Monthly Archives: February 2014


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Course evaluation

There has been a lot written about course evaluations by students. You can read an interesting article here, and here. So I will like to only give my 2 cents on the matter.

The main problem I see relates to the disconnect of what the expectations are for the student and about the student. On the one hand students are not expecting what they are getting due to a lack of understanding (I mean in general) of what is required in their field of study. There lies the problem with what is expected of the student. My experience teaching chemistry to non-chemistry majors (mainly pre-med) tells me that they do not come to class prepared for a subject that not only requires deep level of analytical thinking but an understanding that problems in nature are broad based and in a context that is open and diverse. For example the need for mathematical solutions to chemical equations. They may have a intuitive sense of what is going on with the chemical compounds as they undergo a chemical transformation but are not able to quantify the process. Now, that is a huge problem when dealing with stoichiometry that is all about quantification!

The solution? I would not say that there is simple solution, but I believe that technology can be part of the solution. Virtual classes, and online tutoring may help students broaden their view of the matter. The possibility of doing online synchronous and asynchronous tutoring with immediate response to input from the student is an invaluable tool. As we can see in courses especially designed to be offered online like the Coursera, edX, and Khan Academy. I think that teaching professors in traditional colleges can use these tools to supplement the material regularly covered in class during lecture time. 

Making mistakes

We live in a world today that doesn’t value making mistakes, and of course we shouldn’t in cases of a plane pilot or a surgeon working on your body. But overall we have been learning over the years based on trial and error, and for this to happen both are required, you can’t have one without the other, right?

Teaching is a special form of error induction and students don’t like it, they want to be able to go through life without making mistakes, so the role of the teacher (for students) must be to teach them how to do something. Doing it without making mistakes. But, without the experience of being wrong how can we compare and validate being right. What kind of tests, ideas, or intuitions can be used to know what is the correct answer? In some cases we might find an easy way for instance in chemistry the units used will give you a good hint on being on the right track as you solve a problem. In general things are of course a bit more complicated.

In his book “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking” Daniel C. Dennett (also author of Consciousness Explained) introduces the book to his readers talking about the importance and philosophy of making mistakes. One quote is of Gore Vidal (p 21) “It is not enough to succeed, others must fail.” That I understand in a broad context that includes not only the competing sides of a lose-win process but the fact that one’s wins are bases on the experiences of those that tried before us and weren’t successful.

So my query is “how can one valorize one’s mistakes?”