Demotivating experience

Mar 26, 2015 • Matthew Collins

In my graduate program there are two required courses, both intensive and both taught by a newly minted PhD. The most recent PhD covered 3-5 book sections per 50 minute lecture by deriving the main formulua in the section on the black board. Homeworks were from the book and were focused on applying the forumlas to data sets and expaining the results. The first exam was of course all proofs and derivations. The class average was 8 out of 40 with a standard deviation of 4.5. (I don’t know whether there was a brilliant mathmatician in our midst or it was possible to get a negative grade.)

His response to the roudy 20 minute in-class discussion (video taped for posterity as part of the distance ed curiculum) was basically “You need to try harder.” I don’t think anyone did any of the homeworks after that.

I honestly think our more vocal students did their best to tell him that he wasn’t communicating his expectations. If he wanted to show that he had listened he would have scrapped the book problems and written his own homeworks for the rest of the semester. At least then we could practice what he wanted us to know.

His final words in lecture: “I hope you enjoyed the class and both of us learned something in this class. Good luck on the exam.” He’s on the schedule of courses for teaching the same class next fall.