January 24, 2011

"What happens when a professor decides to take an easy class seriously and teach it as a difficult class?"

"I was once given that task, and the students revolted. When we went over the syllabus on the first day of class, several students told me that my class was supposed to be their easy class and that they would have to drop it and find another. I told the students that my chair had asked me to make this class more academically rigorous. They just looked at me in disbelief, and several students did drop it."

The problem of "easy" classes. The discussion continues here.

34 comments:

knox said...

My dad started teaching at a community college after he was laid off. His students in one class recently complained that "fill-in-the-blank" questions are too hard. They wanted multiple choice, or a list of words to choose from. sigh.

rmarkob said...

You have a talking chair???

aronamos said...

I always got more out of the summer and pickup classes I took here and there, singly, to fill in blanks in my general education requirements, than in any class I took in a regular academic semester. Financial aid requirements were such that I had to take a certain number of hours to qualify as a "full-time student." I needed "easy" classes to fill in that schedule.

wv ficiess. Most of my transcript.

bearing said...

The more I read stories like this, the surer I am that college is the new high school, and engineering degrees are the new college degrees.

I needed easy classes too when I was majoring in chemical engineering, so I added a minor in French.

Crimso said...

We have some faculty who give grades that on average are high, and some faculty who give grades that are on average low. Which end of this scale should I be aiming for? I really need to know this. Seriously. Or should I instead teach the relevant material, give reasonable exams gauged against a reasonable grading scale, and then assign grades with no curving? As I've told students semester after semester, if the goal is to fail as many of them as possible, I can very easily do that. The reverse is also easily done. Lost in all of this is what the students are actually learning.

fivewheels said...

I got a B in "Introduction to Leisure." My attendance was poor. And somehow this was held against me.

MadisonMan said...

If a class has a reputation of being easy, and is suddenly changed, of course students are going to revolt at the Bait and Switch. Any undergraduate college student -- ANY -- is going to have classes during a semester/term that is a blend of difficulties. It is foolish to think a student can take all killer courses. In addition, some classes -- like the one I teach -- are going to be easy for some and a real pain for others.

At work, I have killer projects that are very time and brainpower consuming, and others that are relatively easy, and the easy ones are the ones that I do while I ponder what needs to be done next on a hard project. Why should I expect students to operate differently?

I wonder the class was that was the example in the article, anyway. Intro to Geology? 18th Century French Literature? Latin? I could see how making those more rigorous (Sigh, why not just use the word harder?) could really increase the amount of time a student would have to spend. That's gonna screw up plans.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

Unfortunately, some students want less out of a course than they pay for. Those students experience no shame in expressing that they expect less. Sigh.

Zach said...

What's wrong with budgeting your workload for a semester?

Taking nothing but hard classes is called grad school. Most people drop out.

TWM said...

I'd just like a professor to actually teach what the course is supposed to be about. Twice now, my son, at a very well-respected Southern university, has had to sit through courses (British Lit and World History) where the professor taught everything BUT the subject. For example the final in my son's Brit Lit class was on current events in the UNITED STATES. There was nothing in it about literature in general, much less British literature.

And naturally, the teacher was vocally left-wing so my son, at my instruction at the beginning of the semester, pretended to be a Marxist in order to get his A.

Class factotum said...

We have some faculty who give grades that on average are high, and some faculty who give grades that are on average low.

The first test in freshman physics at my college was designed so that the high grade was about a 25. The profs wanted to knock some fear into a bunch of kids who were all used to being #1 or #2 in their high school classes.

Class factotum said...

Taking nothing but hard classes is called grad school.

Unless you go to business school, which was way easier than my undergrad major of English. In B school, you just repeat back to the profs what they have told you. It's completely objective.

For my English degree, I had to write two or three 12-page papers per semester per class.

Larry J said...

Rob said...
Unfortunately, some students want less out of a course than they pay for. Those students experience no shame in expressing that they expect less. Sigh.


Education is one of the few areas where few people complain about getting less than they paid for.

"No class today."
"Cool!"

tim maguire said...

Some classes are difficult and some are easy and there is nothing wrong with arranging your class schedule according to some overall goal of semester difficulty.

I don't know about these specific students, but coordinating your easy and hard courses so that you can give the tough ones the time they need and not over-stretch yourself is not lazy, it's smart.

And it's dirty pool to take a course that traditionally is easy and make it harder without making some sort of announcement prior to course selection time.

David said...

"For my English degree, I had to write two or three 12-page papers per semester per class."

Oh, the horror. Ten papers per semester isn't hard in itself, unless you leave them all to the last minute. They can be made hard if the professor has high expectations as to content. From what I can see, few professors do.

MadisonMan said...

Oh, the horror. Ten papers per semester isn't hard in itself,

Too much grading.

former law student said...

I was going to take the students' side till my wife told me the typical undergraduate these days studies a whopping twelve (12) hours a week. Seven of those hours are "collaborative," leaving only five hours per week for one-on-one engagement with the material. Students complain if they have to read twenty pages per week per class.


a very well-respected Southern university

Isn't that an oxymoron?


I kid, I kid.

former law student said...

Just to be clear: twelve hours per week for their entire courseload, not per class.

edutcher said...

Must have been Liberal Arts. bearing is right, though. If it were Computer Science, everyone would have simply been thankful it wasn't one they'd have to drop.

