Poll: Who Deserves an Insta-Fail?

The mid-term exam that i ran yesterday during the college-level Flash course i’m teaching was an absolute slaughter. Limbs flying, computers exploding, babies endangered … just an action-packed mess. It served as the perfect rationale for my recent articles on What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges (Part 1 and Part 2).

These are the notes for the mid-term that the students followed. They had to build this game:

[SWF]http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/files/midTerm/test1_sampleGame.swf, 550, 400[/SWF]

To date, the students have received 20 classes (60 hours) of Flash instruction. i’ve taught 6 of those classes. i haven’t marked the assignments yet, but i have the distinct feeling that very few of the 30+ students, if any, finished with a working “game”.

An End to the No-Fail Generation

i mentioned in another post that these students are the No-Fail Generation. They have been given breaks and second chances left and right. Since they were completely inept at emailing files, at least one teacher took pity on them and would pass around a keydrive for them to upload their finished exams. i decried this as so much spoon-feeding. i was bound and determined to require the students to email me. Here were their instructions:


Add ALL of your files to a zip archive file. This includes your fla, your swf, your .as files, and your FlashDevelop .as3proj file if you have one. Name the zip file using your first inital and last name.


My name is Ryan Creighton, so i would name the zip file rcreighton.zip.

Use your own name. DO NOT send me a file called rcreighton.zip.

email the file to profryan ~at~ untoldentertainment ~dot~ com. (i had the actual address available – obscuring it here to foil the spiders.) If you want to be sure it reaches me, add your own email address to the cc (carbon copy) line. If you receive the email, I’ll receive the email.

Failure to email your properly-named zip file to me by the end of class at 6PM will result in a zero grade – no exceptions, no extensions.

Read that last part carefully for me. i wanted a properly-named zip file. That’s all i asked. One simple thing. And screwing that one simple thing up would result in an Insta-Fail, and a loss of 20% of the final class mark.

So! What did i receive in my inbox? A number of students sent me zip files that were called “monsterGame.zip” or “midTermExam.zip”. Those students, i’m resolved to fail. i have to. i will mark their exams and show them the grade they could have earned. But despite the instructions being clearly stated, and despite having spent 20 minutes on how to zip, name, and attach a file to an email in the previous class, i still got monsterGame.zip from some students. If that’s not a fail, i don’t know what is.

Oh – So You’re a Hard-Ass?

No, i’m not a hard-ass. i’m a realist. i want these students to succeed. And if the most careless students want to waste their time and tuition money learning how to follow a simple instruction and send an email attachment, and that’s the ONLY skill they possess when they emerge from college, then at least i’ll have taught those students something.

The LAST thing i want is for these students to embarrass themselves in the workplace by being completely useless, telling everyone “Ryan Creighton taught me Flash!”

Your Opinion Required

My dilemma is what to do with a student like Bob Smith, who emailed me a file called bsmith_monstergame.zip. Technically, Bob Smith did not follow the instructions. i did not receive a file with ONLY his first initial and last name. i got a file with his first initial, last name, an underscore, and some other nonsense that he thought might be helpful.

i haven’t checked all of the files, but i know there are at least three Bob Smiths in the class who messed this up in a similar way. So i open the floor to you, dear readers: knowing that i am going to award a zero grade to students who did not follow the naming convention, what do i do with the students who named the file properly, but appended some extra jazz to the end?

Take the poll and let me know!

[poll id=”5″]

And if you’re one of my students and you decide to vote, please identify yourself in the comments! :)

98 thoughts on “Poll: Who Deserves an Insta-Fail?

  1. Paul

    Instafail people who didn’t include their name.

    Grade cut (Possibly fail them anyway) whoever screwed up the instructions.

    Set up future exams / assignments to have an “Instructions Have Been Properly Followed” section, make it worth a significant portion, and then you have a valid reason to cut grades for screw ups like this.

  2. ickydime

    I teach ‘Online Portfolio’ at Butler University. First semester for me. My syllabus was full of tough threats such as if you don’t get your assignment to me by Midnight of the date due, 0 credit. The problem I faced is that if you do that, then the student who messed up/forgot/was lazy/etc has no motivation to do the assignment after he/she realizes her mistake. Although I do want the students to learn that deadlines in the professional world are not flexible, I also want them to get through the assignments and learn the material. Sooo, call me a softy but instead of giving them a big fat 0 I am knocking them 2 letter grades every class period it is late. Seems to be a good middle ground for me, but may adapt next year once I get through my first semester…. Its been fun to read your take as I can completely relate to most of your frustrations. Good luck with the failings!

  3. Andy Smith

    I say insta-fail the students who couldn’t follow simple instructions (monstergame.zip), and mock and shame the ones who followed instructions but were too slow to follow them right.

  4. Scarybug

    Exam panic can make people do stupid things. At least the ones who added the “helpful” descriptions after their names were displaying some ability for rational thought ;)

  5. Xia

    You should only completely fail the ones who don’t include their names. After all, how are you supposed to know who it belongs to? Not your job to try and figure that crap out. But the one who added something with their names should be docked points. A point per extra character, perhaps? *is evil* Your instructions are very clear, but there’s a reply up there with a really valid point, which is that if you want them to keep trying, you have to give them the motivation to do that.

  6. Miguel S.

    I’d say fail anyone who didn’t send a zip file and seriously dock the grades of anyone who missed the naming convention. Also tell them all that I could program that monster game in BASIC when I was freaking 8 in an afternoon (ok, ok, with ASCII art, but still!).

