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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teaching 500+ Students - Part 5 (Sleeping during the lectures)

When I was a student, I used to miss any class if I felt sleepy. It just seemed wrong to sit in the class and not pay attention. Things have changed with age, and perhaps with time. Now, I can peacefully sleep during seminars without feeling too guilty. And I have no problems with my students sleeping in my lecture, as long as they don't get upset with my lecture disturbing their sleep, and they don't snore and disturb others. Peaceful coexistence, as they say.

About a month ago, in one of my lectures, I noticed that a student was sleeping in the last row of L-7. (For the benefit of readers not familiar with IITK lingo, L-7 is lecture hall number 7, which is the largest lecture hall on campus with a capacity of more than 500.) When I say sleeping, I don't mean sitting with eyes closed and not paying attention. He was as flat as you can be on a chair with legs resting on the next seat. He had a handkerchief on his face so that the lights don't bother him. And, I am sure, though I did not check, he had ear plugs to make sure that my lecture does not disturb him. His body did not seem to be moving at all.

I became acutely aware of what W H Auden (an American Poet) had said about half a century ago, "A Professor is one who talks in someone else's sleep," and I tried to be soft, and I tried to ignore him. Sometimes there will be two students sleeping. I was curious, as to who they were, were they registered in my course, were they sleeping through the previous lecture as well, and why can't they sleep in their hostel rooms.

The funny thing happened two days ago. I decided to take a surprise quiz in the lecture. A kind soul went to the last row to wake up the sleeping student, gave him the paper. The student took a few seconds to look at the question, returned the paper, and went back to sleep. How important can a few marks be when you are day dreaming about your career, or your favourite heroine, for that matter.

Today was the last lecture of my course, and my last chance to find out. So I asked some students in the course if they knew who they were. Yes, of course, they were registered students in my course, and very hard working ones at that. They worked whole night, every night. Doing what? I don't know but I can only guess that playing computer games and watching movies on a small screen is a lot of hard work. And human body can only take so much. So one has to sleep some times. No user manual of life has said that one can only sleep in the night. And they were born in a free country, where they can enjoy a whole lot of freedoms, including freedom to sleep at will.

But students told me that the Warden of one hostel whose resident this student was, considered himself above the Indian constitution. He got the Hall Executive Committee to approve a rule which stated that students cannot be in their rooms when their classes are on. No respect for individual freedom. I guess this warden thinks that these students have come to IIT for studying. He himself should wake up and smell some coffee.

So sleeping in the room during the late morning hours entails a cost (fine) of Rs. 50. Sleeping in the lecture hall is free. And in the last row, disturbance is arguably less than what it would be in the wing. In fact, the C syntax that I was teaching must be acting as a lullaby for him. (Though I wonder whether the Physics lecture before my lecture was also sleep inducing? They apparently had slept through that too.) To add to their comfort, the lecture halls are air-conditioned. What more can one ask for. It is such an attractive proposition that I am sure the student would have gladly paid Rs. 50, if we insisted on that to let him sleep during the lecture. It is definitely better sleeping in a lecture hall than in the hostel.

But in my opinion, some things in the world must be be tax-free. Free Sleep is one of those things I feel strongly about. I am sure when the constitution was being drafted, the members were asleep. That is why they gave us free speech, when they really wanted to give us free sleep.

Oh! The joys of teaching a 500+ students' class.

Added on 18th November: Here are the links to previous posts on my experiences in teaching 500+ students:

Teaching 500+ Students - Part 4 (Extreme performances) 
Teaching 500+ Students - Part 3 (Excuses for Copying)
Teaching 500+ Students - Part 2 (Conducting Labs)
Teaching 500+ Students - Part 1 (Language Issues)
 

22 comments:

mcenley said...

Glad to see you saw the funny side of it. A few "great" professors might take to moral policing.

L said...

Great post Professor. The economics does seem to favour sleeping in class...that too on a hot April afternoon, it would make even greater sense than in the odd semesters.

Desi Babu said...

Awesome post Prof. Sanghi!

Brought back memories of my own days at an IIT. Of course, no one on our faculty bothered to disturb our sleep, since they presumably had better things to do with their time. Once, some of my classmates threw a firecracker through my window, when I was dreaming about my own future. No firecracker had it in it to mess with my sleep. And so, I was promptly declared "firecracker proof", whatever that meant.

If this problem is hall specific, I would make friends with someone who lives in a different hall. And sleep in their room, when they are attending a class...The payment for such favors can always be negotiated in barter, rather than hard cash.

Peace!

Shantanu said...

"am sure when the constitution was being drafted, the members were asleep. That is why they gave us free speech, when they really wanted to give us free sleep." ... this was an awesome line .. :) ..

I think one of the problems is the culture that is now being followed in hostels around the country. Sleeping late is a fashion now days. Is there something that college can do to ensure students wake up early and sleep early?
Why can't IITK make a rule that personal computers would not be allowed in hostels. IITK can distribute notepads like "Aakash" whose configuration would be such that running multimedia on them would not be possible (somewhat like the laptops that offices provide). Campus life would be much more fun and less stressful without personal computers in rooms.

rohitj said...

@Shantanu : Or may be at a college level (when students are all grown up and they can drive and vote), no one needs to do anything. When they fail in exam, may be they will learn their lesson. May be, they are above exams and want to explore other important things. Such rules like banning LAN, or forcing attendance also have bad affect on sincere students who had genuine reasons to sleep during day time, or who find the class too boring or stupid. A lot of classes are indeed boring and stupid (not generalizing).

