Student Speak: Dead Week policy open to interpretation, confusion

Traditionally established to be a somber and assignment-free week before finals, Dead Week has become a much contested topic.

It is both an excuse for celebration and reason for panic. For some, it means another semester has come and gone with the freedom of an end of semester break  just around the corner. But, for many, the prospect of studying for finals and finishing assignments seems daunting.

Dead Week ends up being the week of research papers, senior design projects and portfolios. Think of it like the last-minute of overtime, penalty kicks to end the World Cup, extra innings to decide the World Series, the white flag, the last lap or the mad dash down the home stretch towards the academic finish line.

The policy that determines the guidelines of assignments during Dead Week, WPFE (Week Preceding Final Exams), has been the topic of much contention since it was formally established.

According to official policy, “courses with a traditional final exam, taken in class during the designated examination period: Homework and projects are allowed during the week preceding finals, and a single final exam is allowed during finals week; tests, quizzes, lab reports and lab practicums are not allowed during the week preceding finals, and no additional assignments beyond the final exam are allowed during finals week.”

Secondly, “courses with an alternative assessment rather than a traditional final exam: Homework and an alternative final assessment (one project or lab report/practicum) are allowed during the preceding finals or finals week; tests, quizzes, additional lab reports/lab practicums and additional projects are not allowed during the week preceding finals, and no additional assignments beyond the alternative final assessment are allowed during finals week.”

When one thinks of Dead Week, what comes to mind are temporary student campgrounds on every floor of both the library and the CULC; vending machines lacking anything caffeinated; not a single open computer; the line for Starbucks that’s the same length of the Pi Mile; and  hungry, sleep deprived students lumbering through campus like zombies.

Tech established the WPFE Policy to serve one purpose: help students prepare for finals. There were to be no extra assignments, club meetings or anything else during Dead Week that would take up a student’s time that should, in theory, be devoted to studying for finals.

While this idea works well for standard final exams, institutions such as Tech have a tendency of following a different format when it comes to the last week of classes. Many courses end with an all-encompassing project or portfolio.

Whether it is the results of a semester’s worth of lab data, a problem solving program built from scratch for CS or 20-page-long research papers, these final assignments are large and time consuming.

“I haven’t had a final for three semesters, so Dead Week for me and others in my classes is usually rush week to get all the final projects done. I’ve heard rumors of professors being kind of mean and assigning a few things during Dead Week when they have a final in the class the next week, but I don’t have any kind of direct sources or personal experience to comment on it,” said Andrew Nelson, a third-year CM major.

To address the growing concern that some students were being overburdened with last-minute assignments on top of previously established ones, Tech created an official policy regarding the matter in the Fall of ’09 that consisted of two major items.

The purpose of these two provisions is to ensure that students would be able to avoid being swamped with extra assignments at the end of each semester. Yet due a combination of reasons, finals week does not play out so well.

“While I agree with the Dead Week policy, I don’t think it is enforced or implemented in the right way. I still have assignments that are due throughout the week. It’s not just the research paper and portfolio-based finals, but a combination of that and my regular finals that make it difficult for me to find enough time in the day to complete them both,” said Jonathan Vallecillo, third-year PUBP and BA double major.

Some administrators still call for further reform and suggest introduction of “reading days”: days set aside for studying for finals. These would ease some of the student’s burden.

In the meantime, finals are not going anywhere, so pack a sleeping bag, max out the BuzzCard on Monster energy drinks and stake out a territory in the library because it’s about to be Dead Week, the most glorious and most hated week at Tech.