If You Don’t Understand It, It’s Your Fault

I am, along with 60,000-some of my peers, enrolled in the Coursera Game Theory online class, which is taught by two exceedingly uncharismatic Stanford professors. Over all, this has been a rewarding endeavor; certainly it is worth the price.

This morning, as a Time Warner man muddled in my patio trying to fix someone else’s cable, I was struck by a low ebb in the edifying flows. The class is made up, in part, of video lectures, about two hours’ worth each week. At the end of most of these is a one-question quiz.

Now much of this has been over my head. “There would be a little calculus,” I had been warned. I thought this meant that a little bit of the class would involve calculus; in fact, there is a little bit of calculus in everything. And so, as the sounds of an aluminum ladder scraped through my apartment, and after a long, calculus-intensive lecture, entitled “Continuous First-Price Auctions,” I was confronted with a difficult (for me) multiple-choice question. I barely understood it, but the last choice was “none of the above.” And between my marginal grasp of the question and the other answers and the likelihood that “none of the above,” a choice that rarely appears in the these quizzes, was not included a red herring, I was able, ironically by applying actual game theory, to get it right.

The quiz then prompts you to read an explanation of the question. Usually this goes over the math and the concepts in a short paragraph, explaining why the right answer is what it is.

But for this question, I got this stuffy, academic middle finger, paraphrased thusly:

(e) is true. This is reviewing the logic from the lecture. If you don’t understand, rewind it and watch again.