I spent the entire long Presidents’ Day weekend grading and still did not clear my backlog (the cold I’ve had for the past two weeks has really reduced my ability to work long hours). I did get a homework set graded and a design report set graded during the 3-day weekend, but I was left with a set of 18 redone lab reports that I still hadn’t gotten to. Wednesday produced another set of redone reports (so I now have about 35), and Friday produced another homework set (which I just finished grading after spending all Saturday—I haven’t even gotten dressed yet and it is almost 8pm). Tomorrow I’ll tackle the first set of redone reports, assuming my cold lets me do anything tomorrow.
In Disappointment with chain stores, I commented on no longer wanting to grade in the Peet’s coffee shop I used to grade in, and commenter “Mike” wanted to know what solution I came up with. This winter, I’ve mainly been grading in my breakfast room at home, using a tiny laptop (an 11″ MacBook Air, which we bought for travel and for lecturing) when needed to look things up (data sheets, my solution sets, the exact wording in the book, …). This has worked out ok this year, though I do tend to wander into the kitchen for snacks a bit too often. Still, the snacks at home are healthier than in a coffee shop!
Here are some general comments that I shared with the whole class, based on the most recent design reports:
Many students reported using a 3.3V power supply without measuring it, resulting in inconsistent information, such as VOH > 3.3V. PteroDAQ reports the power-supply voltage on the GUI and in the metadata for the data file, so the data was available, even if the students hadn’t thought to measure it while in lab.
- Equations are parts of sentences, not figures and not objects dropped randomly on the page. Treat them grammatically as noun phrases.
- Explicit figure credit is needed any time a figure is copied or adapted. The caption must say something like “figure adapted from …” or “figure copied from …”. Failure to do so is plagiarism, and I’ll have to start academic integrity proceedings if students fail to do proper figure credits in future.
- Don’t bury the lede. Start with the design goal, not with generic background. A lot of students still wanted to give me a bunch of B.S. about what hysteresis was, before telling me that they were designing a capacitive touch sensor using a relaxation oscillator built around a Schmitt trigger.
- The subjunctive mood marked by the auxiliary verb “would” is used for many things in English, but technical writing primarily uses just one: contrary-to-fact statement. “The inverter that we would be using” says that you didn’t use that inverter and are about to say why. A lot of students seem to think that “would be” is some formal form of past tense—they’ve seen it in writing, but never understood what it means. I fault their middle-school English teachers for not stressing the importance of more advanced grammar than the bare minimum, but the fault could have been corrected in high school or in college composition classes, but still persists.
- Students are still using way too much passive: “It was decided …” should be replaced with “We decided …”. Part of the problem here is that much of the writing they are exposed to overuses passive also—excessive passive is a common writing error for scientists and engineers, not just students.
- “Firstly”, “secondly”, “lastly” ⇒ “first”, “second”, “last”. These are already adverbs and don’t need an “-ly” ending. Strangely, I never see the corresponding problem with “next”, though it is in the same class of words that are simultaneously adjectives and adverbs.
- There are a lot of words that are compound words as nouns, but separable verb+particle pairs as verbs. For example, “setup” is a noun, but “set up” is a verb. Other examples include layout, turnaround, pickup, putdown, stowaway, flyover, and setback.
- Avoid the unit abbreviation mm2, as it is too hard to tell whether you mean m(m2) or (mm)2. Most often, the (mm)2 interpretation will be made, but a lot of students used it for m(m2). (Same for cm2.)
- Many students are using “proportional” wrong, for any increasing function. The phrase “f proportional to d” means f=kd for some k, not just that f increases with d. Similarly, “T inversely proportional to d” means T=k/d for some k, not just that C decreases with d.
- Capitalize at beginning of sentence and proper names only: “Schmitt trigger” not “Schmitt Trigger”, “Figure 3” but “many figures”. Figure names, table names, and equation names are proper nouns, so should be capitalized: “There are three figures on the last page: Figures 4, 5, and 7”.
- Unit names are not capitalized (hertz, volts, amps, …), but symbols for units from people’s names are (Hz, V, A)
- Hyphenate a noun phrase used as a modifier for another noun: “Schmitt-trigger inverter” but “Schmitt trigger”.