  7. Scott S.

    My argument for not failing bsmith_monsterGame.zip folks is that you did not specific “Only”. It was heavily implied; however, the specific wording was “Name the zip file using your first inital [sic.] and last name. […] Use your own name. DO NOT send me a file called rcreighton.zip. ”

    Therefore, the BSmith folks followed the directions; they just gave you additional information as well as the required information.

  8. Joe Larson

    Extra credit should be rewarded, or at the very least not punished. Failure to to perform to expectations should be punished. Student who did not make their zip file with their name, failure to perform to expectations. Students who put their name AND a project identifier (something you may want to consider in the future as a good idea) should not be punished.

    I think the point of any exam is to test your student’s ability to perform to expectations and to realize that any expectation has a reason for being, else why make the expectations. In this case the expectation, to put their name there, was two fold; to help you identify their file against the others and to see if they can follow directions. If they’re making more work for you then by all means drop ’em like their hot. On the other hand, Bob Smith here made your job actually easier should you have similar instructions for the next assignment. Recognize that and reward him for it, but at the very least don’t punish them.

  9. Joe Larson

    @Andrew above – The general is responsible for ensuring that soldiers understand the commands given to them. If the general’s soldiers understood their commands but did not obey, it was the fault of the soldiers. – Sun Zhu (paraphrased).

    If most of the class failed it could be the fault of the instructor. But if the instructions were understood it could be that some of the students need to be failed that this mistake doesn’t happen again.

  10. Patrick

    I really appreciate the problem you’re up against but let the punishment fit the crime. The “insta-fail” approach is just as extreme as “never-fail” and neither focus on the core course curriculum.

  11. Martin

    Failure to follow file naming conventions happens all the time in the ‘real world’, but should be unforgivable in a coder. If I name something wrong, it doesn’t work, but at least I have the opportunity to test and debug.

    Next time give them a web server to upload their files to and tell them that if they don’t name their files correctly then their work will not appear under their name on the (secure) web page you created for the course, so you won’t be able to see and grade their work. This way they can test whether their files appear and fix their mistakes.

  12. Andy Smith

    I agree to an extent, but he already said it was an insta-fail in the instructions and I assume in person to the students, backing down now would kill any sense that he is different from the rest of the push-over teachers (i assume).

  13. Jimmy McRegular

    How much is the mid-term worth of their final mark?
    If it’s less than 20%, the insta-fail serves as a warning shot.
    If it’s more, might be sinking the ship.

    You >need< a warning shot since other teachers (the other 14 classes)
    may have set a lower standard, and students need to adjust to a new (better) reality.

    Do NOT penalize "bsmith_monstergame.zip".
    They were probably trying to go above and beyond.
    Presumably, you asked for the file to be named "bmsith.zip"
    so when you saved to a folder you could tell projects apart.
    "bsmith_monstergame.zip" is even less ambiguous which can be viewed as even more helpful.
    It doesn't follow the letter of the law, but certainly the spirit.
    What lesson would you be teaching if you penalized them?
    i.e. You came back from lunch at 12:55pm, not 1:00pm. I said you had 1 HOUR!!!

  14. Snottlebocket

    If they send in an identifiable submission, just grade them. Dock them points or something if you want but there’s no point in failing them.

    “dont be a dick” is a pretty important lesson to pass on to your students to. If I reacted that way everytime someone manages to screw up communication during my dayjob, I’d spend more time being an asshat to people than achieving goals together.

  15. Mark

    Do NOT penalize “bsmith_monstergame.zip”. Your Insta-fail is extreme, I’d make instruction following a markable section of each test.

    This time around make them re-submit until they get the naming conventions right and penalize them for being late. It seems like they’ll fail anyways if they can’t name things correctly.

  16. Mark

    I liked college because it seemed the profs were on my side and rooting for me to succeed, University was the opposite experience.

  17. Michael

    I’m with Andy Smith. You said it would be an insta-fail, you can’t go back on it now. Most of my best teachers were total bastards when it came to things like this. (Admittedly, some of my worst teachers were total bastards too, though.)

    I’m curious: can you adjust the curve at the end of the year? So, like, if everyone got zero on the mid-term, you could make a mark of 80% actually worth 100%?

  18. RodeoClown

    I’d fail anyone who didn’t submit, penalise fairly harshly (ie – can still pass the course, but they’ll need to work) any that came with no name attached, and leave bsmith_monstergame.zip alone.

    However – for the _next_ assignment I’d do as suggested above and add a ‘followed instructions’ mark, with an explanation that sometimes game files must be delivered in an EXACT naming format, and this is one of those times. If it isn’t exact, then they’ll lose marks.

    In your instructions there was no explanation as to why the naming needed to be exact, just a command. Let this test be a warning, and explain the reasoning in the next one.

    That all said, no zip or plaigarism: FAIL.

  19. Andy Smith

    And yet another super idea from my corner. Insta-fail them, but give the option (before the next exam) to make back an extra 10% if they don’t screw it up again, they’re still down 10% for the lesson.

  20. encyclops

    At first I was all “yeah! Graah! Fail those inattentive dolts!”

    But then I thought: what is this teaching? (a) People mean what they say — that’s a good lesson. (b) Following arbitrary orders to the letter is more important than doing good work — that’s not so good. I’m not sure what I’d do this time, but in future I might consider carefully what messages my assignments are sending.

  21. Iain

    I say give them extra credit because rcreighton.zip is terrible naming convention. The days of 8 character file names so what is the logic behind only a first initial? What happens when Bob Smith and Ben Smith both want to submit? And what happens in 2 years when your trying to find your old monster game? What did you name it? Oh yeah rcreighton.zip – that was a good idea. RyanCreightonMonsterGame.zip for the win!

