Monday, February 1, 2010

Curt from Conyers Is Not Afraid To Be Evaluated. But He's Not Taking Your Shit.

Some Things Students Do Not Like about the Course (and the Way that I teach it)

  • “Better Communication” – My in-class communication style is direct and streamlined. I expect a certain amount of self-sufficiency in my students.

  • "Abrasive/Abrupt/Mean" – My in-class teaching persona is direct. This directness translates, on occasion, as abrupt, abrasive, or mean to some students. To others this directness translates as eccentricity or dry humor. As a teacher, I fully intend to engage my students in a direct manner.

  • "Less Scary" – See the above. I am not intentionally scary, but I am not inclined to add gratuitous fluffiness or cheeriness to a college-level mathematics course.

  • “Lighten up” – See the above. I’d rather maintain an active emphasis on work in the class and come across as being a bit mean rather than tread too lightly and promote too much slack.

  • "Condescension", "Be Nicer About Questions" – At times, students will show a lack of preparation, or a lack of due diligence, or both. There is a clear distinction between a legitimate question from a student acting in good faith (including questions arising from honest confusion), and questions arising from willful laziness or lack of care. I will generally deal compassionately with questions from students acting in good faith, and reasonably tactfully with questions of the latter type. Questions from students are welcome, and are essential to the learning process. Exercise discipline and effort in studying what I make available, and most of your questions will be answered by your own efforts. Make a good faith effort to answer your own questions first, and ask them if you cannot find a sufficiently good answer yourself.

  • “Yet More Condescension” – I minimize the level of mathematics used in this class for three reasons: the mathematical prerequisites for this class are minimal, the typical mathematical interest among the students in this class is low and the mathematics required for the course topics is modest. If you want a more quantitative approach, take the more advanced courses. This is a core course aimed at primarily non-mathematically-inclined students.

  • "Too Much Writing" – Students write in college courses. The required writing in my coursework is non-negotiable, and is supported generously in my materials. There is a modicum of technical writing required in this course. If you have some sort of documented problem with writing, I can refer you to an alternate testing process where said problem will be accommodated. If you find the amount of required writing in my class to be excessive, then you'll find yourself in dire trouble in other classes where writing is the central focus.

  • "Be More Patient" – I’ll be patient with you, if you’ll be patient with me. This is a required mathematics course, and a number of students have long-standing issues with mathematics. While my course is streamlined in terms of its mathematical content, the remaining mathematics is essential, and must be endured. My first priority is to teach statistics to those with proper mastery of the required prerequisite courses.

  • "Too Complex, Simplify?" – I’ve simplified what I can simplify – the rest is appropriately complex. I do reconsider things on a continuing basis, though, and balance simple examples for teaching purposes versus realistically complex examples.

  • "Put Course on WebCT" – Posting the current website where it is should be sufficient. I typically update or modify my webpage two or three times per week during an active semester. Maintaining current content on two platforms is too much work.

  • "More Reviewing" – I allocate a full review day per hourly test, and several review days at the end for the final examination. Given the complete posting of sample tests, students should have plenty of time for test preparations. The key is to study for single cases over time, rather than trying to study for everything at once.

  • "Tests are Too Long" – A few students have one or more issues with test taking, with prerequisite mathematical skills and with writing skills. If these issues are documented, then accommodations can be made. Writing four cases in 75 minutes is not unreasonable, given appropriate preparation.

  • "Tedious Lectures" – I only lecture in a handful of sessions. The rest of the sessions are dedicated to active learning in student groups, using case studies. Having said that, the purpose of a lecture is the delivery of information – entertainment or flair is not relevant in a lecture, and part of the skill base acquired by successful university students is the ability to apply mental focus in a variety of situations (including boredom).

  • "Too Many Big Words" – This is a university. We use big words here. The correct student behavior when encountering “big words” is to look those “big words” up in a dictionary. A successful student’s knowledge base will increase in university. Building vocabulary and expanding knowledge are part of university life, and is expected behavior in literate adults.

  • “Intense Vocabulary for a General Education Course” – My basic premise regarding students in my course is that they are likely not strongly interested in either hard science or mathematics as a major, but that they are quite capable of learning the core concepts of statistics. My primary concession in my course is that I refrain from beating my students about the head with calculus. “Gen. Ed.” course content need not be “dumbed down” or gratuitously over-simplified.

  • “I had to teach myself all of the material” – That’s the point. You teach yourself – it’s called learning. At the college level, we’re guides, advisors, referees, … we’re here to define the scope of the work, and to evaluate the quality of your work.

  • “He doesn’t like stupid questions, so it’s hard to ask a question” – There are stupid/lazy questions that could and should be resolved by a student thinking about the issue, and there are questions that persist despite good faith effort on the part of the student. I welcome the latter type.

  • “The tests are very hard and take a long time” – Welcome to college. Part of your preparations should involve careful work involving the actual posted tests – also, the length of the classes are clear, and part of your preparation should involve getting a sense of testing strategy. Being surprised by the difficulty and/or time reflects inadequate preparation, or problems with fundamental skills or pre-requisites.

  • “Exercises/Practice/Drill” –I will not reduce this course to Skinnerian conditioning. I teach the course in a series of case types, which I link to the keyed tests. You can learn by working through the tests, one case type at a time. I favor comprehension and quality over quantity.

  • “Unapproachable/Scary” – If you think that I’m mean/unapproachable/scary/not as nice as your favorite teacher from wherever, then I’ve got some very bad news: we get worse, more-so as you start your upper division courses. Get over style or user friendliness, and focus on substance.

  • “Not Open to Questions” – Well, at least to the lazy/careless/stupid questions (the ones you’re supposed to handle with a modicum of thinking). The other kind, the ones that persist after you’ve attempted to answer by thinking about them or by looking them up, those are fine. Some students find merit in asking questions – questions are a tool in the learning process. So is thinking. I like the questions that are driven by thinking and by effort. I do not like questions that reflect and/or enable volitional stupidity or laziness.

  • “Lacks ‘passion’ or ‘interest’ in teaching” – I’m not here to meet some sort of romantic, clichéd, theatric role of the exalted teacher. I’m here to help students learn (to teach themselves, under my guidance) the required material in this required course.