Saturday, December 29, 2007
I am scheduled to teach an intermediate algebra course next semester with 200 students enrolled. I am not even going to talk about the fact that I don't think these classes should be taught at the university level. All students should be ready to take college classes when they get to college (yeah, I know). But since we do offer them, I would imagine our goal is that students learn the material so they can take college algebra (no idea where the name came from since that course shouldn't be taught in college either). All that aside, I vehemently oppose large sections of anything really, but especially of low level classes. The students who are in those classes are not there because mathematics comes easily to them. If they can learn it by listening to lectures given by an instructor, they would have already done so. I know why these courses are taught like that: money. And I can't stand that we continue to do it although we know that a failure rate in those classes is much larger than in any other. In fact, some people go as far to claim that the failure rate is large because students do not show up for classes (as if the learning happens by osmosis, so all we have to make sure is that they are there). I actually do think that the students should attend classes, but I don't know how I feel about policing students who should by now have some sense of responsibility for their own actions and choices. Also, one must admit that taking roll in a room with 200 students would not be time efficient. That is, it wouldn't if clickers (also known as audience response system) didn't exist. Each student has their little clicking device that emits signal (when a button on it is pressed) that is received by a little antenna hooked up to a laptop with an appropriate software installed. You can ask a multiple choice, T/F, Y/N questions that are projected on the wall, and I believe actually received on students' pads, they answer it and the program records each answer (each student is identified by their student id #) and can immediately project what answers are given. In any event, taking roll becomes extremely easy, asking questions that can help direct the class are easily implemented and quizzes are quickly graded. Which brought me to my next problem. I never give multiple choice quizzes. I was trying to think of a way to actually look over students work, and I came up with the idea of giving a clicker quizzes, but after each quiz I would list 20 or 30 students (chosen randomly, but so that over the course of the semester I see each student's quiz at least once) whose work I will actually grade. Haven't quite figured out what to do with that grade. Maybe have an extra quiz grade which would really be only 0/1: 0 if the work doesn't correspond to the answers given, and 1 if it does. Anyway, needs more thought. But then I just ran into this multiple choice tests post, and I like the idea. I feel a little better about these quizzes. Anyway, better go work on that syllabus. And if you have great ideas about how to teach 200 students in a chunk of hour and a half, please send them my way.