  22. Jean-Guy Niquet

    You actually were not as clear as you might think. You did not say the file should be first letter of your first name with your last name appended to it. You only provided an example and assume people will derive the rule from your example. Although common sense might say the rule should be what I have outlined it was expressly stated and so failing someone for not following your implied rule can lead you into trouble. If I was a student and was failed because of that I would be bringing this flaw to your supervisor.

    I would not fail anyone for this. Not only for the logic loophole but keep in mind you are teaching people how to make games not how to follow instructions. What would you really be teaching them about Game Design or Game Programming by doing this?

  23. Ryan

    Iain – Heh … the naming convention falls in line with the college’s convention for student login names. And the name is for ME, not for the students. They can call their game whatever they want. i need a named file so that i ca go down the class list and put a checkmark beside each submitting student’s name, just to quickly weed out the non-submitters.

    Deciding how to mark the resulting zoo of code by the successful submitters will be the real challenge.

    To those who asked what exactly i’m teaching by asking for a file named a certain way … i’m teaching “i’m the boss – do it the way tell you to do it.” Even if that way is backwards, or confusing, or inferior, or nonsensical … following instructions is important. You can’t (shouldn’t) sass-talk your first boss and tell him that you’ve come up with a better naming convention. You don’t want to risk your first job in the industry over it.

    Remember that a new employee in Ontario can be fired within the first three months for ANY reason. i think i *would* fire some new kid fresh out of school if he repeatedly proved himself incapable of following my directions. Why not just feed these kids a hard lesson now, early in the program, so that the second-year teachers (and their theoretical future employers) don’t have to deal with their unchecked lazy idiocy?

    It’s cool to be a pothead slacker. It’s not cool to have a strong work ethic, and to submit to discipline. i may wind up an unpopular teacher, but i’m like that old dude in Fast Times at Ridgemont High who kicked Sean Penn’s slacker ass. There was something cool about that teacher, because he cared about his student enough to not let him get away with being a moron.


    (later in the movie, he comes to Spicoli’s house to help him study for his US History exam, in case you’re curious. And Phoebe Cates shows her boobs at some point. Worth a rental.)

    – Ryan

  24. Ryan

    Jean-Guy – er… thanks for coming out, but the directions clearly state:

    “Name the zip file using your first inital and last name.”

    Don’t make me create a “should i Insta-Fail Jean-Guy?” poll.

  25. Joseph Cassano

    I voted for the “Of the successful senders, Insta-Fail only the students who sent a zip file that did not have their first name/last initial (ie monsterGame.zip)” option.

    I think having first initial and last name with an extra bit after an underscore follows the spirit of your request. Mind you, If they did something like “monstergame_bsmith.zip”, “bsmithmonstergame.zip”, or “bsmith_somethingEnitrelyUnrelated.zip” I would not be so forgiving. The first ruins any kind of name-list by putting the “monstergame” at the front, the second is a mess to read, and the third is just unwise.

  26. Law Talking Guy


    I’ll keep this message short because the first time I tried to post something my computer ate it.

    So, here goes, part of school must be learning the consequences of doing work poorly.

    Here is an example of mine that taught me good:

    For one of my final oral advocacy classes I had to submit written submissions ahead of time (go with it, I know that sounds backwards and ironic.)

    It was a group assignment and my partner did a piss-poor job. I did not review his portion of the work, figured it was fine, countersigned my name and handed it in.

    The work sucked. Big time. Not my fault, but it had my name on it, and I was going down with the ship.

    Now, because this was the final assignment it was to graded by a judge. Like a throw-your-ass-in-real-jail-when-you-screw-up-in-life Ontario Superior Court judge.

    He chewed my partner and me out in front of the class for how piss-poor our written work was. I believe His Honour’s words were to the effect of ‘biggest pile of horseshit I’ve ever seen.’

    My partner and I apologized profusely. (Trying to save some part of our mark.)

    The judge said to me, “It is very easy to apologize forward, it’s difficult to apologize to your left.” Meaning, it’s easy to apologize to the judge, but try telling the client who just paid you a boat-load of money that you did a crappy job and that’s why he lost.

    With those words in mind (I should get them engraved on something), learned when the only consequence was a grade, I have not had to apologize to my left yet. (Nor indeed forward.)

    The point is this: better to learn that lesson in school than in the real world.

    Fail those kids good. It’ll learn ‘em before it counts too much.

  27. Evelyn

    Nazi’s taught firm lessons in obedience too. You seem to share similar philosophies. :) Naming the file correctly was only ONE of your many expectations for this assignment – but, it was an expectation and therefore an inability to do so should result in the loss of SOME marks. This is a learning experience. They WILL learn from this. It was ludicrous of you to threaten to fail them based on an inability to meet only ONE expectation. This was your mistake and you might have to eat some crow on this one (which I’m sure will be very difficult for you). The fact is, the only thing they are really going to come away with if you “instafail” based on this one issue is ‘Wow, my teacher is a dick.” You don’t HAVE to fail them, as you suggest, just because you said it. Admit that both of you made mistakes, and both of you need to learn from them. It doesn’t make you a softy or a push-over – it makes you human – and respected rather than resented. We all learn much better from people we respect rather than people we resent. However, if you do feel the need to play hardball, then i will hope that, in the spirit of Fast Times at Ridgemount High, you will visit each and every one of them at home and help them learn to submit assignments properly.

    1. Ryan

      Evelyn – good work keeping Godwin’s Law alive.

