Comments on: Newsflash: Excellence Costs Money! http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sun, 21 Sep 2014 00:30:39 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: JaneB http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-816211 Mon, 18 Apr 2011 13:10:53 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-816211 I did a science degree at Oxbridge – we had huge lectures (700+ in one of my first year options), moderately sized lab groups (15-20 students to one TA, with 5 such groups under the overall supervision of an academic – 6 hours per week per science), and small tutorials (2-3 students with a specialist) – in the more mathematical disciplines like say physics we did problem sheets and went over areas of confusion from the lectures, in more biological subjects we often read, wrote essays, then discussed them in the tutorial. It allowed the lecture courses to proceed very fast over material, knowing that individual issues would be picked up in the tutorial system – no need to focus the lecture on the lower-middle of the class to give everyone a fair chance of keeping up, which I find is the case at my current (perfectly respectable) university.

It suited me wonderfully – school had really hemmed me in, I only survived the last couple of years of physics without getting into real trouble for messing around (when you spend a 40 minute period going over something you got in the first 5 minutes, the temptation to mess around, distract other people or, er, connect the bunsen burner to the water tap and see if you could get an accurate hit on the class waste-bin from the back row was high) because of an understanding teacher who let me read Plato in class as long as I got good marks on the assignments (the agreement was that I would read something ‘intellectually meaty’ so I worked my way through most of Plato and some Aristotle and other Greeks in translation). At my current place, I reckon 5-10% of the students could adapt to it and benefit very quickly, within a semester. Most of the others just aren’t ready for the sustained academic work needed, or aren’t passionate enough about their subject to want to do it, or aren’t personally ready (though small tutorial groups are much ‘safer’ than 10-15 people in a seminar, I find – perhaps because you really do know all the other people in the room quite well). For some of them, this is because they have been very badly let down by the school system, which has hammered any curiosity or originality right out of them…

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By: Susan http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815292 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 23:02:12 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815292 As I read this: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/04/education-for-its-own-sake.html
I thought of this post; Sullivan’s comment — “The important things are not worth knowing because they are useful. They are worth knowing because they are true.”

and @ Historiann: when I taught at a SLAC many years ago, I remember overhearing one student say to another, “I have $3000 to spend for spring break. Where should I go.” All I could think was that that was more than I earned in a month…

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By: FrauTech http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815276 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 21:49:28 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815276 Retrochef already touched upon what my opinion is of this for engineering programs. I preferred my large 300 person lectures to the small ones. Felt like things flowed a lot more. Engineering at my large state school seemed to have kind of a sink or swim mentality, which I don’t think is completely out of place. You start to form friendships and bonds in the smaller project classes but the larger classes show you you mostly have to teach yourself these basics because that’s what engineering is, proving you can teach yourself new disciplines. And working in engineering is a lot like these large classes were to me, there isn’t always a senior person who cares a whole lot about your work, YOU have to seek them out.

I would like to see more flexibility in these kinds of things for liberal arts. When I was studying humanities, I was so low on units I ended up taking a wide variety of political science, sociology, history, urban studies, music and philosophy classes. Some of the ones I took on accident are ones I really fondly remember today and am very happy I took. On the other hand, most of the engineers I knew hated writing and I couldn’t see them “expanding” their engineering horizons to a liberal arts understanding. And yet, while it was personally fulfilling I think it’s misleading to coach kids through these programs so that they can get their homecrafted major in Ancient Babylonian Economics & Art and find themselves unemployable and with freakishly high student loans.

I keep thinking there’s a better place for liberal arts for the masses, something that promotes societal and cultural life long learning rather than as part of a university program disguising itself as a career stepping stone. Not everyone has the time and patience to spend extra years studying for their own fulfillment or to make up for gaps in their career readiness.

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By: What would a post coverage model history survey course look like?, Part III. « More or Less Bunk http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815192 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 15:38:00 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815192 [...] will those activities be? Historiann reminds me of one those things I’d like to do much more often: I’m a SLAC grad, and I rarely had [...]

