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[Fwd: Education as a Commodity]

Sabine Dippel sabine at hlrz28.zam.kfa-juelich.de
Tue Nov 18 09:57:15 EST 1997

In article <64s77v$b8r at gap.cco.caltech.edu>, 
ravena at cco.caltech.edu (Karen Allendoerfer) writes:
|> ...some stuff deleted
|> Aren't there any students reading this group?  Doesn't anyone remember
|> what it was like to be a student?  It would be nice to hear the other
|> side, and what student life is like today from the student's perspective.
|> If I were a student reading some of these postings, I'd be kind of 
|> scared, and definitely put-off.
|> Karen

Okay, I'll bite. Yes, there are students reading this group, or at least
people whose student times aren't that far away, but also have seen a little
of the other side by having been a TA. The reason why I did not join the 
discussion so far is that (a) things are very different in Germany anyway
and (b) in Physics (at least in Germany) there is strong emphasis on working
in groups. 

The latter means that it is very hard for a TA to figure out if people
actually copied homework, or if they did it together (I usually told them:
"Discuss the solution together, write it up separately - then I am sure 
you did not just  copy it, otherwise you may lose points.") Still, I also 
remember these awful fights about people not being able to write down a 
proof coherently (something I learnt in high school, but I had an unusual
teacher), but also refusing to learn how to do so ("The content is important,
not the way it is written down"  is the favourite student remark.) I usually
dealt with this by cutting points for that, but also trying to tell them how
to do it right - that's what they are there for - to learn. 

I also think that people should be able to spell and use grammar correctly,
and to express thoughts coherently. It does them no good in "real life" if 
they can't. But that's really a problem that belongs to high schools - anyone
entering college should have a certain amount of mastery of language. But 
that's an entirely different problem. 

To get back to the viewpoint of the student: face it, there are alway 
classes one is really interested in, and others one simply has to take. 
And I think it is realistic that all of us try to take the easy way out
in the latter ones. Problems arise if people always take the easy way out.
Also, for each professor her/his class seems to be vital and interesting, 
and professors seem to forget that different students prefer different 
classes. Some people slacking away in your class might excel in others - 
not because you're a bad teacher, but because somehow they are bored with 
the subject, and thrilled with another one. 

Someone (I think it was Karen) was also discussing the ethical problem of 
students getting hold of old exams. In my subject, in Germany, the most 
important exams are oral. Usually, students, after having taken the exam,
sit down and write down the questions, their answers, and what turned out
to be the answers the professor expected. These lists are collected somewhere,
and accessible to any student. Now, you might call this unethical - but what's
wrong with telling others about ones experiences? The interesting thing is 
that some professors know very well that these things exist (and either live
with it or try to figure out so many different questions that the stuff is of
no use), others simply do not want to know it, or do not want to believe that
they are so predictable that this collection of questions can help students 
get a better grade. Of the students, some think they don't need these questions,
others rely too much only on them - those get the best grades who study 
thoroughly, but in the last phase concentrate on the questions. Only knowing
the questions would never get them through the exam, because always something
unpredictable happens. 

The reason why this works at all in Germany is that things are not that 
competitive. Sure, everyone cares about her/his grades, but they care 
relatively little about their grades in relation to others, but simply
only on an absolute scale (there are exceptions - sure if everyone is 
getting B's or C's, B+ is a very good grade, but this sort of comparison 
takes place more on a general level). 

Well, I think I had better stop this rambling. Just wanted to put some 
things up for discussion from a student's point of view. 


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