      There are actually a number singular screw-ups that commonly result in an instant fail – even from you, i hope. Here are a few i came up with all by myself:

      not handing in the test
      handing in, but not putting your name on the test (which is what we’re discussing here)
      handing in (and even properly naming) a blank test
      accidentally writing someone else’s name on your test
      handing in a test paper from a completely different class

      Most worthy teachers i know would count each of these as a full-fail situation. As soon as you start making exceptions and allowances, you’re enabling students to game the system. For example, a student could hand in a blank test, knowing full well that you’ll say, perhaps days later, “oops! You handed in a blank test. Would you like to try that again?” Meanwhile, the student has had all those extra days to research and compose an immaculate test paper. Even if you dole out a late penalty, that student has gamed you, taking advantage of the kind of abundant second chances and permissive teaching that breeds lazy or crooked students.

      When i was at one Ontario college as a student, i uncovered plagiarism in two assignments that were actually posted proudly in the display case for the whole school to see. It wasn’t the first time obvious plagiarism had escaped notice by the faculty. Having come from a school with a much better reputation, and feeling rotten at the state of affairs in the place, i angrily told the art teacher about it. i cited the very clear guidelines in the school calendar: plagiarism was an instant zero on the assignment, and the student was to be placed on immediate academic probation. The rules were starkly defined, and vehemently outlined in bold text.

      The students were not penalized according to these rules. Like you, this teacher thought that the bolded calendar rules were more like guidelines, maybe for second or third offenses. The results: the students likely lived to plagiarize again, while the rest of us competed with them for grades the old-fashioned way; the reputation of the school continued to plummet; as a successful entrepreneur with growing influence in the industry, i don’t have a single kind word to say about Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology.

      At the end of it all, i would much rather hear my students say “Wow – my teacher is a dick! He kept flunking me on assignments until i learned how to send an email attachment,” rather than “Wow – my teacher was amazing! He gave us a free ride straight through his course. What would you like on your six-inch meatball sub, sir?”

      – Ryan

  28. tfernando

    I agree with Mr. Cassano above.

    I follow what you’re saying, and if you had promulgated a separate ‘manual of style’ I’d be all for instafail but… if I’m freelancing for you and I follow your spec to the letter except for one minor line where I had attempted to comply but made an extremely easy to fix error that I didn’t catch in my own testing, and then you WITHOLD THE MILESTONE PAYMENT FOREVER.. I’m certainly not willingly going to do work for you again, and we’re probably going to court, aren’t we? :)


    1. Ryan

      tfernando – the twenty minutes we spent during the class before the mid-term going over how to zip a file, how to name it following a specific naming convention, and how to open an email and attach it, in conjunction with the explicit notes titled “Handing in Your Mid-Term Exam” on the test instructions AND the lecture i gave detailing how the students could instantly fail the mid-term, all constitute the “manual of style” you describe.

      Sure, if a client withheld payment on a project because he was being picky on one small point, it’s time for lawyers to get involved. But if the client made it abundantly clear on separate occasions and gave me a twenty-minute walkthrough and lecture on a certain specific point, delivered that point to me in writing, repeatedly reminded me of that point while i completed the work, and made it crystal clear that beyond all else, payment was entirely contingent on that one condition being met, i might consider that an important note to hit.

      And i daresay i would have a very wobbly leg to stand on when the case came to arbitration.

      – Ryan

  29. Andy Smith

    I think it would be like if your client told you that they couldn’t pay you if you didn’t didn’t give the correct billing information, and then you went ahead and gave them the wrong information. How are they going to pay you if you don’t know how to fill out the billing order?
    It’s not like the kids accidentally named it billsmith.zip, or bills.zip they didn’t even attempt to comply.

  30. Michael

    I just had a thought — did any of the students skip the lecture where you explained all this? No excuse, of course, but would be interesting to know.

    Back when I was a first-year student, I did a MATLAB course. It was basically “intro to programming for maths students who might not have used a computer before.” It was also first thing on a Monday morning. Result == I skipped all but the first lecture.

    Thing is, the (group) assignments had to be handed in to that Monday lecture. So I teamed up with a couple other people; I’d do the harder questions and type it all up, a friend of mine would go to the lectures and work on the easier questions with me, and the third person… owned a printer. Result == high marks all round, everybody wins. Uh, in terms of grades.

    So if I’d had lectures where we had to spend twenty minutes going over how to send an email I probably would have skipped those. But then I might have overlooked the importance of naming the zip file correctly. So I’d be interested to know if the poorly-named zip files actually would have got high marks.

  31. tfernando

    @Andy Smith comment #30– I meant the bsmith_midterm1.zip guys. The monstergame.zip guys I never had sympathy for. However I apparently didn’t read the original article closely enough, and from Ryan’s comment #31, I think he did sufficiently stress the required convention. For some reason I was thinking the only notice of the requirement was the line at the end of the design notes… as Ryan extended the analogy, if the client is stressing that something’s got to be one way, it’s kinda got to be that way.

    I’m also interested in MJW’s question of whether the inproperly named .zips are any good compared to the properly named ones, for similar reasons.

    1. Ryan

      MJW – i’d gather that maybe up to half of the class skipped the prior lecture. Again – not my problem. If i had been preaching about the importance of file-naming two classes in advance, i’d get the complaint that the lesson was too far removed from the application.

      i’ll let you guys know how it all turns out once i mark the tests. i haven’t had the heart to look at them yet. One his way out, one of the students said “Sorry for ruining your trip to GDC, sir. Maybe you should mark all the tests before you go, so that the trip will cheer you up?”

  32. Janet

    I’m concerned when programmers need instruction on how to zip and e-mail files….

