Monday, February 21, 2011

dykstra's against realist teaching

While home for the weekend, life imitated exactly what we are learning. My youngest brother, a freshman Computer Engineering major at UMass, is struggling in his foundation course, oddly enough, Physics. He is probably the smartest kid I know, yet he's barely squeaking by with a C, which is, according to him, thanks to his TA.
He said to me that his professor is "old" and it's a large class, so his professor just spouts out the equations and collects labs, never explaining why they are learning something, or even why it works or is true. Now seeing as this is a college course, students should be able to formulate these concepts themselves and absorb the work since they are more mature students, but that's not really happening for my brother. He basically uses this ridiculously fancy calculator and googles the equations hoping he can piece together a lab response.
As Dystra writes
"Having the students read a standard text or the teacher present the canon, not only is a waste of time; it stifles the process of developing new understanding. In standard instruction there is a text to be read and relied upon and most class time is taken up by instructor lectures, yet we see no useful change in understanding. Instead, most of the class time needs to be occupied with students explaining to each other their conceptions, discussing how well the various conceptions fit the experiences with the phenomena, planning with each other what adjustments might be called for when the fit to experience is found lacking, and discussing the results of tests of these accommodations against further experience with the phenomena."
Enter the TA. This TA has actually helped my brother with other classes, so he's also a friend. When discussing the concepts, Sam retains more of the complicated equations and whatever else happens in physics (it's super confusing to me, at least).
I think that's a simple concept and since the professor is probably swamped, the TA is there to step in to further understanding for the students, and even if they won't get As, at least they'll pass.
In this physics case, and in all teaching, it seems as if RC teaching is the way to go. Straightforward "learning for the test" teaching does not allow for retention. Understanding of the concepts and why they work means that (hopefully) the student will understand and be able to apply those concepts in "real" life.

1) Should college professors not be concerned with anything besides putting forth the information, since they are teaching mature adults? Should these college students be responsible for their own retention and understanding, and form study groups or seek out a tutor or the TA?

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