I believe, what one needs is proper exams (I don't mean hard when I say proper) and proper grading. And more importantly flexible curriculum. So that students could pick the courses they are interested in, rather than being forced.

sai upreti said...

chaap diya sir..............

jayajha said...

@Shantanu - Even if I leave aside the idea of letting individuals decide for themslevs and support the idea of somehow restricting the access, there is a problem. If IIT students can not figure out a way of bypassing those access restrictions, it is a shame on them :) Trust me they will!

Personally, of course, I don't support access restrictions for various reasons. One of them being that the worst affected are those, we weren't misusing the access!

rishi said...

I did sleep in plenty of lectures, starting from first day first lecture of MTH101, till final BTP lab timings, but one thing which was pure awesomeness of iitk was the freedom, do whatever you want and face the consequences, some chose to attend classes and go for grades, some chose not to attend classes, and still got good grades, some like me never went to classes they didnt like and managed to pass, but we ended up becoming a better person, compared to what we were before we entered the system.

now with so much of *stupid* restrictions in hostels, iitk sounds worst than a primary day boarding school.

Karan Singh said...

well... there's one thing about IITK that truly remarkable ... most profs do not actually bother youu if you sleep in class.

ps. now i can sleep without guilt.

Unknown said...

Hillarious!!Dheeraj - I think you can write something better than 5 point...
:D

Unknown said...

Hillarious :D
After 5 point someone, I think you can write 500 students and some more...

Unknown said...

Hillarious :D
After 5 point someone, I think you can write 500 students and some more...

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Unknown, thanks. At least while praising, you could use your real name. ! But, anyway, I appreciate your confidence in my writing.

Pawan Mishra said...

very good post Dheeraj - made me very nostalgic about old IITK days :)

apurv nakade said...

"The student took a few seconds to look at the question, returned the paper, and went back to sleep."!!

ye to epic hai ... itna honhaar bachcha to sadiyon mein ek baar aata hai

Navin @ Hiranandani said...

I appreciate that Dr Sanghi Sir has shared such a nice experience with all of us. Life is not always about achievements, it has to have a bit of masala to enjoy. Thanks you Sir

Shantanu said...

@rohitj ar... of course I am not asking administration to spoon feed students. Yes students are allowed to vote, drive and watch adult movies (not in CC though), but still as sir has already pointed out that many students may just mishandle the "freedom" that they get once they enter college. This issue is relevant today as well. If the lectures are boring then I agree, that there is no point in attending those lectures but there is no point in playing AOE, Counter strike or watching movies either. I have absolutely no problem if a student misses a lecture delivered by a professor who would anyways make you sleep (please don't generalize across all professors), but the student must not waste his/her time.

satanicoutput said...

@shantanu who is to decide what 'wasting time' is? Think about this for a while.

Ram said...

This is way better than taking the moral high ground... I don't think there is a single teacher, good or bad, who has not had a student sleep during his or her lecture, 500 or 5...

Shantanu said...

@satani ... "Wasting time" is playing AOE and utilizing time is playing football outside. Anything which adds value in someway or the other to yourself is "utilizing" time. That is why I said that if a student sleeps for 9 hours the previous night and still some professor makes him sleepy (have to say amazing talent) then there is no point in attending such lectures. Though most of the lectures I attended, I found that you gained something or the other from them. What I disagree with is when prof. Sanghi says that one should forget about everything (festivals etc.) apart from studies. I will give an example to support why i disagree with this point. In 2008 batch there was an EE graduate whose CGPA was 9.6 and who eventually went to IIMC and then joined an I bank. One day in office a girl commented that his tie was too "gayish" (it was pink in colour) and then that "IIT Kanpur champ" went and complained to his manager . When his New York manager came to know about this event he politely asked the "champ" to move out of the team as he needed more mature people in the team. Now professor whom do you see as a better representative of IIT Kanpur, a 9.5 who behaves like a school kid or an 8 pointer who behaves more maturely. I agree that this incident was in a financial firm but I am sure you would be the first person to appreciate that even in the technical or research field immature attitude does reflect very poorly. Considering that the structure society and academic load in school (fierce competition for JEE) doesn't allow most of us enough social interaction before college, don't you think that college should encourage students to learn these "Social" skills that become simply some kind of nerds and geeks (which most of them are before entering IIT).

Umesh said...

Well, it brought me memories of my own days at IIT. I at times slept through the classes of loudest professor, who didn't need a mike to reach the back of L7 and most of my sleeps were because I was too busy in the night to get a proper sleep (read AOE/novels/movies/morning gym).
But moral policing and a fine of Rs 50. It must be a over zealous professor. That's pretty funny and perhaps shows a someone who needs a lesson in Pedagogy.
I remember, fine and account suspension were introduced by Prof. Sanghi for playing games in CC labs. It was a good effort and served the purpose of desktop's not being occupied in games in day time.

PS: I did circumvent it by going to labs at late night, when the members of vigilant committee will be asleep. (and later bunking lectures/sleeping in class).

Umesh said...

@I forgot to mention. I did learn my lesson at the end of semester, when the grades came out. They couldn't get any lower. Games and bunking lectures one of two primary contributors for my lowest grade during IITK. I spent my next semester staying away from games and other distracting activities and had best SPI of my stay.