    I agree with taking a hardline approach to the marks. There are limited instances when compassion should rule, but this is not one of those times. Students these days are only learning how to make excuses and get extensions when they’re let off the hook from submitting as required. They need to know that it doesn’t work that way in the real world workforce, and it’s a better service to them to teach them that fact now. Before they get out there.

    Having said that, although “bsmith_monstergame” isn’t what you asked for, they did at least attempt to follow the directions (though with limited success). I’d dock them marks, but not instafail.

  33. Evelyn

    I’ve had students hand in tests without their names on them – frequently – I see this as an error – and mildly irritating – but does not negate the knowledge and understanding they may (or may not) have demonstrated in said test. I would never dream of giving a zero for this.

    That said, I do think that being able to name a file properly is intergral – so, perhaps, in the future, you could make turning something in as a zip file with a required file name an assignment – make it worth something – but make the actual contents of the file worth nothing – something unimportant that they don’t put their blood, sweat and tears into. Then giving a zero in this case makes sense because sending the file correctly was the sole purpose of the assignment – and they learn both the process and the consequences BEFORE having to do it for an exam. This allows both the learning process, and the chance for the automatic fail you seem to like, without discounting all of the other important things they have learned in the class – as chances are, many of them would be unlikely to make this mistake again when the grade of their exam lays in the balance. If they screw it up again – well, then sure – fail ’em. Surely someone has given you a second chance, or an opportunity to learn from your mistakes without utterly dire consequences at some point – and surely you both learned from this and appreciated their faith in you to do better next time.

    Oh – and yes, plagerism is horrible – it is academic dishonesty and should never be tolerated. That said, students need to be taught how to properly use direct quotes, cite sources, and that even paraphrased ideas must be cited. There is a how and why to be taught here in addition to the “thou shalt not.” That said – although I do appreciate the effort you put into your response, plagerism and misnaming a file are hardly the same thing are they?

  34. Bwakathabom

    You could always tell them at the start of the next class – “I will be handing out your grades at the end of this class. Those of you who sent me incorrectly named files (you know who you are) have exactly 1 hour to e-mail me a correctly named file or else my decision to fail you stands”

    If they don’t get off their ass and correct the problem at that point (it’s literally a 2 minute task) then they get what they deserve.

  35. Arthur

    It was indeed a fail class….outcome will be that you fail the people who didn’t put their name on the zip file. Half the class will fail programming this semester. One of which will not be me. Good luck coming to class in two weeks or so, its going to be intense…. :/

    1. Ryan

      Iain – i’ll post some code, for sure. i think what the marking will show is that the information was there, the instruction was there, but many of the students just didn’t take up the torch. They followed these same steps in the first four weeks of 3-hour classes, multiple times per class:

      1. Open and save a new Flash file
      2. Link it to a document class
      3. Open and save a FlashDevelop project file
      4. Write and save the document class
      5. Compile.

      Code was provided for them in class notes, which few of them read. By week 5, a good third of the students weren’t getting through these steps properly. HONESTLY, folks, i don’t think it’s me.

      To those who are echoing the sentiment that failing kids for not properly naming their files (you’re there to teach them Flash!), i’ll say this: if i’m hired to teach rocket science, but the kids don’t know how to open a door by themselves, i’ll teach every week to an empty classroom. i need to teach and enforce certain basic skills before we can move on to the meat of the course. In the case above, how can we possibly talk about loading external files dynamically through code, when a third of the students can’t open and save a project file?

      Arthur – i don’t WANT an angry, fail-filled class. i really hope that flunking for a crappy reason like not following a simple instruction will incite the right kind of hurt in the students. Instead of “it’s Ryan’s job to make sure i succeed,” i want “i just failed for the STUPIDEST reason, and i can only blame myself.” i want the class to tighten up, and to take it seriously. This isn’t the class you have to squeak by to be able to keep doing 3D stuff. This is the class that will break you. The program dumps half of its dead weight between year one and year two, and i’m told this is the course that does it.

      Since you’re an engaged student, and you’re taking it seriously, let me share my key learning outcomes for you for this course – even if you decide never to program again:

      1. Making games is HARD. If you land a job as an artist creating assets for a programmer, i want you to realize that while you may struggle with meeting deadlines and meeting your Art Director’s demands, the programmer is facing an entirely different world of challenges. As one of your Year Two teachers, Matt, puts it: “i can never not draw an ogre. i’m never faced with the inability to illustrate something. i may spend more or less time on it, and it may look good or it may look bad, but i’m never faced with a situation where i sit and i think ‘this ogre doesn’t function‘, or ‘i’ve been trying to draw this ogre all afternoon and i can’t’, or ‘there’s a technical bug that’s preventing me from drawing this ogre.'”

      2. Your game designs are too ambitious! This is what i hope the whole class gleans from that mid-term: if, in three hours, you’re unable to program the simplest of simple games – open-book, Internet-enabled, the whole nine yards – then the plans you have for your year-end project are probably far beyond your capabilities. Keep it simple, keep it small, and show me what you can do with what you know. Over the break, i’m going to build three sample games for you and your classmates to follow, just to ensure that you keep your design tight and realistic.

      3. If you do happen to cotton onto this Flash stuff, there’s a career in it for you … and it may well be a faster path to a well-paying job than if you stick to solely modeling and animating in 3D. There are many, many people in Toronto who “know” Flash, but very few who know Flash … you know?

      – Ryan

  36. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

    HI Ryan. First of all: Very good articels about the school system. I really enjoyed reading them.

