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Re: casual contributors

From: Graham Percival
Subject: Re: casual contributors
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2012 15:37:06 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.21 (2010-09-15)

On Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 11:11:21AM +0100, David Kastrup wrote:
> Graham Percival <address@hidden> writes:
> > 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

If I did that, then 80% of the first-year students would fail,
100% of the fourth-year students would fail, and the department
would fire me.  I don't think I can make you understand just how
much of a difference there is between UK engineering students in
2012 and German engineering students 20-30 years ago.

The whole "degrees and radians" thing arose because we were giving
them an oral exam about resonant filters.  "I have a system
running at 20000 Hz, and I want to generate a sine wave at 15000
Hz [1].  Draw the poles on this unit circle in the s-plane."
They all eventually got the answer of 1/2*pi and 3/2*pi (some of
them needed a few hints, and two of them needed to be coached on
how to divide 15000 by 20000 without a calculator!)
But when it came to drawing them, 8 out of 14 students got it

[1] telling us "that's impossible due to the Shannon-Nyquist
theorem" was bonus marks.  BONUS MARKS.  We then asked those
students to solve it for 5000 Hz instead, still giving poles at
1/2 and 3/2 pi.

oh yeah, and this question?  It was worth a quarter of their
grades for the year-long course.  No, it wasn't just one of 10
test questions for a midterm exam.

> > (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

I wish I could.  :(

University in the UK and Canada is rapidly becoming, or has
already become, the new high school.  Over 40% of students in the
UK go to a post-secondary institution; that figure was 5% in my
parent's generation.  This would require a huge shift in how
universities deal with students, but I don't see that happening
right now.  If anything, it's worse -- universities are
increasingly being run as businesses, and it doesn't make business
sense to turn away customers, right?

I need to walk a fine line between "what the administration will
let me get away with" and "academic standards".  In order to stay
sane, I must fool myself into believing that I don't care how
unprepared the students are, provided that they are willing to
work to overcome such deficiencies.  Simply filtering on "is
obviously not working" weeds out as many students as I can get
away with.  :(

- Graham

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