Skip to comments.Louisiana State University Professor Booted: Course Too Hard
Posted on 05/21/2010 5:46:33 AM PDT by mattstat
I have long predicted that as the proportion of high school graduates attending college increases, the classes offered at colleges would have to become easier. If they did not, then the proportion of students failing courses would increase to intolerable levels.
This prediction was correct. As proof, I offer you the story of Dominique Homberger, who tried teaching Biology 1001, a large introductory course for nonscience majors at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. A lot of kids flunked her first exam. And then a lot failed her second exam. In the end, about one out five students dropped out of her course.
Get it? Students were receiving bad grades! Grades that would decide their very future and control their fate. Horror!
The Dean, Kevin Carman, flew (well, walked vigorously) to the rescue. He booted Homberger from the classroom and had Hombergers replacement artificially boost every kids grade.
Dont worry, poor children, Dean Carman told the sobbing students, Here are the As you deserve. You are not stupid. You are smart. Bad grades arent your fault. Remind your parents to send in your tuition checks.
But, reallywhat excuse did LSU offer for this extraordinary act?...
(Excerpt) Read more at wmbriggs.com ...
OMG! What about their precious self-esteem?
I took two engineering courses that where not a lot people passed; static/dynamics and solid state electronics. I have to say eventhough it may appear that people are complaining that it is “too hard” it may not tell the entire story.
I had a Finance professor who gave multiple choice take home tests with only 4 to 5 answers per question. It would take hours to get it right. Talk about nuance.
There was only one question on first exam:
Are you animal, vegetable, or mineral?
There was only one question on second exam:
Are you animal, vegetable, or mineral?
I taught university-level economics for over 20 years. At one institution (and you would recognize the name), it was my first semester of full time teaching. Two minority students from the basketball team came to my office about two weeks before the final exam and asked for the exam. I pointed out that the exam was two weeks away, whereupon I was informed that other teachers gave them a copy of the exam to use as a “study guide”. I told them that wasn't going to happen.
Within two minutes, a senior faculty member (who was so far left he though Marx was a sissy) marched into my office and asked why I refused to give the two a copy of the final. I simply said I don't do that. I then got a lecture on how it was my “duty” to help students who come from “disadvantaged” backgrounds. My response:
“Really? So when these two don't make it as professional BB players and get a job using ___ University as an selling point, and the company discovers two weeks later they can't even write a complete sentence, you think you've done them a favor? What you've done is slam the door for all subsequent graduates from this university who try to get a job with this company.”
In the remaining four years at that institution, I never had another athlete take my intro econ course.
Just wait until Medical Schools start this. There will be plenty of doctors for everyone, all dumbed down to eighth grade levels. “Got chest pain? Take 2 aspirins and call me in the morning.”
I think the LSU dean acted correctly, and admire his courage in overruling the professor. In academia it happens quite rarely.
Her multiple choice was poorly designed (10 possible answers). A large amount of time would be spent reading through these answers until getting to the correct one (imagine if it was the last in the list). If she did not want to reward guessing, then she should not have multiple choice - only short answer (granted it is a bear to grade but she is holding her students to a high standard).
Also you can define any test in such a way that the majority of good (perhaps not great) students would fail it. I had Physics tests in college with a 22 average, and that average reflected the poor quality of instruction and test design as opposed to the commitment of the students.
On the flip side, the fact that these are non-science majors should not have a bearing on the test and performance expectations. Engineers and scientists take the same English/Social Studies/Humanities courses as those majors, and there is no lesser expectation on them. In fact when I went through the highest grades came from engineers in these classes (I was an Engineering Freshman taking a Junior level core Communications course, and I had the third highest grade in the class). Virtually all of the highest grades came from engineers.
If you cannot pass a real science or engineering course in college, then you have no business being in college. The same can be said for English, social studies, communications etc. No ghettos with inflated grades - everyone takes the same science (Intro Chemistry, non-Calculus based Physics, and Intro Biology) and at least Precalculus.