    The also frighten me, I’m on my last year of what-should-be-the-same-as-highschool-for-you and I am looking forward to 5 years in univerity. My major problem at the time being is trying to decide what I actually want to study (I might even take a year off doing so). But in that I also see the problem you’re descibing – what are they going to teach me? If I’m there to make a copy of your game (and with those instructions you gave, I would say It wouldn’t require much thinking), which I probably could do in an hour, and then also sitting though a here-is-how-you-zip-a-file. I would really just be wasting my time. I would really like to avoid this, but on the other hand I find it damn hard to figure out if it’s going to be like that. Any suggestions on how I should go about this?

    ([btw, don’t flunk “bsmith_monstergame.zip”, just tell him that the monster game part wasn’t asked for, and don’t do that again).

    1. Ryan

      Rasmus – the advice i gave to the students very early in the class was that it’s not the responsibility of your college teachers to make you smart. That’s a very common, and very wrong attitude that many students have. i had it myself when i was in school. The sad fact is, as i’ve demonstrated, some teachers are good and some teachers are not. They are there as a resource for you, and they are one of many resources you will encounter.

      What college and university do for you is that they give you a solid block of uninterrupted time to explore what you hope will be your passion. In a program like this one, you can’t rely on what happens in that three hour window. You need to study, play, and learn outside class. You need to open the program when the teacher’s not around, and see what you can do on your own steam. You need to download someone else’s code and get into trouble by totally breaking it. You need to make mistakes, correct yourself, and develop discipline. You need to seek your fortune! No crappy college course is a guaranteed path to success.

      It’s not like teaching, which i partly blame for this attitude. With teaching, the path is clear: i get good grades in high school. i get into University. i finish my undergrad degree. i go into teachers’ college. i get on the board of education’s supply teaching list. i get a full-time job teaching. i retire. i die.

      A few other careers are like that (maybe dental hygiene?) But game programming and computer art are different. Rather than a smooth, guided horse ride along a beaten trail, they’re more like grabbing a bull by the horns and punching him in the throat until you achieve dominance over him. And every 5 years or so, there’s a new bull.

      So don’t sweat which program or which school so much. Sweat whether you’re prepared to be an adventurer for the rest of your life, or whether you want to fall in line and connect the dots toward a career.

      – Ryan

  37. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

    oh shoot.. Just realized I forgot to say some more stuff…

    as I stated before (apperently wiht parantesis and sqare brackets (in only one side) don’t flunk bob smith, just tell him not to do it again. For those who turned in “MonsterGame”, flunk them. They did not meet the requirements. It’s not okay to be an ass, but it’s good to be strict and fair. You’re the last of them. Actually at my school we ONLY have 1 teacher being “strict and fair”. He is the only teacher that starts the class at the right time, every other teacher comes running down to class when the bell rings – and if you’re not inside the classroom at the point he checks off the list, you get noted for not being there. He is also the only teacher who gets all his papers on time. It’s very simple, if you don’t turn in the assingment you get flunked. Now you could think that people hates this guy (or just thinks bad of him), but they actually don’t. I admit it, in the start people couldn’t completely cope with it, but after some months it just became natural.

    I bealive one of the reasons is that he is fair. If you just broke up with your girlfriend, he does accept you turn in your assingment late (if you told him some time before the deadline, not just the day before). And yeah, he is not being an ass, just strict. I think that’s the best way to do it.

  38. Tim Gier

    I’m okay with “insta-fail” requirements generally. The only thing that I might do differently were I in your shoes is to have a set of graded exercises that test the mechanics of the submission requirements separately from the creative work submitted. So you could have your students create a zip file that contains material that itself will not be graded, just to test and reinforce the importance of proper submission procedures. If they mess that up, they receive poor marks and get to learn from their mistakes before the “important” zip file needs to submitted. If they make the same mistake twice, then they will have truly failed.

    1. Ryan

      Tim – that’s a great idea. Thanks for the advice – i’ll remember to work that in when/if i teach next semester. When i lectured on the email requirement, many of the students asked if they could email me and receive a response, just to rest assured that they got the email bit right. i obliged them – about a dozen students sent emails and received responses.

      MrNokill – presentation is fine for art projects, but i’ll need to see their code due to plagiarism concerns. There’s a LOT of code on the Internet that students can just rip-off wholesale and pretend they understand with some heavy shoveling. i agree that the mid-term sample game was crap, but it does enable the students to demonstrate the programming concepts they’ve learned (or SHOULD have learned) to date.

      – Ryan

  39. MrNokill

    I’d give a good hard spanking to all of the people who send no zips and zips with incorrect names! *hurling his fists* but on the other side why let them send you all this stuff to your email? Just let them present there games, hopefully with some more coolness then pressing letters and insta winning (its not button bashing proof!) and 4 months if more then enough to see kids bake up a rts game in flash with extras. Also test them they really understand how it all works by talking to them… it works better then having some smarty pants making one game and passing it around, although the zip incident might make that impossible for them to figure out.

    If any of Unca Ryan’s kids are reading this, go sit in the corner and cry! >=/

  40. MrNokill

    @Ryan, thats why individual talks and demonstrations might work better for most as they need to know ins and outs about what they made to convince you, plus they students learn by learning others or pretending to be teaching you.

    Poor you this is only one of the many elements there is to making games :(

  41. Randy Orenstein

    Hi Ryan, as one of the sadly confused, and by the end of the test so-bloody-frustrated-I-was-close-to-tears students who then went and named their file rorenstein_midterm.zip, I voted for the don’t fail me option.

