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Once again, John has some excellent points. I particularly recognizeda
issues 3 and 6 (see below). I teach at a small college
with all students thrown into the same general physics class (physics,
mathematics, engineering, chemistry, biology, comp sci, pre-med). One of
the problems I face is the MCAT requirement on the content that must be
Does anyone have any experience of why the MCAT has physics on there at
all? It does not seem likely that our future doctors will need to know
about blocks sliding down ramps! I had convinced myself that it was about
problem-solving skills, but the MCAT questions are all plug-and-chug rote
memorization. The students who just want to get enough out of the course
to pass the MCAT get really upset when I sacrifice content for skills
because "it is not helping me get into med school".
How do you motivate such a diverse group of students when they think that
significant part of the course will not be relevant to them? Is itanother?
realistically possible to cover vast quantities of material for one group
of students while developing the critical and analytical skills for
3) Students should (ideally) know why they are taking the course.
The professor should be able to sell the course, i.e. motivate
the students by telling them why the course (and the various
elements of the course) are worthwhile.
See item (6) for more on this.
6) Sometimes the course is a "required" course. Some distant
Committee has decided that the students need to take the course,
but the students don't believe it and the professor is caught
in the middle. This situation sucks bigtime.
The funny thing is, the Commitee has a point. They just need
to do a better job of selling their point. They need to explain
to the professor that it is important for the graduates to be
able to think and to write. The point of requiring the required
course is to make sure the students build up their thinking
muscles. After the Committee sells this idea to the professor,
the professor needs to sell it to the students.
7) All kinds of people here are dropping the ball.
-- It is easy to sneer at the students for just "going through
the motions" as opposed to having the proper self-motivation
and love of learning. Why are they willing to waste their
time on stuff that doesn't make sense?
-- But what about the professor, who is just "going through
the motions" of teaching, as opposed to really explaining
what's important and teaching people how to think?
-- And what about the august Committee, which went through the
motions of setting high standards, but hasn't bothered to
see whether their wishes have any contact with reality?
So the track is broken in three different places, and the train
has derailed. It is commendable that the TA noticed that
something is amiss, but we cannot expect the TA to carry the
whole derailed train on his back.