Lets assume we're struggling with some university calculus courses. We've decided to pool our resources and organize a math study group. Once a week we meet in a conference room in our student union. After the first couple weeks, we find that we've greatly improved all of our exam scores and by the third week half of the math students are members of the group.

Now, we agree that its not appropriate for someone to walk into our math study session and ask physics questions? Wouldn't we rightfully feel frustrated if we had clearly posted on the door that this was the MATH-only study session?

Now, how would we react if every five minutes someone new came into the math session and asked physics or chemistry or biology or art history questions?

How would we react if the same person repeatedly came back into the room asking physics questions even after we politely asked them to keep their questions to math topics?

One might suppose we could move our math session. But then what do we do when that guy with the physics questions follows us to the next room?

One might suppose we could appoint one member of the group to act as the moderator. Everyone submits their questions on paper in advance which the moderator filters to the group. But what would we do when we realize that the moderator misses out on studying while he's sorting through the questions?

How would we react if some guy came into the study session and asked what is the derivative of sin x, even though the answer is clearly printed on the jacket of calculus textbook that he's carrying?

One might suppose we could just answer the D sin x, physics, chemistry, biology and even art history questions, but by the time we're done, we've found we never studied and the math final is in 15 minutes.

What would we do if we found out that if we just publicly chastised these guys with the D sin x, physics, and art history questions in the school newspaper that they only came back to our math study session with well-researched math questions? Wouldn't we make a habit of it?

John D. Groenveld <groenveld@acm.org>

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