    While I won’t suggest that somehow naming instructions are the least bit complicated, one thing about the entire scenario that was incredibly frustrating is that it doesn’t seem like testing like this is something that makes sense for this industry. Not because I think last-minute rush deadlines are unrealistic, or because I doubt that there will be high-pressure situations where you are thrust into something you are not necessarily prepared for, but because I cant think of a scenario in which you couldn’t ask someone for some help if you were running head-first into a wall, as I was for 90% of the exam. Let me here completely recognize that this was an OPEN BOOK exam, and so sympathy should be somewhat limited, but as someone who reads fairly well, I can say that I didn’t find anything in the notes to help me solve the error I was facing. They illustrated to me what the error was and why it was happening, but not any means of correcting it.
    Last semester if we were experiencing errors which we could not correct the instructor would help us get past them. He would not tell us what to code to make the game work, but if we were on the right track, and it was an error that we simply didn’t have the experience to correct, then he would offer some assistance. Now, I recognize that this fits neatly into the hand-held coddling model you are so disdainful of, and as someone who would like to see our classes cut significantly of the dead wood, part of me agrees. But at the same time it feels like provincially mandated grading criteria and the structures that come with them are not necessarily the kind of thing that actually helps people learn. You have made it very evident in your lectures that you have learned best in sink or swim scenarios, and that you go out of your way to seek them out to further your own education. Not everyone can learn like that. Telling them to ‘take up cooking’ rather than follow a vocation they could excel at if given the right kind of instruction is not fair, and so perhaps a little handholding, especially in a subject as foreign to most of us as coding, is not out of place. Personally, I’m an artist, and I have a learning disability that is totally F*&%^*% me in this class, so in a sink or swim, I’m going straight to the bottom.
    I’m not certain if any of this is going to make a difference, or if it simply reinforces your conception of our class as a bunch of spoiled kids, but here it is.


    1. Ryan

      Randy – i was really, really careful to limit my involvement during the exam, because i didn’t want to be accused of helping one student more than another. The most help i gave anyone was to point to the very week that contained the notes to solve the student’s problem, and even THEN i felt like i was being too helpful. Srsly – when do you ever get that on an exam? The teacher flipping through your notes and pointing you to the concept you need to apply? In most programs in most post-secondary institutions, that would be considered beyond hand-holding. Please consider that the treatment you received from another instructor last year may not have been to your benefit.

      The file-naming instruction is less sink-or-swim, and more “don’t be an idiot and forget to put your name on the test when you hand it in.” Many professional game developers read this blog and have commented. They’re in the industry you’re trying to break into, and they’ve decided that you should not completely fail for adding characters to the file name.

      i don’t actually advocate sink-or-swim learning – i advocate trial-by-fire. Learning by doing. Before the exam, many students hadn’t so much as glanced at the notes. They hadn’t started their final game project. They hadn’t typed up a document class five times like i suggested. They weren’t doing the exercise. So when it came to exam time, they were flabby. The exam was the DOING. Now that they’ve been through that trial by fire, i’m hoping to see a lot more activity come out of the class, and a lot less apathy.

      i agree with you that mandated grading is not always helpful. For example, in our course syllabus, under the learning outcome “problem-solving”, Learn is checked but Demonstrate is not. How can you NOT demonstrate problem-solving in a programming course? Part of that’s my fault – i missed it when i went over the course. But i think i glossed over that whole section for the very reason you mentioned – the important part of it all is what Randy learned about game development by week 14, not which checkboxes i’m able to fill under your name.

      i’ll stick to my “take up cooking” cracks. Don’t blame the instruction. You weren’t complaining when you reached your second semester Flash course and you (and your classmates) had not been taught to use the Flash drawing tools after 14 weeks. THAT’S the kind of instruction you should be complaining about – the kind of course where you can copy/paste code snippets and get a passing grade. i’m trying to give your class some reasoning and thinking skills to understand the code in your game.

      If anything, you should complain that you DIDN’T pass last year’s Flash class by the skin of your teeth. If you (and by “you”, i mean the whole student body) spend a semester and a half in a college-level computer graphics program, and you don’t know the difference between lossy and non-lossy image formats, or which image formats support transparency, no one has done you any favours. You’re going to graduate useless, like the thousand other students Ontario pumps out every four months.

      The fact that you care, you were near tears, you felt anger, and you hopped on this blog to make your mind known – all this makes me think that you’ll bust ass in the second half and do what it takes to make it out alive. We’ll go over the error you got hung up on during the exam, and you will always, always be able to solve it, because it was the ONE BLOODY ERROR that stopped you in your tracks in Ryan’s second-semester Flash course back when you were in college.

      Spelling bee contestants insta-fail when they misspell a word. And those contestants KNOW that word now, and will NEVER spell it incorrectly again. They grit their teeth whenever they hear it. A good developer bears the scars of hundreds of these lessons.

      – Ryan

  42. Law Talking Guy

    @Ryan – your comments are exceptional.

    I agree with the comment “Spelling bee contestants insta-fail when they misspell a word. And those contestants KNOW that word now, and will NEVER spell it incorrectly again. They grit their teeth whenever they hear it.’

    Again, in first year I wrote “Mr. Justice Feldman.” I got docked two letter grades for the “Mr.”

    I learned to look up the judge before I assumed; Madame Justice Feldman would expect as much.

    Recently in court my opponent had not done what I had learned during school and referred to a female judge as a “him.” The judge hearing his argument stopped my opponent and corrected him in open court.

    I learned my lesson in class, he learned it the hard way.

    Given the option, take learning in school – it’s a LOT easier.

