Tue 7 Apr 2009
On the assignment calculator, I tried to set up a timeline for the separation of church and state. Since the establishment clause took effect in mid-December of 1791, along with the rest of the bill of rights, I decided I’d give the project a full year to be implemented. The calculator told me that I had 0 days to complete the project.
It was a bit depressing to imagine that a project over 200 years old still hadn’t been completed, but most of the members of my group had passed on to other things and there the project remained, unfinished and in need of attention. So I went back and gave the project a new end date of 2091.
The assignment calculator reported, again, that I had 0 days to complete the project. While I didn’t question the conclusion–ideally the project should not need any more time to complete–I did question the math that led to that conclusion.
I decided that the assignment calculator was either politically biased or afraid of big projects, so I chose a smaller assignment divorced of politics.
The second assignment was to cook all of the recipes in a cookbook that I received 12 years ago on my 21st birthday. So far I’d cooked about 30 of them and there were quite a few to go still.
I decided that I would complete this assignment by my birthday in 2014. “Cooking” wasn’t an option, so I chose “food science.” The assignment calculator told me that I had 6573 days left to complete the assignment. By my calculations, with a due date of 2014, I had about 1900 days.
Perhaps the assignment calculator was basking in the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind? 1996 did indeed happen, and long ago. I tried yet again, using today’s date as a starting point. Now the assignment calculator was giving a reasonable timeline, with things like “by Fri Sep 11, 2009: Write working thesis.”
Except that the points on the timeline all implied the writing of a traditional research paper rather than an arts project or even a scientific paper–scientific papers call for scientific experiments, and while it’s worthwhile to research previous experiments in the field, sometimes there simply aren’t any.
Did the choice of field on the first page matter? What would it suggest if I did not want to write a paper at all? And what timeline would I need if my project were, instead, to direct a film adaptation of In His Own Write or to sculpt a 3D representation of survivor’s guilt? It seems this calculator would have little advice for me there.
What, then, if I wrote a paper about the limitations of the assignment calculator? To make it most like my own college experiment, I’d make it due three days from now. Ah, and a busy three days they’ll be: a thesis to be made, books and articles to read, careful notes to take, first, second, and final drafts to write….
Luckily, the Research Project Calculator has options for more arts-focused projects, including the making of a film.
Unfortunately its suggestions on how to make a documentary included some things I would encourage film-makers not to do on a documentary (especially not an observational one), including writing a script beforehand, rehearsing scenes, and shooting retakes. I hold tight to the naive and non-post-modern view that observational documentaries should reflect how things are and not how the director would like them to be. (Other kinds of documentaries can of course be different–a historical documentary is quite likely to have a script beforehand; and a biographical documentary might very well offer people the chance to reshoot interviews.)
Many of the handouts in the teacher’s guide could be used to help children write essays for school. But in general I think that perhaps the first tool is only suited for writing papers, and that the second is not well suited for making documentaries, in spite of purporting to know something about it.
But for students still writing traditional research papers, I’m sure these two tools can be useful. I think that the timelines offered (when both offered and reasonable), as well as the division of the project into clear and distinct steps, could help make the project seem both more concrete and less intimidating.