I agree however I will go beyond. This is an introductory course to not only biology but college as a whole. 20% is beyond reasonable expectation of failure at that level. That is something you would expect to see out of core courses and upper division. Physics for majors at the 100 level would(should) see a higher drop out rate than general courses. Beyond that I realize many believe that multiple choice is too easy it can be set up to be as tough as short answer(which BTW can be easier as you will likely get partial credit even if missing the question). Heck when I took animal physiology 361 we had multiple choice along with short answer and the multiple choice was far tougher as the answers were so similar to each other that it took excellent reading skills to notice the small things. I don’t know there is just a lot of missing in this story.
While getting my civil engineering degree there were two teachers who everybody tried to avoid because they were blatantly open about wanting to fail as many students as possible. One taught Chemistry II and the other taught thermodynamics. THANKFULLY I didn’t get the jerk for Chem II and never had to take thermo. I remember some of my engineering buddies literally being in tears when they found out they had to take thermo our junior year. Sucked to be them. LOL
Why were these in the Civil Engineering department? They should be in Mechanical Engineering.
I thought that the intro Physics courses should have been taken away from the Physics department for Engineering majors. Mechanics could have been taught by the ME department, and the second class could have been team taught by EE, ChemE, and ME as necessary.
They don’t take those type of courses. They would concentrate on courses for their major. For instance at ASU there is Bio101 and then there is Bio181, a pre-med student would take Bio181.
I think you are part of the problem and not part of the solution!
My toughest college course was Asian History (an advanced course.)
The final exam was limited to 50 minutes where we were asked to write everything we knew in response to:
Trace the history of the development of the relationship between (a) Japan, or (b) China, from 1900 to the present.
My Chem II professor worked for the Russian Government on Chernobyl clean up. She was brutal. She had at least a 15% drop out perhaps more.
It’s sometimes unfair to students when a professor in the sciences who normally teaches upper divisional electives and graduate courses is thrown into a survey course designed for non-majors.
Because so many American college students are not prepared for real college work, you have to met them halfway. Hopefully, the students who are better prepared are in better universities or in honors programs within their schools. Because, inevitably, the class is going to move forward at the speed of something like the median student. This will be too challenging for those at the bottom, and too easy for those at the top, if students aren’t adequately sorted by ability.
While I always have problems in the principles of economics courses I teach, I want to say that in my advanced courses for econ majors and in my MBA courses, I have really good students. It is a joy to teach them.
So, although we have some problems with our university system, allowing just about anybody to try to go to college, I think that - at least in economics and business - we can have some confidence in the product we put out.
On the other hand, I think a lot of people should consider mastering a trade skill and we, as a society, should respect people who work with their hands. Too many books, says Ecclesiastes, is a weariness to the flesh.
Science and math majors sit in the same non-science humanities courses as the arts majors, but arts majors get special watered down science courses so their puny brains won’t get fried. ( Hm?...What’s wrong with this picture?)
By the way...I have special contempt for education majors. If the U.S. was serious about having better qualified K-12 teachers they would do one simple thing! All education majors would need to take and pass Calculus I by taking the same course ( sitting side by side) that the science majors take. The average IQ of the typical American K-12 teacher would immediately rise by at least one standard deviation.
Back when I was in engineering school we had the option of taking engineering electives outside our major area of study. When we did, we were in the classroom with folks in that major. For example, I took an intro level EE elective my junior year and was in the classroom with a bunch of EE majors.
“I think the LSU dean acted correctly, and admire his courage in overruling the professor.”
“I think you are part of the problem and not part of the solution!”
A large part of the problem is non-scientists who are never properly educated in the methods of science. Punishing people like that with ridiculously difficult exams and low grades will not resolve the problem. Al Gore reportedly got a “D” in such a course at Harvard, and look what happened to him!
Kudos to LSU’s Dean Kevin Carman for restoring some sanity to the classroom. It takes courage, and it happens so rarely.
I have been very fortunate in my teaching career in having the backing of my supervisors, even when I failed 12 out of 28 graduate students for plagiarism.
I teach on both the community college and the University level. At the community college, when I teach an Intro to Computers course, I don’t even bother giving tests because at least two-thirds of the class would fail. I developed a system where all grades were based on the number of assignments completed. Each assignment was designed to teach a particular skill, such as evaluating the reliability of information at a web site, and each had a point value, do all the assignments and the student got 100 points. Students were graded by the number of points they had earned. The students were actually doing a lot more work then they would have if I just went the more traditional lecture/testing route, but I had much better luck actually getting them to learn something.
