During the class session with the Dean on the Penn State scandal, one of the students asserted that professors with tenure teach less well.
…not everyone tap dances well, meaning that Penn State appoints faculty for their abilities on a number of different criteria, of which teaching is quite rightly just one. But just a few months back, prompted by an article our local newspaper about the luxury of tenure, my colleague Marcel Salathe and I concluded that the talented could survive without it and indeed, that maybe it would sharpen everyone’s game to be without the tenure safety net. Sure there might be some subjects (economics?) where the protection is necessary so that faculty can investigate the unpopular. But most disciplines don’t need it, surely not ours. And there are PSU Faculty who take it seriously easy once they get tenure.
By this time in the semester, I can see some interesting things in the class grade book. There are students who are going to fail because they are not blogging. I worry students who do not like writing are disenfrancised by the heavy blogging requirement of this class (40% of final mark). I tried to have lunch with three such students to find out; naturally the two blokes I asked did not show up. But the other student was very interesting. Turns out she is unable to blog because she loves writing. This means, evidently, that it has to be perfect soaring prose, literature for a new age, and on a topic no student has thought to blog about ever before.
The Dean of the Eberly College of Science, Dan Larson, was supposed to be talking to the class today about the Universe. We decided over the weekend that it would be more appropriate given current events if he talked to the students about what has just transpired at Penn State.
Teaching students has its challenges. But this?
“I went through the Asian educational system, which is now so admired. It gave me an impressive base of knowledge and taught me how to study hard and fast. But when I got to the U.S. for college, I found that it had not trained me that well to think. American education at its best teaches you how to solve problems, truly understand the material, question authority, think for yourself and be creative. It teaches you to learn what you love and to love learning. These are incredibly important values, and they are why the U.S. has been able to maintain an edge in creative industries and innovation in general.“
Sometimes I wonder if I am the wrong guy for this job.
First revision session today on Class Test 3. Three students pointed out an error in Question #20. It was a very inspired question, but not with ‘ulcer’ accidentally replacing ‘cancer’. That rather dramatically changed the meaning of the question. Which might explain why only a minority of students divined that I meant ‘cancer’, and 75% of the students chose the answer that made sense if you read ‘ulcer’. So three opinionated students get the 5% extra credit that goes with finding a mistake in one of my tests. And memo to other students: this is a strong argument for bitching at me if you have a good case.
Guest instructor Faye Flam, a science writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer and professional blogger, talked in class Tuesday about how one of my students was misled by a superficially reliable source. The student post itself, the subsequent comments and then the class discussion prompted Faye to write it all down.