The first day of April has always attracted mixed reactions from students and staff alike, usually by those on the receiving end of a joke (though those who give jokes can often by ambivalent, too). For those unaware, April 1st is generally regarded as a day for people to play jokes one another and mess with the truth a little for the sake of light-hearted fun.
Unfortunately, a joke that goes gets used quite frequently by course staff is to “announce” an upcoming midterm through a logistics post, email blast, or some other course-wide communication. I don’t exactly blame people for doing this; it maximizes the reaction from students while (usually) minimizing the amount of thought and creative effort that has to go into actually coming up with and planning the joke. I’m an uncreative person, and I’d probably come up with that too.
The main issue that I’ve seen is that these jokes can be moments of very, very intense stress, even if only brief. How would you feel if you actually forgot that you had a midterm, performance review, or meeting with your boss for which you haven’t prepared at all? Probably not great.
Is this going to be a big deal in the grand scheme of a semester or even a day? No, probably not. The most common response I get when I this up is that “It’s just an April Fools’ joke!” or “Oh, they’ll know it’s a joke,” and I completely agree with those statements. I maintain that it’s a disservice to “baby” students and neuter every interaction we have with them for the sake of “What if X is perceived in this way?” (Though it is not to say that the amount of thought that should be put be zero.)
That said, small moments of stress add up. No matter how quickly a student realizes that there is no midterm or how little they may care about their grade in the course, it’s going to be at least a moment or two of panic for most people. And even if we don’t pretend to be allergic to stress, it’s still the duty of staff to minimize unnecessary stress. And to be clear: April Fools’ counts as unnecessary.
I don’t think this means that April Fools’ as a concept should be abolished. When done right, it’s quite fun! And I think it’s an opportunity for courses to be a bit more playful than they usually get to be in student interactions. The day happens to fall between spring break and the end of the semester, a 5-week period when students have no breaks or or long weekends. That’s not fun, and it’s especially at these times that lightening the mood, even just slightly, can be welcome and helpful. As much as small moments of stress add up, small moments of fun relaxation add up, too! Obviously, a well-executed joke won’t solve systemic issues within a university environment, but there’s something to be said about giving thought and time to the small moments of fun, as well.
For the last few Aprils, CS 161 at UC Berkeley (the course I teach) has actively chosen to avoid the “surprise midterm” April Fools’ jokes and, in the process, had a little more fun with it: (expected) midterms held over Club Penguin, a legitimate invitation to breach the email account of a TA, and a pancake-themed change of course direction. The feedback has always been positive and, crucially, these jokes escape the “I almost had a heart attack” comments from students who, while relieved, had one more moment of unnecessary stress than they would have had otherwise. The full archive of jokes we’ve run in CS 161 is available at the bottom of this post.
As for this semester, I and a couple of head TAs from other courses decided to work together to re-theme our courses around dogs (“doggos”). This theme was chosen… entirely at random, only because I walked past a couple of dogs hosted by Paws for Mental Health (whose work also revolves around “small moments of fun”), but it was something we had a laugh about as course staff and started planning.
We each undertook a subset of four possible changes:
- Re-title our course websites to reflect some “doggo-fied” title (one of my favorites was EE 120: Signals and Systems becoming Woofs and Tail Wags)
- Re-title our course Piazza and make a fake announcement post
- Re-title our course Gradescope
- Add a course logo (or modify an existing one) that was somehow related to dogs
Some courses even went through the trouble of renaming every single lecture and assigned reading temporarily (shoutout to CS 152/252A!), which was above and beyond what we expected!
Our group of cross-course TAs includes a couple artists, so we asked them to come up with logos for us. They’re really awesome, and a gallery of them is also available at the bottom of this post.
On top of working with head TAs and instructors of other courses, we also managed to convinced Vanshaj Singhania, current head of software in CS 61A, to temporarily rename the 61A Office Hours Queue to the “DoggOH Park,” which was a nice touch.
I want to emphasize that jokes like these are useful in giving students and staff a moment to step back from stress and laugh, but they can’t solve the issue of stress. Most of the other posts on this blog are meant to address more systemic issues within student support and equity—this post does not join their ranks.
But as important as those topics are, it’s important to not disregard the smaller opportunities we have to impact student lives. My hope is that we can learn to cultivate fewer little moments of stress and more little moments of fun—the little moments matter, too!
- Coordinator: Nicholas Ngai
- CS 10: Madeleine LaBute
- EECS 16A: [I genuinely have no idea who helped make this happen.]
- EECS 16B: Maxwell Chen, Risheek Pingili, Mingyang Wang, Stella Zeng
- CS 61A: Vanshaj Singhania
- CS 61B: Ethan Ordentlich
- CS 61C: Caroline Liu
- CS 70: Richard Hu, Tarang Srivastava
- EE 120: Anmol Parande
- EE 122: Jacob Yeung
- EECS 151: Alisha Menon
- CS 152: Josh Kang
- CS 161: Nicholas Ngai
- CS 162: Edward Zeng, Sean Kim
- CS 164: Anjali Thakrar
- CS 170: Rahul Arya
- CS 188: Saagar Sanghavi
- CS 189: Sean Lin, Sean O’Brien, Ishaan Srivastava
- 61A Software: Vanshaj Singhania
- Artists: Seung-Jin Yang, Ashley Zhang
Hey all, considering how hectic the last few weeks have been, staff has decided to open up an extra credit opportunity.
For the next 48 hours, you have legal permission to hack me for extra credit.
