully." This, today, was his downfall as one word girl and some engineering guys all answered what the question asked, rather than what he 'meant' to ask....

Today's test assessed our ability to plug numbers into my employer's wicked-cool XXX modeling software and produce other numbers. Basically, one question asked, "if you stick a straw into a Coke bottle, how hard can you push on the straw before it bends?" The teacher wanted the answer to be a negative number beause we were pushing down; we argued that 'push' isn't the right technical term for what he wanted, so our positive answer was quite correct.

Anyway, the point is not that this silly argument 'raged' for 15 minutes of class time before we won it, but rather the fact that all of us who argued have 95+ averages in the class, and missing one question doesn't affect our 'grade' one whit. And there are no jackets on the line because everybody missed at least one question on the very first test. Go figure. And don't even try to suggest that we just like to argue. ;)

1 comment:

Lee said...

Arguing is good...keeps the teacher on his toes...and by the sounds of it, he deserves all you are throwing at him! ;)

I'm sure you'll have no problems passing...jacket or no jacket. Where would you wear it, anyway! ;)