Things Professors Don’t Know

18 November 2009 at 12:29 pm 11 comments

| Peter Klein |

Useful information for undergraduate instructors, provided by students, from the Chronicle (via Ross Emmett). Sample:

There is no need to put those “just for fun” optional readings on the syllabus. We will never read them. If I even see the word “optional” my eyes glaze over and I will go back to thinking of something pointless, like how many grapes I can possibly stick in my mouth without suffocating. There’s a better chance of me shimmying into class followed by a conga line of maroon pandas than actually reading your optional paper.

And this: “seeing you in a place outside of the academic setting is one of the most awkward moments ever. When you’re done with class everyday we like to think that you disappear, surfacing at random moments to check your email, and then slinking back into oblivion.” When you live in a small college town, as I do, and occasionally do crazy stuff like go out to eat or go to the movies, this can be a problem.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Education.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Per Bylund  |  18 November 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Yeah, I don’t get that “optional” readings list either. Even in grad school very few will even get that far down the syllabus – why read more than “necessary”? It is often the case that the literature covered in a course is never very relevant to one’s own research interests anyhow.

    But what if you label that section of readings “extra credit” instead? Then I bet a lot of people would try going through at least part of that literature. For the benefit of all, of course.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  18 November 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Ah, but a grad course syllabus is different. The reading list is more like a comprehensive bibliography of the field, not a list of assigned readings to be tested on. I’m sure my own grad students regard their class syllabi as great classics, written for the ages. Don’t they, Per?

  • 3. Per Bylund  |  18 November 2009 at 3:04 pm

    I really cannot say, since I’m only one of them. ;-)

    Grad courses, at least the ones that are topic-oriented seminars, should definitely provide an introduction to (and analysis of) the body of literature on that topic. And the course should cover all the relevant classics. I guess most seminar courses do to some degree.

    Most courses I’ve taken in grad school (regardless of country and university) have however not been like that. In some courses, even seminar-style courses, the professor(s) have even told students that the literature is different every time the course is offered. Then the syllabus necessarily cannot be a comprehensive bibliography.

    Not to speak of the core courses, in most of which it is definitely not the case. Unless the numbers, Greek letters, and derivatives are thought to be “comprehensive” in some way…

  • 4. David Gerard  |  18 November 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I’ve also found that even my best students don’t seem to get my Bloom County references.

  • 5. rustam romaniuc  |  18 November 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I’m doing a M.A. in Economics and have just one Prof. who added to his course an optional readings and I like it. the problem is that the lecture list contains austrian economics and i can’t find books in my university library. it is normal, i’m living in France…

  • 6. Richard O. Hammer  |  18 November 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Being a student once again, I am finding that I am always behind in what I want to do to master the core, expected material. I never get all that done. When would I get to “optional”?

  • 7. Luis Baldomero  |  18 November 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Be respectful. Do not make personal comments on the students. May be you can be an expert in the area. May be you can teach a great class, everybody pays attentions and is interested on the material. May be you are a researcher with possibilities to get a nobel. But when a professor attack any student (laughing because of an opinion or criticizing him in front of the class) all the good things disappear.

  • 8. John Ray  |  19 November 2009 at 12:26 am

    Professor Gerard,

    I regret to inform you that you and I now read not one, but two of the same blogs. As a student of yours I find this unacceptable (see the reasoning above). I was sufficiently creeped out to see you recommend me The Monkey Cage one year into my daily habit of reading it. Whenever you are incarnated from the ether, please make sure that it happens on other blogs.

    In addition, please note that the comic strip once known as “Bloom County” will be better recognized as its current incarnation, “Opus,” though I fear the references will remain as obscure as ever.

  • 9. Bo  |  19 November 2009 at 10:47 am

    I simply label my extra readings: Additional Material which may be relevant for the exam…that usually gets people wondering..

  • 10. Dick Langlois  |  19 November 2009 at 3:09 pm

    My son just sent me thjis relevant web comic. Like the student in Gina Barreca’s class whom Peter indirectly quotes in this post, Zach is an undergraduate at UConn.

    A few years ago I had to staff the Economics table at the Majors Fair. Next to me (in alphabetical order) was the English Department, which had not only Gina but also Sam Pickering and Wally Lamb signing their books. I felt like the Maytag repair man.

  • 11. MW  |  20 November 2009 at 10:20 am

    It is not that no one will read them. I put a bunch of recommended readings on my Intermediate Micro syllabus to screen students in later courses. We then “invest” more in the students who actually have an interest in these books.

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