Thursday, January 8, 2009

Out of the mouths of undergrads

I've been watching with great envy as Prof-like Substance worked on two grants, had his entire family succumb to stomach virus, took time off for Xmas, and still had the ability to blog about his travails. I too have been writing two grants, battled uncomfortable stomach conditions, took a couple of days off to visit family, and I have not been able to muster the will to blog about any of it. My only defense is that classes here begin shocking early and I also had to start teaching my soul-sucking course this week (by soul-sucking I don't mean I teach on the sucking of souls - that might actually be fun - its my class that is so demoralizing that every time I step into class its like my soul is being sucked out of my body with a lot of force through a very narrow straw). In summary, I have found the past month to be a whole lot less fun than one might initially think. But today I gave the grant office permission to push the button on one of them and the other is shockingly well under control - giving me hope. When I was on the couch, trying not to vomit on my keyboard, working on revisions, I was pretty sure I wasn't actually going to survive this.

But what motivated me to return to the blogosphere was class today. I teach a big lecture course aimed at non-majors. I try very hard to make this class relevant to the student population. Since many of these students will be part of a society grappling with climate change, collapsing fisheries, stem cells, increasing antibiotic resistance in bacteria, and benefiting from medical research, I feel very passionately about the importance of this class. But most of the students take the class because they need a science course and think this is the best of a bunch of bad options and its clear they just don't want to be there. I've taught this class several times now, but I think today was the first time a student made be speechless. On my second slide today, while I'm in full swing explaining the slide, a student raised their hand. Thinking they had an important question, I stopped and signaled them to ask their question. "So, will we be tested on what you're saying as well as what's on the slide?" Like I was up there reciting War and Peace, or Who's on First? Or telling 'knock knock' jokes. I was literally explaining the slide.

I was so confused by the question, that I stood there blinking at her for several seconds while my brain reprocessed the sound bite to make sure I hadn't misheard something. Then, when the reality of the question was starkly clear, all I could hear was that giant sucking noise of my soul rushing through that tiny little straw. The bad news is that this is going to be a long semester. The good news is I have a whole new source of blog fodder!


madscientist said...

I have come to the point (after simply 2 years!) of having slides that say things like "The most important slide of the day - HOMEWORK WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED MORE THAN 10 DAYS LATE!" and "Come to class, don't come to class... I don't care."

I am teaching a really fun class (Rocket Science!) but it is also for non-majors, and so I tend to get very similar questions. Someone asked me after class if the things that I teach in the last half of class (in which I am supposed to switch topics) will be on the tests. Uh... WTF?

Professor in Training said...

Welcome back and a Happy New Year! Hope you're feeling better.

My answer to the question "So, will we be tested on what you're saying as well as what's on the slide?" is always YES.

Prof-like Substance said...

Don't be too impressed. Posting a lot = too much time at work and needing an outlet when I couldn't write in grant-speak anymore. Sorry to hear you got sick too, hopefully it wasn't quite as dramatic as what ripped through our house. That sucked.
Your class sounds painful. Well, not your class, but your students. I am NOT looking forward to that, but this semester it looks like I will just be teaching a small grad course. Even that is scaring the shit out of me right now, but I can't think about it until Tuesday.

Prof-like Substance said...

1) You should tell knock knock jokes and then tell them that they will be tested on the material.
Example question. How many times should one answer with "banana" before switching to orange, in the classic "orange you glad I didn't say banana?" joke?
D.For at least half the car ride.

2) I would totally be in for team-teaching the course on soul sucking.

Patchi said...

My speechless moment was when a student asked me how they were supposed to study for the test if
I wasn't following the order given in the book... and I actually told them what pages to read at the beguining of each class.

I ended up typing a "study guide" that had the pages from the book covered in each lecture... just not to have to deal with that question again.

River Tam said...

@madscientist: yeah, I think I may have actually said the "come to class or not" line. I can't believe how fast I got jaded!

@PiT: Nice to be back. I did finally stammer out a yes and then couldn't stop the snotty "it's not like I'm up here talking for my own entertainment" from slipping out.

@PLS: I LOVE small grad courses. They're my favorite. I think you'll enjoy it.

@patchi: I actually told my class flat out that I don't lecture from the book to cut off that line of questioning. I provided pages where they could find some info on the topics I was talking about but it was only there for those who felt they also needed to read something. Some of them seem relieved. Apparently for others, they feel adrift and are frightened they'll actually have to listen to me!

Candid Engineer said...

Hmm, you should also tell them that they'll be tested on what you're wearing.

I remember as an undergrad being obsessed with 'what we're being tested on'. Chapter 4, the notes- oh! but not this one set of handouts- halleluia! The task of cramming so much unfamiliar material into one's brain becomes, well, overwhelming.

Of course the student needs to pull her head out of her ass (it was quite the stupid question), but a tiny part of me sympathizes with her. I'm so glad I'm not a student anymore. :)