Saturday, June 14, 2008

Student: Ready to learn

Teacher: Wish you were here

Sometimes you run into eager students who contact you even before the first day of class. They typically say that they intend to hit the ground running. This particular fellow seemed to fit the mold:
Hello Professor Zeno,

I have enrolled in your calculus class for the summer session. I had a few questions before the course began. I have never been at your school before, so I wanted to ask about how the reading material for the class. Is it possible to purchase the reading material outside of the school? I know school bookstores are a little overpriced, and that I could find a better deal elsewhere. Can you provide me a list of what books we'll need for the course? Also, if you had a syllabus on hand, could I look over it ahead of time? Thank you!

Looking forward to learning from you,

I replied cheerfully with the information DS requested:
Thanks for your message, DS. I think most of your questions will be answered by the attached pdf of our syllabus. It includes the ISBN of our textbook, which is the only book required for the class.

You're right, of course, about the prices of books in the college bookstore. You can often get a better bargain elsewhere. One possibility is Off-Campus Books, which is right next to the campus. You might be able to find a better price on-line, but at Off-Campus Books you can have the book in your possession immediately.

See you next week.

Soon my in-box contained another message from DS:
Thanks for the info Professor. I have one last question. Do you know if there's an abridged version of the book? Also, how different is the new edition from the previous edition? Is it possible to work out of the old edition one?

Thanks Again,

We all know that new editions of textbooks seldom have significant changes. They're mostly designed to purge the used book pipeline. However, the changes are usually sufficient to make it difficult to bridge the gap. I gave DS due warning.
Don't get the old edition. Although the old and new editions are not dramatically different in content, it'll cause you nothing but trouble. The page numbers and exercise numbers are all out of sync. You'd need access to a copy of the current edition to know which exercises you're supposed to do. We're already going to have a very busy time with the course compressed into the abbreviated summer session. Anything that makes it even more complicated should be avoided if at all possible.

The first day of class arrived. Surprisingly, several of my students hadn't acquired the textbook yet. They were at a handicap as we promptly plowed through the first two sections of the text. Summer session doesn't dawdle. It wouldn't be a problem for DS, though, would it? Except he didn't respond when his name was called during the roll. Where was DS?

He wasn't there the second day either. But then a new message popped into my in-box:
Hi Professor Zeno,

I am attending my brother's graduation on Thursday and Friday, and will be gone those two days. I will be back for Monday's exam, as listed in the syllabus you sent me. I just wanted to let you know I was going to be gone those two days. I am not asking for dates to make up the homework assignments or quiz, I just wanted to inform you I was going to be away. Is there anything I need to have or bring on the date of the exam besides calculator, and pencil? Thank You,

Naturally I was delighted to hear from him:
Thank you for your message, DS. We seem, however, to have a problem. I have yet to see you in class and I dropped you as a no-show. There were students on the waiting list eager to add the class and I signed them up, giving them the spots that had been allocated to students who did not attend class yesterday. It's not reasonable to assume you can miss the entire first week and still be retained on the roster. I'm sorry if you assumed this was the case.

DS was contrite and prepared to wiggle a bit:
I understand. If I set aside the graduation, and show up for the class at the end of the first week, is there still room? Or is the class filled to capacity? I was just wondering if it was possible to re-add if there was room. Thanks!

I send him one last message:
The class is filled to its capacity, DS. Enjoy your brother's graduation. Better luck next time.



Nevyn said...

I've never understood students who are motivated enough to find my email (as a part timer I'm often not listed in the schedule of classes, so they have to do some legwork to find out who is teaching their section, and then find out my email address, which is sometimes not available at the campus directory) yet can't be bothered to show up for class.

If they let me know they'll have to miss the first day or two, that's one thing, but to miss the entire first week, especially during summer session is ridiculous.

I've stopped sending the entire syllabus, and just send sections with the textbook information or whatever else they're asking for specifically. The idea that showing up for tests only is acceptable is odd to me, yet surprisingly common.

University students don't do these kinds of things. I only see this with my community college students.

Zeno said...

Actually, Nevyn, I have a number of university students who are especially bad offenders when it comes to nonattendance. These are students who are enrolled in the Cal State or UC system who sign up for classes at my community college. They are particularly prone to treating their CC classes very casually and assuming I'll accommodate all of their whims. I don't know if that was the case with DS, but I did have other students tell me specifically that they would be starting my class during the second week of summer session because they would be otherwise occupied (graduation, finals, whatever) at their universities during the first week. I told these students that, sorry, I do not accept enrollments during the second week. The first week is not optional. Some write back to whine about it, but others figure out that I'm not kidding.

Nevyn said...

Ahh. Good point. I meant while teaching AT the University, I don't get this kind of attitude from the uni students. At the CC, you're correct, the attitude of uni students is that this is all just hoops to jump through, and surely I won't mind doing the jumping for them.

Karen said...

And then there are the upper-division geology majors at my Cal State campus who take calculus at the local CC because they can't get into a class here, and get no end of grief when they ask to miss a single Friday or Monday to take a field trip required by a geology class.

I suppose it is yet again a case of an inappropriate attitude of some students poisoning the well for others.

(Oh, and for those of you wondering how a geology major gets by without taking calculus until junior year, be advised that the extreme overcrowding in Cal State core classes has caused many departments to bend over backwards reducing prerequisites for upper division work. As a grad student with a fairly strong math background, I grind my teeth and coach as much as I can.)

kai said...

Reading your blog always fascinates me as the differences in traditions and expectations to the university I have attended and taught at are so large.

At Swedish universities mandatory attendance is seen as not taking students seriously and in those courses that for some reason have it, it is resented by teachers and students alike. Indeed, after the first year, which tends to have a well-defined set of courses, it would be impossible to enforce mandatory attendance since students reading different elective courses often would be required to be in two or three places simultaneously. So having students you have never seen before turn up for the exam is a matter of course.

Zeno said...

The first point I should make, Kai, is that my institution is certainly not a university. It's a community college. For most of our students it's a halfway house between high school and higher education. Many of our students are actually taking high-school-equivalent courses because they neglected, failed, or avoided these courses in high school.

Students at universities are presumably more responsible and have a more scholarly attitude. Students at community colleges, however, often haven't the slightest idea of what it takes to succeed in a course. If attendance weren't enforced they'd show up only for exams and flunk them. If they were independent learners, it would be different. We hope many of them become independent learners, but first we want them to know what they're missing if they don't come to class.

By the way, four of the students in this calculus class (the one discussed in this post) did not have perfect attendance during the first week. On Exam 1, two flunked, one got a C, and one got an A. The A student I think can be relied upon to keep up with the class. The other three apparently not. Skipping class was a mistake for them.

kai said...

Ah, I see, a community college does remedial teaching? (I had assumed the “community” bit simply meant it was publicly funded.) But still few students who are grimly determined to make it this time and successfully work hard at it?

Zeno said...

That's right, Kai. We do a lot of remedial teaching. A community college's responsibility is to make available all of the course work that would normally be offered in grades 9 through 14. (That's the four years called "high school" in the U.S. and the first two years of a college education.) People enroll in CCs for two reasons (mainly): remediation and low cost. Students can take college-level courses for much less than it would cost at four-year institutions. We're non-residential schools (no dorms for on-campus living) and we serve a broader range of ages than most other colleges. While we take pride in our transfer students who go on to universities to earn their bachelor's degrees, we also provide courses that local businesses want their employees to take to increase their job skills.

We have a lot of responsibilities.