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College Professor Gives His Students the ALF Test

(Image: NBC)

Did you read the syllabus? Dr. Joseph A. Howley, a classics professor at Columbia University, suspected that most of his students didn't. So he hid a test in his syllabus. It instructed students to email him a picture of Alf, the alien character in the 80s sitcom ALF. The Daily Beast reports:

Like a lot of professors in 2015, Columbia professor Joseph Howley had a problem with students “class shopping.”

Some would sign up for his class only to see if it was easy, then bail after the first session if it wasn’t. But only Howley thought to counter this quiet menace with something that could stop it: a cat-eating space alien who was expelled from Earth to face his inevitable death in 1990.

The assistant classics professor stuck a command for his students to send him a picture of Alf—the ’80s sitcom star and alien from the planet Melmac—into the middle of his syllabus to see if anybody noticed.

So far, 8 of his 20 students have done so, emailing Dr. Howley with pictures of Alf. He tweeted:

-via Ed Driscoll


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When I was a freshman, I took an upper-level class as an elective. We had to read a difficult book, and a girl on my floor in the same class bragged about using the Cliff notes. The final exam had a question that involved a small but very good analogy for the entire premise of the book. That question was 25% of the grade, because it separated those who read the book from those who used the Cliff notes. Professors know what's in the Cliff notes.
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Students are overloaded at the start of a semester, and he's just front-loading more work on them. He thinks his unique snowflake of a generic course description is special, even though his numbers clearly indicate his students do fine without reading it, so his captive audience must be forced to spend as much time reading it as he did writing it. Finally, the trick does nothing to prevent the class-shopping he claims is the problem. He's clearly made the wrong assumption about where the problem lies.
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