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Re: On Light: Surviving College

Each year we do a survey of the entering freshman class (the whole college,
not just physics), and one question is "How many total hours per week do you
plan to spend on course work (studying and doing homework for all classes)
beyond the time spent in class."

The answers to this question are very frightening. With a 15-hour load we
would expect an answer around 30 hours. Hardly any student chooses that
answer; most choose 5-10 hours per week. This means one of the first things
we tell them (during orientation and during the first class session) is they
will have to spend much more time than they originally thought.

Unfortunately they don't believe us and they don't do it. When I tell the
calc-based physics students they will spend 3-5 hours per week doing
problems, and another 3-5 hours per week on lab analysis and report writing,
for a total of 6-10 hours of work beyond class time... they pretty much roll
their eyes and I can hear them thinking "Oh sure, get real."

We think students are in the habit of spending zero to two-hours per night
(5 days per week, Sunday through Thursday) doing studying/homework in high
school, and they expect to continue that pattern in college.

I tell students the best advice I can give them for success in my course is;

(1) Come to class everyday.
(2) Get enough sleep so you can stay awake and focused in class (class time
is 8:00-8:50 AM daily).
(3) Read the textbook before coming to class and be prepared to ask
questions about things that were not clear.
(4) Go over your notes each day; maybe even recopy them. Be prepared to ask
questions about things that were not clear.
(5) Start problems and lab reports as early as possible so you have time to
ask questions. If you do these the night before the assignment is due you
will be unable to ask questions and you won't have enough time to do proper
proofreading and editing.

This advice is good for students in any discipline. Some students don't
take any of this advice. Very few take it all. I have students missing
class, students falling asleep in class, students who clearly don't read the
textbook (a fair number of students don't even buy the book*), and I am
quite aware they don't begin to work on problem sets or lab reports earlier
than the night before they are due. I have actually had students ask for an
extension to hand in a problem set because "the person(s) I am sharing the
book with had the book all night so I never had a chance to look at the

There are plenty of other problems (work problems, boy/girl-friend problems,
extra-curricular conflicts)... but if they would just take the time to do
what I outlined above, typical students would improve immensely. We don't
need a book to tell students how to succeed in college... this is almost a
no-brainer... but many students don't even give it that much attention.

* Aside commentary... are any of you aware of this trick... mom and dad pay
for the books with a check or charge card. Afterward the student returns
the books unmarked for a full refund in cash. One thing we have done to
combat this is we will not refund in cash if they paid with a credit card;
we only credit the card. But if they paid in cash or with a check, and if
the book is unmarked and returned within the drop/add period, they get a
full refund. Some students have "learned a good way" to bilk mom and dad
out of a couple hundred bucks.

Michael D. Edmiston, Ph.D. Phone/voice-mail: 419-358-3270
Professor of Chemistry & Physics FAX: 419-358-3323
Chairman, Science Department E-Mail
Bluffton College
280 West College Avenue
Bluffton, OH 45817