No Keening

What in the world is "the no-keening rule", from CarletonUniversitySoftwareSystemsDesign?

"Keening" is an idiom completely local to Carleton University - the terminology, that is; the actions described are well known.

The following definitions are summarized from and

The expression "to be keen" is based on the verb. It generally means to be eager, interested, (over-)actively engaged in an activity.

Clearly the expression is based on the adjective, but SharkBot won't let me edit the above para.

As so often happens as language evolves, people have been unaware, uninterested or dismissive of the original verb (to wail in lamentation) and have "verbed" the adjective. In other words, they have converted, by usage, the adjective into a verb.

As Calvin says: "Verbing wierds language." So in the context you ask, "to keen" is to show, and show off, that you are keen (enthusiastic, knowledgeable, etc). Specifically in this context, to be overly keen to the point of being disruptive to others who may or may not be less able, but are equally deserving, and sometimes more hand-working.

I used to have a poster with TheTick thumbs up bellowing a balloon of "Keen!" It was so good, I made a rotating 3D textured "Keen!" my screensaver at work. Unfortunately, it was ripped when I moved.

Keening is trying too hard. Keening is trying to prove you're smarter than everyone even though you're only looking stupider. Keening is kissing the ass of authority. Keening loses peer respect, slows life down, and is generally a losing thing to do.

But, sometimes, (this happened in some of the physics courses I attended) it is a pleasure to see the genuinely enthusiastic 99-th percentile proto-genius in the front row get engaged with the lecturer (if they were tall enough to be seen from up at the back where I was). For this to be true they must be intelligent but not dumb. Such people are rare, but should be encouraged. -- KeithBraithwaite

Real life examples:

Dumb person has a genuine confusion, and the course should address it if it's to be a good course. Did the dumb person have alternative avenues to clear up his confusion? Did the lecturer stay behind to answer questions? Were there separate tutorials? What was the intra-student support network like?

More real life:

Keening is a subspecies of TryHarding? - trying to prove your own superiority through fantastic feats of intellectual stupidity. But it's possible to TryHard? without Keening: you can do so outside the classroom, where you won't negatively impact other classmates. But remember: it's only school. It's not that important.

Sometimes these people really are superior, and just can't help having their brilliance spill out all over the place. Help them to learn continence. -- KeithBraithwaite

I think it's still important to get to know some of your profs & to try to talk to them after class sometimes if you have questions. This is especially true if you have one of those odd professors that just oozes knowledge (i.e. if you were taught by a future DonKnuth or EwDijkstra). -- StuCharlton

Knowing profs in first and second year is deadly. You'll pick the wrong ones. Your friends will mock you. You'll be called upon in upper years to answer questions you weren't even conscious to hear. -- SunirShah

I usually find the school administration here places their best profs in first year (in terms of teaching ability, anyway), so I disagree with you. And anyway, if you get real benefits out of talking to them (a research internship, reference letter, etc.) down the road, who has the last laugh? If your friends mock you for trying to learn more, who needs enemies? Too often, NoKeening turns into NoLearning? ("because school sucks anyway") - which is imho a detrimental attitude.

I think the argument that "I'll get the last laugh," is completely bogus. If you are always waiting for satisfaction, you'll never get it. Concern yourself (somewhat) with the present; after all, it's already gone. Besides, university is about beer.

I should note that, no I didn't know my profs in 1st and 2nd year. Mainly out of shyness and NoKeening attitude.

One thing I've learned after 4 years of school & leaving the CS program at UW is that getting heckled for "going the extra mile" fades really fast when it's time to enter the RealWorld and find a job, where the person who went the extra mile gets a BMW M3 while the rest have to refurbish their old Honda Civic...

-- StuCharlton

That's the other half of the NoKeening attitude. It's plainly just stupid. Which is why people start breaking it in third year after they've worked for a while in the RealWorld. -- ss

Keening at Work

I and some coworkers had to do some keening during a Java class. We had spent a few months coding in it, and signed up for a (professional association sponsored) course on it in order to gain some more advanced techniques.

It turns out that the instructor was fundamentally clueless about Java. Every other thing he said about the language was just wrong. It got to the point where someone would ask how to do X, the instructor would say that Java doesn't support X, and then he would go onto the next slide -- which showed how to do X in Java!

Eventually, my cohorts and I took it upon ourselves to beat the instructor to answering a question posed by another student so that the instructor didn't get a chance to confuse the poor soul. During intermissions, students came to us for clarifications.

This was rude and obnoxious, but (IMHO) justifiably so. This was an extreme circumstance. We didn't keen because we knew more than the instructor (this happens from time to time, and it's not an excuse for keening), but because the instructor was so bad that he threatened to unteach the course for the rest of the students.

-- AnonymousCoward

I think much of this page is rather sad. It seems that "no keening" means: If you enjoy the material you're supposed to be studying, and find it interesting, and do more than the minimum needed for good grades, then you're a sad loser with no life who's just trying to impress the professor. Even worse if you actually engage with the lectures enough to be anything more than a machine that copies patterns from the blackboard to a piece of paper without doing any information processing on them. Having "fun" with your work is Right Out. Yes, trying to show off is dumb. Yes, picking fights with the lecturer is usually pointless and rude. But this seems to go further, and it bothers me. If you're a student and don't find your work interesting and enjoyable, you should be doing something else. -- GarethMcCaughan

There's a difference between keening and expressing your interest, and also a difference between not keening and keeping your darned mouth shut. Keeners are an annoying drain on class time and student morale, all supporting the ego of the perpetrator. Perhaps there is a fine line, but I think that it's the kind of thing that you might not be able to tell the difference by description, but you might be able to by smell.

