It’s come time to decide how to handle next year.
I met a student today who has calculated that he pays Penn State $100 for every class session he goes to. He’s an out-of-state student so will be paying more than most students, but nonetheless that puts the price of education into perspective.
Activity on the class blog by time. Spot the three deadlines.
A weekend spent marking the blog, and I am surprised by how much it depressed me. I have research collaborators in four countries who need something from me (yesterday), a family who sometimes want to interact, and a ton of fall leaves to collect. Yet…
I let the students choose the topics we cover at the end of the course. The experience last year was that the students didn’t care. I get the same sense this year; less than 10% of the class has posted to the topic suggestion page on the class blog. Perhaps after years of being told what is important, young folk have lost the ability to decide for themselves.
I have culled the options down to a tiny list. I excluded some excellent suggestions where I could see no way to use them as a vehicle to achieve my course objectives (space travel), or I couldn’t teach them (string theory), or I doubt the majority of the class would be interested (string theory), or I doubt I can find on campus an expert who can teach to this sort of class (string theory), or where the subject can be looked up in Wikipedia (leeches). Which leaves the following.
Students, do please vote for as many topics as you want (although the polls will close after 250 respondents). Naturally, I retain the right to ignore the votes and do what I want.
For other voting interfaces, read on….
I continue to be astounded that the students and I are on such different planets.
Very interesting after-work drink with Mary Beth Williams, the recently appointed Eberly College of Science Dean for Undergraduate Education and a guest instructor on this course (nano). She was looking for ideas on how to better engage research-active faculty in undergrad education. I was after a solution to the question which is really starting to bother me about 2012. Should we go for more students (e.g. 400) or should we go elite niche (e.g. 20 Schreyer Honors students)? The status quo (100 random students) is also an option.
Oddly, her arguments made me think of Huxley and especially Haldane, two outstanding evolutionary biologists who took engagement with the wider citizenry very seriously. Mary Beth had heard of neither of them, but that is because she is an impoverished chemist. One was from the chosen elite, the other not. Both made a real difference to their generations by not being elitist.
I want to stretch the students, and used the latest test to do it. It worked. Most of them hate me for it.
The format was the same as the first test, but challenging questions dropped the mean score to 73% (median 76%), down 10% on last time. No one got everything right, but two students got 100%. That is possible under my marking algorithm, which I designed so my tests could generate teachable moments and challenge the students, while also producing grades, the least interesting purpose of tests (zzzzzzz). I am very pleased with the algorithm: it really does allow those competing goals to be achieved simultaneously, particularly when I take the grade as the best two scores from four tests. This means there is a lot of space to bomb, while allowing students to get good grades so long as they improve. Rigorous thinking is hard work, and the only way to get students to do it is to challenge them while holding the grading gun to their heads.
The more I teach, the more I think we have to stimulate students to up their game, even if they don’t want to. Lowering the bar serves no one. Among the 2/3 of my class that got less than a B on this test there will be many who are willing to put the effort in. My turn to help. Excellent.
Anyhow, the marks spread was….
A, 11; A-, 3; B+, 10; B, 9; B-, 14; C+, 10; C, 9; D, 21; Fail, 13 (which includes 4 no shows). I was pretty pleased with this distribution. There is clearly nothing wrong with the test, because a substantial minority of the student did very, very well. There were a few students who were exasperated because they feel they have been doing the stuff and yet are not getting rewarded with great grades. Those folks are as important to me as it gets, and will be fixed by a few revision sessions. The others? I do hope they learned that you gotta come to class and you gotta engage. A few of the students must have been quietly pleased with how well they did when they heard some of the comments in class today. A sample from the comment wall:
why dont we just have a few short answer ?’s to avoid these shennanigans…
I feel like the trickery of these tests are going to ruin all of our grades..
why was it so hard?
Yup it blew my mind
I did better on this test than the last one…
I got 60% higher on this one cause I got 0% on the first one 🙂
I thought that test was pretty hard and ambiguous
test was hard I agree…
I concur, the test was confusing, to be frank, quite b.s.
too the asshole who asked for the harder test last time…your an asshole (sic, sic)
[this a reference by a grammatically challenged student to a post after the 1st class test: “Can you make the tests harder”]
ya you asshole!
im gonna have to second the asshole comment
Sadly, none of the folk who got an A posted.
- Magic demonstrates that it is easy to believe what isn’t true.
- The scientific method is really important: a lot of people are wrong, and a lot of people let their politics color their beliefs.
- As College graduates, you should be persuaded by facts. If beliefs get mixed in, that’s ok, but you should see if you can reconcile your beliefs and the facts.
- Always be a little skeptical of what people are telling you, especially if they have an agenda.
- Magicians exploit the tendency of humans to see patterns where none exist.
- Magicians exploit our assumptions about cause and effect.
To which I would just add the one rule of science which magicians really, really demonstrate: Don’t assume something weird, surprising or counter intuitive has a supernatural cause just because YOU can’t explain it.
Photo credits: Tara Carson
Well at least gets a mention in the Philadelphia Inquirer.