  43. Loren Brody

    i agree 100% with you sir.. its good that one of are teacher are slapping us in the face insted of holding are hands saying evrething going to be dandy.. for all those kids who havent goten a smak of reality yet.. just go find a spot ont he street and enjoy your life..

    Loren Brody

  44. Sparky

    Why Hello!
    As a fellow game development student i am proud to admit that google stalking our teachers is one of my favourite pastimes. I am not in your flash class but i have often perused your notes because i find them useful and amusing. One of my main issues with this entire program is that i feel like our marks in no way reflect our abilities or actual skill level. I feel like it more about sustaining the cash cow and ensuring totally undeserving students earn that 3.0 gpa, so that they can apply to the post grad program and the school can rake in that extra $12 000. Also, does a 60% average in college or uni level english in highschool shout out a glaring proficiency in scripting? I wouldn’t particularly say so but that seems to be the only prerequisite for being in the program. Sorry to rant off topic. So, in regard to this particular scenario, if you specifically said to the class NAME IT THIS AND ONLY THIS, NOTHING EXTRA OR YOU WILL DIE, then yes give a zero. But if you only specified what you would like included in the naming, and did not say that adding anything extra (which logically seems helpful) would in fact be detrimental, then no. Those people should not be penalized. Myself, on the other hand, i wont be needed incorrect naming convention to fail. Im going to fail because i have no damn clue what the hell is going on! Yey me. And yey my spoonfed usb submission. It makes me such a weak terrible person. :p

    1. Ryan

      Sparky – by my estimation, you’re scheduled to fail your midterm tomorrow with a different teacher, right? Please pop back on the site and let us all know how it goes.

      – Ryan

  45. Angry Ragey Rage-face

    I think your comments though justified… somewhat…. are unprofessional. I know there are hardworking students in your class that failed, and many did exceptionally last semester. A wise man learns to first look for fault within himself, before assigning blame; I think it is very clear that though all students studied the same notes, they lack the deeper understanding to connect the concepts to the problem… and that is not their fault, but a fault in communication between you and them. If you feel your teaching was adequate, would not the motivated, hardworking students have passed the exam? I know your class has those type of students, there is more than the trends of my generation to blame.

    cant we all just get along (puppydog eyes)???!!

    1. Ryan

      Angry Ragey Rage-face – i suspect that doing exceptionally well last semester is not unlike doing exceptionally well in the plastic ball pool at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

      Admittedly, i haven’t had enough face time with the class to identify who’s keyed in but struggling, and who’s just chewing the scenery. i do TRY to build walk-around time into the lessons, but to my shock and dismay it takes too bloody long to get through the lecture. i feel i have to keep to the pace of the lowest common denominator students in the class, or i will get very vocal complaints from the “i still haven’t learned how to open a new file from six weeks ago” faction. (You’ve been to class. You’ve seen it happen. Every class.)

      So as i see it, my options are to

      1. Leave the lowest common denominator in the dust and focus on feeding the best and the brightest students
      2. Trim the lecture down so that i’m not covering everything on the curriculum (i’m already cutting topics as it is)
      3. Cover the topics in lecture format only (instead of typing along with teacher), and let the students go figure out how to build stuff on their own
      4. Provide you with mountains of source code so that you can sloppily cut n’ paste your final game assignment together without ever understanding what’s going on (this is not actually an option i’m willing to consider)
      5. Continue at a more rapid clip, leaving both the smarties and the dullies behind, in favour of covering everything on the syllabus
      6. Stay the course

      i’m always open to comments on this blog, or to emails if you want to talk to me privately to give me your opinion. Please tell your classmates the same if you hear them griping – i’d love to hear from everyone who cares, and that will help me understand who wants to learn, and who wants me to hand out free A-grades and hard candy.

      Your written communication skills are above-average, by the way, and it’s nice to see. i don’t know many people (my age or yours) who can properly brandish a semi-colon.

      – Ryan

  46. Joseph Cassano

    Since people are talking about first term, I guess I should join in; first term programming was kinda weak. I’m saying this coming from a background in which I did some coding in high school (Turing, which is baby stuff, but still), and my year at UOIT included a course that was an Introduction to C++. As such, I know I have a bit of an advantage because I know how to get into the programming mindset. I think the biggest problem with first term was that it didn’t get people into that mindset. Once you understand the general basics of programming and what programming means, the learning is much easier. I don’t know if first term’s class, though, was enough to get people completely new to programming into that mindset. I am not saying Domenic was a bad prof by any means, but that the course itself may have been a tad lacking.

    To be honest, though, I don’t really have any solutions. I suppose my main point is that first term functioned more as “how to do things in Flash” rather than “Intro to Programming” — at least from what I remembered — and that’s why some people are having problems. Maybe this could be changed in the future? I dunno.

    I hope I made some kind of sense.

    1. Ryan

      Joseph – good suggestion. Thanks for that.

      i think i mentioned that i was bummed out to find i’d be teaching second semester instead of first, because i wanted more control over the students’ introduction to Flash. i would not have taught timeline coding in Flash 1, for example – it’s messing everyone up now as we try to transition to OOP. i’ve had a number of ppl emailing asking me “can i just write my code in Flash?” (meaning on the timeline)

      i think you’re right – i think it’s the way Flash 1 was designed. Last week, after recognizing how little people were in the coding mindset, as you put it, i thought it would be wise to move a lot of the Flash 2 material to Flash 1. Flash 1 should be an intro to programming, and Flash 2 could cover somewhat more advanced stuff. Of course, i’d have to take that idea up with the program head and make sure it gels before overhauling anything. i’m meeting with him next week, probably to get handed my walking papers.

      – Ryan


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