Wednesday, March 25, 2009

easy classes

I keep track of a fair number of blogs by professors and other academic folks. The topic of clueless students and exams comes up fairly often. Here's a relatively recent example.

I always thought of easy classes as a gift and a chance to bring up my grades. Even as an undergrad, I was mystified by students who would bomb a really easy class.

When I was a TA, the lab sections were worth ½ of the course credit, and the students would have around 10 labs for the course. They also had a lab exam. So each lab was worth somewhere in the vicinity of 2% of their grade. A surprising percentage of the students – 20? Maybe more? – decided that 2% wasn’t worth trying for. They would skip labs, avoid answering questions that took any intellectual effort beyond looking them up in the textbook, and spend most of the time chatting instead of doing any actual work.

Sure, you can write off 2% of your grade. But collectively, your labs are a significant portion of your grade for the entire course. I wasn’t a terribly strict grader, and I was eager to help out and lead (and lead, and lead) students toward the correct answer. Students who showed up, made a good-faith effort at the work, and asked a TA when they had a question generally got at least a B for their lab grade.

The class average for the labs was a C-. And this was not an introductory class! I don’t get it…

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