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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)