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By: squadratomagico http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815168 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 14:57:25 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815168 Historiann, I have nothing substantive to add to the discussion, but allow me to say: this comment

“it always blew me away when someone would sit and muse about what she’d do over summer break: “Should I go to Europe, again, or should I go somewhere else? South America?”

so resonates!!!

Or the students who’d say, brightly, “Yes, of course I’m working over the summer! I’m doing six weeks at an unpaid internship in my father’s college roommate’s architectural firm! After that, Switzerland!”

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815131 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 14:22:58 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815131 Retrochef–I thought you raised a good point about how disciplinary differences might play into what makes for an ideal teaching environment. In fact, as I posted yesterday, I was wondering what STEM folks would think about the Sarah Lawrence model–and assuming that they’d be skeptical of the relative value of the intensive tutoring/mentoring in teaching basic courses. But as you noted above, the SLC model could be used fruitfully for more one-on-one mentoring in labs and on student projects.

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By: Retrochef http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815108 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 13:03:31 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815108 I didn’t mean that small engineering classes would be bad quality. The quality of engineering instruction shouldn’t suffer from being taught in smaller-scale classes — it’s all the same math regardless of how many people are in the room.

It’s more that the difference in what a student can get out of a small, close-knit class, vs. a large lecture presentation, is smaller for engineering. I have seen the same level of engagement (or disinterest) from engineering students in large lecture settings, and in small classes. When I was looking for schools, and if my kids are looking at an engineering career for themselves, I wouldn’t put “small class size” high on the list of priorities. (Attentive faculty who welcome one-on-one interaction, or some “don” system, that I would be interested in.)

To broadly stereotype, engineers are rarely the sort of people who enjoy talking about opinions or perspectives; so, discussion-based seminars? Not overflowing with engineers. This is unfortunate, because I think understanding the ethical, socioeconomic, and/or cultural implications of products is important for engineers, but there you go.

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815098 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 12:00:51 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815098 Susan–I think you’re right on both points. Institutions and departments can make it easier or more difficult for faculty and students to make those relationships.

And on class bias: although having an on-campus or off-campus job wasn’t exactly exotic when I was in college, it always blew me away when someone would sit and muse about what she’d do over summer break: “Should I go to Europe, again, or should I go somewhere else? South America?” I, on the other hand, knew exactly what I’d be doing if I wanted to return to school in the fall. But, I didn’t resent it–I was able to live with friends in a big city and still save up enough dough. The idea that summers were for leisure or travel was just like an idea from outer space.

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By: Susan http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-815011 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 05:24:25 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-815011 There is, presumably, a continuum between the intensity of SL and the anonymous huge classes. As many have noted, what works is a matter in part of personality. I suspect there are times we do things in big lectures that make a huge difference, but even more, i see lightbulbs go on in small groups or individual conversations — when I manage to ask the right question for someone. By and large, I think that education works best when there is some kind of relationship.

The class bias, though, is an issue: not so much in terms of cost, at least at the really rich places. But more in being surrounded by people who have lots of money and take it for granted, and by the cultural assumptions and practices of upper middle class culture.

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By: Western Dave http://www.historiann.com/2011/04/14/newsflash-excellence-costs-money/comment-page-1/#comment-814942 Fri, 15 Apr 2011 01:15:49 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=14887#comment-814942 On class bias. Look, not all SLACs are equal but at Swarthmore if your family makes 60,000 a year or less, and that income doesn’t come from clipping bond coupons, you’re not going to pay a dime. A family of four could with two kids in college and an income of 104,000 (hardly middle class) would spend about 15,000 for tuition room and board and other expenses. They’d pay about that for just tuition at Penn State. Obviously Swat is one of the wealthier SLACs.

And their engineering is pretty damn good while teaching in small seminar style.

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