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[Phys-L] Re: Goals of the Introductory Course

On 03/22/05 18:13, Rodney Dunning wrote in part:

I'm hoping to create a leaner curriculum for this course; a "less is
more" approach.

Let me address this one point out of a much longer note.

This drags us squarely into the proverbial breadth-versus-
depth discussion. There are good arguments in favor of
breadth, and there are good arguments in favor of depth,
but you can't be broad and deep and introductory all at

Presently it seems the pendulum has in most places swung
too far toward breadth at the expense of depth.

In any case, the question is, what's the smart way to
handle the conflicting demands? The best idea I've
seen is what Larry Woolf has aptly named the "table
with legs" approach. Here's the diagram:

ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd
ddddd ddd

where breadth is indicated by "b" and depth is indicated
by "d". The table-top represents breadth, covering many
topics, while the legs represent depth in a few selected
topics. For an extended discussion, see


Also a minor point of rhetoric and terminology: I
know what R.D. meant by "leaner" and "less is more",
because he explained it.

But still the terminology is problematic ... the
problem arises if you have to say _quickly_ what you
are trying to do, without time to explain it. (This
is called the "elevator" explanation. The scenario
it should bring to mind is that you meet your
boss's boss's boss in an elevator, and you have 15
seconds to let him know who you are and why what
you are doing is exceedingly nifty and important.)

"Leaner" doesn't do it for me; out of context it
could be misunderstood as pushing the pendulum too
far to the other side.

"Table with legs" is the best catch-phrase I've seen.
It denotes breadth _plus_ depth in selected areas.

If anybody has better ideas and/or terminology,
please share!


Also, returning to the start of this thread, there's
one thing I left off my list. Maybe this shouldn't
be on the published syllabus, but it is something we
should discuss clearly among ourselves. A major goal
is to teach the customers to like the subject. This
includes helping them enjoy thinking and learning.

This is relevant to the "leanness" question, because
trying to do too much in a course just makes the
students crazy and and unhappy. My favorite sayings
along this line are:
-- You can't make a flower grow any faster by pulling
on it.
-- Some professors try to cover a lot of material.
I'd rather _uncover_ some of the material.

As mentioned above, you can't be broad and deep and
introductory all at once. So use your judgement; pick
one of the many reasonable-albeit-imperfect options
and go with it.
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