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Re: casual contributors

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: casual contributors
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2012 11:11:21 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/24.0.94 (gnu/linux)

Graham Percival <address@hidden> writes:

> On Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 07:44:45AM +0100, David Kastrup wrote:
>> Graham Percival <address@hidden> writes:
>> > We need a *secretary*.  We need a *paper pusher*.  We need a
>> > trained monkey.  I could even teach a first-year university
>> > student how to be a perfect Frog meister, and having taught for a
>> > few years you have no idea how low my opinion of those creatures
>> > are.
>> They could become like you if taught properly.  Didn't you?
> I have never told my teacher "just wait a moment" in order to
> finish writing a message on facebook during class.  I have never
> answered a mobile phone while my teacher was giving me a short
> oral examination (part of graded labs).  I have never submitted
> code for grades with a different student's name still in a comment
> at the top of a file.

Well, I presume that different student is doing reasonably well, or why
would they have picked his paper?

> I don't mind explaining -- slowly, over five or ten minutes -- how you
> can calculate how many coins to return to a customer using division
> and modulus instead of using a while() loop and subtraction
> (i.e. "items cost $2.35, customer gives $5").  I don't mind teaching
> fourth-year engineering students how to convert between degrees and
> radians.  I don't even mind repeating that lesson three times, for a
> total of an hour of lecture time over a few weeks, when it became
> clear that most of them still didn't get it.  4th-year electrical
> engineering.  Not music students.  But hey, it's my job to teach them
> at whatever level they're at, right?

Nope.  It is your job to teach them from the level they should have left
high school with.  After two terms of electrical engineering, it was
expected of me to be able to deal with, say, Riccatti equations, vector
analysis, the basics of special relativity (as applied to
electromagnetic fields) and of course, all of the physics and mechanics
leading up to that (of course, determining and working with principal
axes of inertial tensors and stuff).  After four terms, you were
expected to be able to use complex analysis and homomorphic mappings (I
really am no friend of Schwartz-Christoffel (sp?)) to determine the
electrical field distributions of simple static arrangements, and work
out the charge distributions in solid state semiconductors.

Yes, school education took 13 years in Germany at that time, and the
university I was doing EE in was not particularly renowned as
easy-going, but we still had 800 students (about 20 of them female)
starting in that term.

In contrast, my girlfriend at that time studied romance languages and
philosophy.  Much of that was literature and language science at a toy
level far below that of the professors, more designed to keep the
students off the streets than starting them on a path where they could
expect to overtake their teachers at one point of time and advance the
state of science.  It was embarrassing to the professors that they were
unable to award her more than the best grades (she was far off the
scale).  The only grading that actually made any sense was how satisfied
she was with her work herself.

Where is the point in that?

> I don't mind that stuff.

You should.  There is no point in providing toy science for everyone if
it means that _no-one_ will afterwards be able to actually be productive
in the field he is supposed to have studied.  You have to produce, at
least, some Grahams in order to sustain operations.

> But facebook and taking phone calls while I'm talking to a student?
> No, that's just not kosher.

Well, one literature professor here had a phone on the table in the
first row ringing in his lecture and without missing a beat he swept it
up and threw it out of the window.  Students were a bit more careful
after that.

> (sure, 30% of the first-year students are a joy to teach.  But the
> overall horrendous level of facebook and plagiarism tends to stick in
> one's mind much more than the students who actually work.)

If you are interested in propelling people at a level where it makes
most of a difference, you'll be sitting at a 20/80 point in the bell
curve.  If you are not supposed to be weeding out (estimates in my
engineering courses were that half did not survive two terms, and half
of the remaining ones did not survive the intermediate exams after four
terms), then you'll have to live with those 80%.  If you are good,
they'll only be 70% afterwards.

David Kastrup

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