Saturday, December 31, 2005

Courses: best and worst

As I previously commented, lists of the best and worst have a broad appeal. Today being New Year's Eve, there's a flurry of such lists (with the suffix "of 2005").

Now, here's a best-and-worst question for my readers: What was the best course you ever took, and why? (Could be high school, university, whatever.) How about the worst course?

I've taken a number of very good courses, but one that stands out for me was a 1st-year course on intellectual history. The subject matter was fascinating, the seminar format allowed for lots of interaction, and the instructor, Duff Crerar, was very good. For me it was such a striking contrast with a course I took in high school on Democracy (can't remember the exact title). Everyone was required to take the course, the textbook was mediocre, and the instructor was autocratic (an irony that was not lost on me).

There are a few other examples that come to mind, but I'd love to hear from other people.
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Blogger Zeno said...

In my fourteen years of college (that includes two doctoral programs, one aborted and one completed), one course stands out as my least favorite. It was a grad course on technology in math education and I was very much looking forward to it. The reality was very different from the expectation.

The visiting professor in charge of the course had had a lot of experience introducing secondary school students to mathematical ideas via computer algebra systems. She had a collection of worksheets she had devised for use with Derive. We spent the ten weeks of the course doing those worksheets. I kid you not. My classmates and I knew where each worksheet was going as soon as we perused it ("Oh, this shows how a parabola can be characterized by its latus rectum"). But we had to work all the parts anyway, right to the end. It was mindnumbing.

We never really got to any higher-level discussions or the pros & cons, the rationales, the research that supported the approach, or anything like that. We were figuratively chained to our desks doing high school (if that) work sheets. As one of my classmates said, in the professor's absence, "I hate this class!" He spoke for us all.

2:08 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I think the authoritarian structure of many educational systems is often a big part of the problem. Most of us learn early on that the instructur is the boss, and we'd better do as they say, even if it means turning off our brains. Obedience is rewarded rather than genuine learning. But it's hard to think of good alternatives. I've been thinking a bit about authority lately. Just as parents have authority over their children, teachers have authority over their students. There is some legitimacy to this authority, but it is easily abused and can be counter-productive. But how can these problems can be addressed?

12:47 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Raywat Deonandan said...

Duff Crerar? Didn'the play bass for Guns'N'Roses?

11:47 PM, January 02, 2006  
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