Describe the Universe, and give two examples."
"Stick this one in your ear, this one in your mouth, and this one in your butt. Wait...this one goes in your mouth..."
Use both sides of the page, if necessary.
I had a National Security graduate course in Research Methods where the professor would give us all the questions in advance. We were allowed to make hand written notes, and we could bring in a computer file with our URL’s as each question we chose to answer (had to pick 4 from 8) was required to have a minimum of 2 web sources. All of the actual writing of the answers had to be done in class and we had exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes to finish.
Our answers had to be done using Word and had to have 1” margins and be done in a size 12 font. We could not use our names, but had to have our student # on each page as well as the number of the question we were answering and page # of #. Each question had to be answered in exactly 2 pages. You could go a sentence or two over, but any less and you lost 10 points and with each question being worth 25 points, that was a major loss.
And, the instructor would fiddle with the temperature in the room, so it would either be up to eighty or down to sixty.
He wanted us to be able to handle stress!
I don’t know about LSU, but where I teach, a lot of teachers make their first exams extras hard so that students are induced to drop out.
The benefit to the teacher is obvious: a smaller class size; fewer papers to grade; you’ve winnowed out the troublemakers and are left with serious students.
From the perspective of the university, if barely anyone can pass the class for whatever reason, it will not “sell”.
“I dont know about LSU, but where I teach, a lot of teachers make their first exams extras hard so that students are induced to drop out.”
As Lord Acton once noted, All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
No power in our society is less controlled than the power of teachers to grade students. Teachers should be accountable for their actions just like everyone else.
Easy way to discourage guessing is penalty for wrogn answers. My professor in first compuer graphics course used this as a part of final. 5 answers you get a right one you get 20 pts you pick a wrong one you get -15, if you pick nothing you get 0 adjustment
One solution in intermediate courses (e.g. pre-calculus, non-calculus physics) was to offer the opportunity to those hardly able to hack it, to do extra work, a lot of extra work, to pass with a D. But I would never never compromise on an exam.
For those who are unfamiliar with the college academic environment these days, it is routine to get battered on testing from reading material, as opposed to just spoon-fed lecturing in class. This is corroborated by many instructors.
My view has always been the instructor/professor has a whole lot more experience than an eighteen year old mother pampered college juvenile, and should be trusted with the teaching responsibility.
In management/human relations the Dean here was absolutely wrong in overruling the professor publicly. You do not do that in the arena of juveniles. If there was a true issue then you ease that instructor out of that duty, absorbing the student hit for that period.
This reeks of the very atmosphere of pandering to the student.
The problem I have, at the community college, not the University I teach at, is the school has open enrollment. At least 1/3 of the kids there are not college material. I have had students who were functionally illiterate, actually could not read or write. Most of them figured out pretty early in the semester that they would not be able to get through the class.
One semester, I had 3 kids, out of an initial 20, show up for the final. And it wasn’t just me. For some reason, many instructors had the same problem.
When I teach anything other than the Intro class, I do give tests and they usually are pretty challenging.
Just finished teaching a SQL and DB design class. The students wanted part of the final to be a take-home. I warned them that a take-home test has to be tough. It was. I made them use the skills they had been taught in ways we hadn’t covered in class. And one question had an intentional error that they had to find a work-around for. Basically, welcome to the real world.
One kid complained about the exam, but at least 5 others told me how much they enjoyed it because it made them think. Outside of the Intro classes, I like to challenge my students. Most of them come to appreciate that.
I had a Materials Science course at MIT, where one test consisted of the question (paraphrasing) “discuss everything you know about steel.” Nothing broad or difficult about that, right?
The correct answer was the best answer given. All other answers were graded by comparing them to that one.
Note taking is a lost art. i really believe powerpoint has destroyed the current generations ability to listen and discern what is important and what isn’t. everything cannot be simplified to 4 or 5 bulleted points.