The amount of extra credit earned will directly correlate with the difficulty of the hack as follows:
- Display “Ryan is bad at security” on my personal website --> 1/3 of a letter grade
- Find a vulnerability in Delphi, which you first reveal as a question during our talk --> 2/3 of a letter grade
- Take over my LinkedIn and add “I got fired for being being bad at security” under the description for each job --> 1 letter grade
- Hack my CalCentral and enroll me in 161 over the summer --> 4/3 letter grades
- Compromise my email and ask ERSO to terminate my TA appointment --> 5/3 of a letter grades
- Own my computer and give yourself an A+ --> Automatic A+
Credit: Ryan Lehmkuhl
Midterm 2 Logistics1 [Spring 2020]
In light of the campus directive that prohibits live Zoom proctoring, we have changed the format of Midterm 2. It will now be held online at 5:00pm PST, April 6 and proctored through Club Penguin. Please read this entire post carefully, as it contains many important rules we expect everyone to follow to ensure a fair midterm for all.
Before the midterm:
Please create a penguin with a name that we can easily identify you with. We understand that some common names may be taken, so if you cannot create an identifiable name, please make a private post with your username before the exam starts.
Examples of good penguin names: evanbot, evanbot161, evan_bot
Examples of bad penguin names: XxX__bot_of_the_evan_19340328__XxX, hack_me_daddy_evan
Day of the midterm:
Please join the Antarctic server and congregate before 5:10pm PST at the Dojo. We recommend logging in once before the exam so you don’t need to search for the Dojo on the day of the exam. TAs have found that the ski lift may be a useful shortcut if you’re running short on time.
If you arrive early, please be mindful of other test takers before the exam starts. In particular, snowball fights are not allowed at any time. Any student caught starting a snowball fight may be reported for academic dishonesty and/or reported to the Club Penguin moderators.
Each student is allowed one cheat puffle to consult during the exam. The puffle must be raised by yourself - you are not allowed to gift a cheat puffle to another student. Please make sure your puffle is well-fed before the exam. We will not be allowing any feeding during the exam and are not responsible for any puffle deaths that occur during the exam.
The exam is multiple-choice and will be administered through Card-Jitsu. At 5:10, a proctor will direct you to a Card-Jitsu game, and a PDF of the questions will be posted on the course website. To answer a question, play one of the following cards:
- Play a snow card to choose answer A
- Play a fire card to choose answer B
- Play a water card to choose answer C
Using power cards against your proctor is prohibited. Any student caught using a power card will be reported for academic dishonesty and/or reported to the Club Penguin moderators.
The exam ends at exactly 6:30pm PST. All penguins must stay at the dojo until all exams are confirmed to be received, at which point you are allowed to return to your igloos. Please remember to take your cheat puffles with you. Course staff is not responsible for feeding any cheat puffles left behind.
We understand that this exam format is new for everyone. If you have any questions, please post a follow-up.
Credit: Peyrin Kao
Thank you for your interest in EB 101. This is a light, fluffy 4-unit course designed to introduce you to the many wonders and practical applications of pancakes.
We will be using Goolang for the course - if you have time at the beginning of the semester, please go through some tutorials to get yourself familiar with the language.
Week 1 What are pancakes? Week 2 Introduction to stack Week 3 Stack devouring and defenses against choking Week 4 Hash and breakfast combos Week 5 Midterm: Pantesting Week 6 Symmetric and asymmetric garnishing Week 7 Intro to batter & cookies Week 8 Pancakes integrity and waffle-in-the-middle Week 9 Public recipe exchange + digital gift certificates Week 10 Spring Break Week 11 Waffle House Index and denial of service
Optional: Field trip to Waffle House
Week 12 Syrup Injection Week 13 Special Topics:
Topic 1: How cookie stuffing denies space for pancakes
Topic 2: Mechanics of Non Fudgeable Tootsies
Topic 3: Ask EvanBot Stuff
Week 14 NOPancake week Week 15 Final Exam: Bake your own pancake
If you have a question, the best way to contact us is via the class Pizza oven. The staff (Bot and TAs) will check the oven regularly.
Bot believes that most students can distinguish between tasting and eating. Sharing a subtle point about stacking or garnishing is an interaction that we encourage, but you must write your recipes strictly by yourself (with your partner on projects). You must not ask for a pre-made stack on Stack Exchange or other online sites; although you may ask for help with conceptual questions.
Bot will be discussing batters in this class, some of them quite sticky. None of this is in any way an invitation to eat them raw other than with explicit approval of recipe owners and the FDA. The existence of edible cookie dough is no excuse. These issues concern not only professional ethics, but also UCB policy and state and federal law. If there is any question in your mind about what conduct is allowable, contact the instructors first.
Welcome to DOGGO 161: Defense Against the Feline Arts! While we may not have the full semester remaining ahead of us, we’re excited to learn about attack and defense systems, cognitive memory-based security, spellcasting, and doggogram- and barkstream-based attacks!
We have been made aware that some of you thought you were enrolled in another course titled CS 161. The Cats and Sciences department has informed us that they are offering no such course, and we suspect that feline operatives from Sphynxford Junior College are targeting students at UC Barkeley using memory safety attacks, to increase their university standing. We are working closely with officials to discuss the best way to respond.
If you’ve been affected by this, we hope you’ll be able to quickly catch up with the course content. The current website has the current, up-to-date schedule and syllabus. We recommend you look over the content and let us know if you have any questions!
Looking forward to a great semester with you all!
-DOGGO 161 staff
Credit: Nicholas Ngai
We actually had a Midterm 2 coming up! So this was not intended to cause stress with a “surprise” midterm. ↩