10 April 2008

Realigning tasks in teaching

Earlier this week, I was involved in reviewing a proposal for a new textbook aimed at introductory biology students. The book was trying some different things in the way it was structured, and was trying to integrate mathematics throughout. All very smart, well-meaning stuff. But sometimes, you wonder if textbook authors forget the conditions on the ground.

Last week, I had a student come into my office who reminded me. He said he had been in the wrong class for the last two and a half months. He asked if he could make up the missing work.

Now, I had better provide a little context. I teach three classes in a row. Originally, I was slated to be in one room for the first class, then move down the hall for the next two. This seemed silly, so I asked the lecturer down the hall at the time of my first class if we could switch. That was fine. Signs on the doors of both classes were up for many weeks explaining that the class had moved.

The student had a class list at the start of the semester that listed all the rooms, and followed it. The printed list he had was not updated with the room switch.

The class he had been sitting in since the beginning of the semester wasn't even a biology class. Not even in the same discipline as class he was supposed to be taking.

(One person refused to believe this student's explanation. To which I replied, "If that's the story this person said to look good, what's the real story going to be like?")

I want to make something clear here: I am not laughing at these students. The point is that such students remind me that all the time I spend thinking about how to better explain gamete formation... or how to better use clickers... or to integrate quantitative mathematical into my lectures... is just not going to matter for a lot of students.

I just don't know that I can do anything to make it right for those people.

1 comment:

Sarah F. said...

Given that the situation you described is perfect fodder for "Rate My Students," this is a pretty calm reaction on your part.

I suppose that technically the student is in the right since the official course information that was available continued to list the original classroom. This still does not excuse the student's epic incompetence in not noticing that he/she was in the wrong class for 2.5 months. My guess is that said student rarely, if ever, attended class and just now figured out what is going on as they started scrambling to get a passing grade.

We can't do everything for these kids. If they can't even expend the basic mental energy needed to get to the right class, it's hard for me to justify expending the mental energy needed to help them succeed as students.