My harshest two experiences were interesting. I was originally an EE major (before I bowed to the inevitable and got into programming) and the Jr. level core course that I took in 1982 was extremely difficult.
It was designed to make sure that you understood all the intricate mathematics you had to digest earlier and also included trick computations that if you mindlessly typed into a calculator you got the wrong answer due to loss of precision. It was homework only - no tests and there were two rules. You did your homework alone. You were not allowed to look at material taught in the course in previous years.
Unfortunately, there were graduate students in the course too and apparently too many of them were having problems. In the last couple weeks of the course the professor (Dr. Middlebrook, spit) announced that both rules were no longer in effect and made it retroactive to the beginning of the quarter, thus penalizing everyone who obeyed the rules all along.
The second was better. This was in the mid 1990s and I was taking core accounting courses by extension at the request of my (now late) Father who had always wanted me to get a CPA. This course had 3 tests + homework for grading. This course was the exact equivalent of the EE course I described above. On the first test the whole class got a shock. I got something like a 79 (out of 100) and that was one of the highest scores in the class. As he returned the tests he made the blunt statement - you people who got below (I forget the number, but it was 70 or 80) should not only think about dropping this class, you should also be reconsidering your choice of major.
I find it interesting that the hammer came down in a public school (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) and cheating was retroactively forgiven at a private school (CalTech).
If I paid attention, took good notes and then typed those notes the same day, I had it.
Hear it, write it, then rewrite. That was my method, anyway.
My first chemical engineering class (sophomore level) had about a 4 in 5 drop out rate and was a real pressure cooker. Every math and science class had about a 1 in 5 or greater drop out rate. By the time I got into the core of my major classes at the junior level, they had pretty much completed the weeding out and the courses changed gears from weeding to increasingly going overboard for student retention via extra help from profs, study groups, etc. Senior level classes were a breeze by comparison to the sophomore level classes.
I am dual degreed in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering and confess to having to audit some of the math and chemistry classes. If your goal for a degree and career is strong enough, there is a way to tough it out, get stubborn and accomplish it. If you don't have these when needed then you'll drop to the wayside or switch to something else compatible with your capabilities.
LSU is not known for its academics.
Different schools do it differently. At mine, statics and dynamics were two separate courses taught in the Engineering Mechanics, not ME, department. They also taught the Freshman drafting courses. (This was way before CAD).
That could be true, however, I've noticed the same behavior in PowerPoint users as I've noticed in Microsoft Word users - presentation comes first, content is kind of like an after thought. That makes a big difference.
I'm a big fan of TeX and its derivatives. You spend most of your time thinking about content, not about how it looks.
We’ve already dumbed down medicine... what do you think PA’s and NP’s are? Fake doctors with suboptimal training!
Heh. My freshman calculus class was similar. It was taught by the man who wrote the text book and his style was to talk fast and fill chalkboard after chalkboard with equations. The large classrooms at CalTech at the time (early 1980s, I don't know what they're like now) had 3x3 movable boards. You pulled one down, pushed another one up, etc. and could see nine at a time.
I recall not being able to scribble down everything he wrote by the time he got past the 9th chalkboard and went back to the first and started erasing.
To encourage class attendance, he always included one question on every test that was only explained one day in class (class notes were allowed when taking tests) and was never touched on either in his textbook nor the homework. Fun, fun.
At my college, thermo and fluids were in the ME department. But we EE’s thought it was somewhat unfair that we had to take the same thermo, fluids, statics and dynamics as the rest of the engineers, yet they got the dumbed down “Intro to EE’ course when we were taking the first two “real” EE courses (circuits).
Muwahahaha. I wish there were more teachers like you. The basic rule in computer programming is to assume a fresh college grad doesn't know anything and train him on the job.
Part of the problem is that the number of projects that one will end up doing solo professionally can usually be counted on one hand.
Another part of the problem is that you really can't test something like calling up a student at 2am to have him diagnose a problem in his code. (I've been in that sort of position for a couple of years now and let me tell you, people who can work to get a system back online after being woken up are *valuable*).
Don’t worry, folks. One day maybe your brain surgeon will be a product of this enablement and acquiescence.
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