WV "demista" Spouse of demissus in de Mississippi Delta.

EDH said...

Would weighting a student's GPA by a degree of difficulty measure for each class, like in some individual competitive sports where you choose your own routine, increase the level of academic challenge that students would undertake?

And, as a bonus, start a war between science and humanities departments?

howzerdo said...

Very interesting link, thanks for posting it.

CalNanno said...

but where does this reputation for an easy class come from? having taught Intro to Geology aka Rocks for Jocks, I have never understood the reputation for easy. Most of the enrolled students are not science majors so you would think taking a class outside of their major interest area would be more difficult. The students were always amazed when I told them that 3-unit course required their attendance in every class and that they should spend at least 3 hours of study outside of class. The looks of amazement were priceless.

So where does the reputation come from? Money. Enrollment numbers in the department need to be kept up and to keep the warm bodies in the seats and not in Intro to Biology you were 'encouraged' to keep the course easy.

Students are consumers. You are selling them a product: knowledge, wisdom and life-changing insights. They however are buying an easy grade and as little effort as possible. Until that dichotomy is solved the search for easy courses will grow.

John Burgess said...

I took one 'gut' course in university because I needed a little nudge in my GPA.

Interestingly, the course had once been a required course and the professor who taught it was known as one of the harshest graders on campus. When the course lost its requirement status, people stayed away. In order to keep the course, and his job, the professor changed his grading scheme.

EDH said...

I took one "gut" course in college, Animation.

Back in the 1980s animation meant individual line drawings, clay and cut-outs, frame by 8mm frame.

It turned out to be one of the most time consuming classes I ever took.

But fun.

BEK477 said...

2 or3 tweleve page papers a semester? Surely this is a joke?

When I attended a second tier liberal arts school in the US I had to write 2-3 twelve page papers a week.

We are raising a nation of softies. next they will want to scrap footnotes. Sigh.

Now that Wiki-world is here writin papers should be a breeze.

Class factotum said...

Ten papers per semester isn't hard in itself, unless you leave them all to the last minute. They can be made hard if the professor has high expectations as to content. From what I can see, few professors do.

My professors did have high expectations. This was in the early '80s when school hadn't been dumbed down yet.

BTW, I started as an engineering major. We had graded homework every class. And tests, of course, in both the English and engineering classes.

I found B-school - a top 20 B-school - to be a piece of cake after college.

Class factotum said...

When I attended a second tier liberal arts school in the US I had to write 2-3 twelve page papers a week.

But you're right. It's easy to write a crappy paper. It's writing a good one that's difficult.

bagoh20 said...

If I want to do something hard, but worth it, I'll get a job.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I don't want easier. I don't want harder. I want better.

The year before I went to U of M, there was Math 115/116 (Intro Calc), Math 185/186 (Honors Calc), and Math 195/196 (Honors Math). 115 was a plug-and-chug class. 185 was the same material, but at a faster pace. And 195 was faster still. If 185 covered a chapter a week, then 195 aimed for 3.

And students -- good students -- dropped out in droves. They could get a respectable A in 185, an Honors class legitimately worth of the title; or they could get buried in 195, and watch their GPA plummet. These weren't lazy students, they were the most promising math freshman at Michigan; but they saw no reason to punish themselves. 3 made it to the end of 195. 1 signed up for 196. He didn't finish the class.

So the math department met to decide the fate of Math 195/196. Most wanted to cancel it, because the rep was that the class was a GPA killer.

But Professor George Piranian stood up and said, "Wait a minute. We shouldn't try to teach them more, we should try to teach them better. These students should learn the reasons behind the math. They should understand the math, not just the formulae."

And the department responded, "Fine, George, you teach it!" And that is why, when Prof. Piranian arranged a wine and cheese party for his students to meet the math department, he wore a T-shirt with a saying in Glagolitic; and since no one in the room could read Glagolitic but him, you had to ask him to translate. His answer: "'I have fallen into the hole that I have dug for myself.' That means I'm teaching Math 195."

I was woefully unprepared for that class. I snuck in due to a freak talent for test taking. But to the limits of my abilities, Prof. Piranian taught me calculus at a far deeper level than I would've gotten in 115 or 185. He gave me a fundamental grasp of continuity that I would've gotten nowhere else.

And 30 years past my college career, there are only a handful of instructors whose lessons still stick with me like that, only four I can still name; and one of those was Professor George Piranian. He didn't teach harder or easier; he taught better.

Revenant said...

So long as colleges require students to take courses that don't interest them, they ought to offer easy versions of those classes. For example, I was required to take a course in music theory. Thankfully, it was an easy one, because the last thing I wanted to do was bust my ass studying something I didn't give a shit about and promptly forgot five minutes after the final.

I understand the argument that colleges push students to broaden their horizons. But you can do that with easy intro courses. Save the rigorous stuff for people who actually care about the material.

Eric said...

So long as colleges require students to take courses that don't interest them, they ought to offer easy versions of those classes.

This. When I was studying engineering a few decades back there were a whole slew of classes we had to take that were viewed as no more than an inconvenience. At that university the engineering student's workload was structured such that you didn't have time for serious classes outside your major. Every extra hour spent reading or writing about the subversive qualities of Film Noir was an hour of lost sleep. I would have dropped his class.

John said...

The easy classes are for those who don't want to really learn. Why go to college if you want it handed to you. They will probably turn into the slacker employee.

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