Wednesday, May 18, 2011

End-of-quarter kvetching

Darlene, the clerk at the grocery store, asked me if the quarter is winding down. I felt it was more accurate to say that it's winding up. Eight weeks in, students are confronting the grim reality that they haven't been doing so well and that maybe they ought to do something about it. Of course, in many cases, what they do is blame the instructor.

Coincidentally, this cartoon came up on the calendar.

I have to admit that to a certain degree, the students have a point. With the distractions of moving, I am not able to give the class the type of attention I'd like to. The class size (three hundred) and composition (all frosh) hasn't helped. For instance, I typically spend a lot more time on writing, but this quarter it simply hasn't been possible. I spent the weekend confronted with an enormous stack of short essays to grade. Normally, this is an opportunity for me to have a pen-and-ink dialogue with the students: this idea is poorly expressed, this sentence is off-topic, your notions on this subject are vague, this is really nicely put, I hadn't thought of it that way. Instead, I just gave scores.

But I always think of the awful pun on horticulture: you can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think. Even though I'm not performing up to my expectations, the students have the tools at hand to do the job. I provide lots of review material, podcasts, notes, a book, extra readings, and so on. In many cases, they choose not to use them. A week and a half after an entire lecture entitled "autotrophy," I gave the students a quiz question that featured the word "autotrophy." No less than a dozen of them asked me or the TAs what that meant. I did not give them the definition. I gave them the hairy eyeball.

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