This is amazing: So, like many professors, Johns Hopkins computer scientist Peter Frohlich grades exams on a curve, meaning that everyone’s grades are relative to the top scorer. (If the smartest student gets an 85, s/he gets an A, and everyone else’s score is weighted accordingly.) There’s an obvious loophole, though — if everyone taking the exam gets the same score, then everyone gets an A. Even better, if everyone gets a zero, they get an A. This is exactly what Frohlich’s students did — and it worked.

Every single student in Frohlich’s fall semester Intermediate Programming, Computer System Fundamentals, and Intro to Programming for Scientists and Engineers courses refused to take the final. “The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Fröhlich told Inside Higher Ed. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up…. Then we all left.” And the students all got As on their final.

Activists and organizers, take note:  the final boycotting campaign was masterfully planned and executed. Students used Facebook and email to contact classmates about the boycott, while organizers used a shared spreadsheet to keep track of who had signed on and who needed a little more persuading. The students all showed up prepared to take the final, understanding that if any one of them had broken ranks and sat for the exam, the rest of them would’ve had to do so as well. But solidarity won out in the end.

Boing Boing notes that it’s appropriate that such an “ingenious, cooperative solution” to the problem came from computer science students:  “The story of the boycott is a sterling example of how computer networks solve collective action problems — the students solved a prisoner’s dilemma in a mutually optimal way without having to iterate, which is impressive.”

But aside from all that, it’s once again nice to hear about Johns Hopkins students uniting for the common good. “The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done,” Frohlich said. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn’t expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.”

8 replies on “Johns Hopkins Students Boycott Final Exam — So Everyone Gets an A”

  1. Much as he might be happy with the unity, I’d have flunked the whole bunch of them. This is the error of over analysis. Rather than test their brains, these kids decided to push their will. Will deserves a push when you’re that age, but not at the expense of intellectual stimulus. Wouldn’t fly at MIT.

  2. Exactly. Non-attendance is a DQ, which is a zero, not an A. This doesn’t show cleverness, it proves Emerson right, in regards to the professor: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

  3. Definitely flunk them all. And grading on a curve is stupid. My students have to complete every assignment, take every test. Some grading is absolute (tests) and some is adjusted (only slightly) to student ability (papers) in the sense the stronger the student, the higher the bar. What happened here was blackmail.

    1. I agree that this sort of curve grading is foolish. It leads to over-competition, and worse, competition against other learners instead of against a scale of success. BUT, this was the system the prof had established. So, if this class (of undisclosed size – 50? 150?) was able to organize this response, they have earned the reward. Engineering is built on mistakes, and I bet Prof Frohlich will revise the requirements on the next go-round. I know I would.

  4. Why don’t you just boycott the whole semester.? Or better yet your entire curriculum? How about if everyone does this? That would be just great. Then we would have zero accountability, no rules to follow!! What a great world it would be! This mentality is exactly what is wrong with the world. You knew the exam was coming and you knew it was graded on a curve. Sit your ass down and take the exam like you agreed to.

  5. I guess nothing can do damage to the value of undergraduate degrees at this point, as they’re already worthless.

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