Keening is correcting the teacher on issues that are irrelevant to the topic. If the professor says that the IBM 7090 did its arithmetic by table lookup, as a casual example of how the same ISA might be implemented by different architectures, it doesn't contribute to the class for someone to say, "No, no, you're wrong. It was the IBM 1401." Even worse is when the professor says the 1401, and the keener jumps in and argues mercilessly that it was the 7090.

Keening is warping the discussion away from the course to a topic of interest to the keener. If the professor is using a linked-list implementation of a stack for examples of stack-based procedures, the keener will argue with the professor for twenty minutes trying to get her to implement the stack with an array, rather than focusing on the real issues that the class came for.

Keening is implementing a multithreaded project when the discussion is not about threading. Keening is implementing your own simulator when the discussion is about instruction sets. Sure, they're great exercises for the keener, but why should the rest of the class care? They don't, and since they don't, it doesn't do the class as a whole any good to let a keener take the time away demonstrating his or her "brilliance".

Learning in school is a collaborative exercise. If the keener is so damned smart, he doesn't need a lecture.

-- JohnDuncan

These last two paragraphs are going too far. You're right, the class doesn't care whether another student writes a simulator when the discussion is about instruction sets. And they don't need to care, because it doesn't affect them. The dark side of the NoKeening rule is anti-intellectualism. I once had a student in a first year CS course who was so far ahead of the other students he decided to do a completely different assignment than the one he was assigned. It involved simulation, statistical analysis, and graphing of his results. Completely unrelated to the very simple assignment. I, as the teaching assistant, had the power to give a failing grade on the assignment since he didn't do 'what he was supposed to do'. Instead I gave him a nearly perfect grade with a nominal 'can't give you perfect' one point off. Smart people shouldn't be held back, or penalized for being more capable. And no, they don't need the lecture, but most of the time they are forced to attend.

>sigh< Where were you when I attempted college?? -- PhlIp
As a university lecturer, I may have a certain perspective on this.

In class, allowing or disallowing keening is a judgement call. It depends, to a large degree, on successfully identifying the motives of the student. If keening is the result of a bright and enthusiastic student brimming with ideas, it can make a delightful break in otherwise mundane or tedious material, and I hope it encourages shy but bright students to pipe up as well. I'm occasionally completely derailed by a good keener, and wind up wandering waaay off topic to rummage through entirely unrelated material. If there's time to catch up later, there's nothing wrong with that. As long as students are learning something, I figure it's all good. It's especially delightful when I get a student who knows considerably more about a topic than I do, because I can switch from lecturing to asking questions. It saves me some effort.

On the other hand, a few keeners are only intent on showing off to other students, humiliating the lecturer, or have some unspecified grumpy motivation. The last group are frequently mature students, sometimes ones who have worked in the industry for years, who would rather air some grudge than share experience or knowledge. These disruptive "keeners" aren't genuinely interested in ideas sparked off by the subject, and tend to be excessively negative and sneeringly critical. They are merely manifesting some poison of the ego, and are best calmly encouraged to take it up with me after class -- sometimes with the promise that if I'm wrong about something, I'll correct it in the next lecture.

As for assignments, it is vitally important to make the intended learning outcomes (i.e., the pedagogical point or goal of the assignment) crystal clear. If the stated goal is to implement an efficient BTREE algorithm and nothing more, I will deduct marks if a student tries to create his own operating system to host it and creates an entire DBMS around it. Yes, I once had a student try this. Good assignments are intended to be both of academic and vocational value. There is no vocational value in over-solving the problem; it's a form of YouArentGoingToNeedIt, and encouraging this behaviour is not doing a student's future employers any favour. To me, it is a failure to correctly implement requirements, and does not deserve full marks even if it is a magnificent effort. Such students would do far better to devote their energy to starting or contributing to an open source project, the campus computer club, part-time computing employment, or turning their ideas into final year dissertation projects.

However, some assignments are clearly specified to have no upper bounds on the acceptable solutions. As an example, my department specified a simple game as the final assignment for our first year, first term programming course, and made it explicitly unbounded. To deliberately encourage over-the-top efforts, we offered prizes of top-of-the-line game consoles for the two best results. However, the game rules were specified in detail, and full marks were only available to those who in addition to doing something truly great, also wrote correct, elegant, properly-formatted code that solved the specified problem. Students who wandered off and created some other game, no matter how good, were not eligible for the prizes.

Those who wish to make their own creations receive nearly endless encouragement from me, but I make it clear that they'd better do their assignments correctly if they want full marks. In many cases, an assignment is simply not the place for such creativity, because part of the assessment criteria may be determining whether or not the student can implement requirements without fluff, excess, or hyperbole.

-- DaveVoorhis

At university I learned a valuable NoKeening lesson when, after going far beyond a programming assignment's requirements, a friend I showed the code to remarked that if I were in her class she'd have given my project a failing grade. As a teacher's assistant, she had to grade many student projects, and couldn't afford to spend time reading GoldPlating. I was properly chastened.

Keening seems to be related to NitPicking? (ApatheticDisdainAndPedanticNitpicking) and AnalRetentive patterns. I think those who are overly keen are sometimes annoying nit pickers and anal retentives. This can be a good thing though - being critical - especially for bug finding, bull shit detecting (BullshitBingo), and rigorously analyzing. A keener I would describe as someone in class who always had his hand up in the air ready to ask questions and ready to question everything the teacher said. Unfortunately, at times, I was one of these people (and obviously still am) - but my teachers seemed to enjoy it. Intelligent teachers were much more interested if students showed serious interest. I think it is a BadSmell when people are not open to criticism, too (also see AgreeToDisagree, PeopleArgueToFindOut).


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