Monthly Archives: January 2009

Intellectual Challenge Survey

I conducted an informal, anonymous survey on “intellectual challenge” with students in my classes (n = 32). The respondents were mostly Communication minors and Zicklin majors; i.e., represent somewhat of a cross-section of Baruch students. (I checked with Hannah Rothstein, IRB director: Informal surveys with the purpose of program improvement can be conducted without IRB approval and shared with colleagues, including on this teaching blog). Here are the results.

Question 1: On average, how intellectually challenging are courses at Baruch College? (5 = very challenging; 1 = not challenging at all)

Question 2: On average, how satisfied are you with this level of intellectual challenge?

Question 3: What does “intellectual challenge” mean to you?

Question 4: Which wording would you prefer on the course evaluation form?

Selected Comments:

1. Since English is my second language, courses are very challenging for me.

2. The courses at Baruch College are very challenging. The time frame in which professors needed assignments are not enough, due to the fact that we, the students, have other classes.

3. Although some professors manage to make course work challenging, they still keep students interested.

4. i believe the “intellectual challenge” is subjective to the instructor teaching the course. In some cases they do present a real challenge; on the other hand, some are as easy as it can get!!! (more…)

Posted in Student Participation, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NY Times on Large Lectures

I’m sure many have seen “At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard?” by Sara Rimer in the 13-Jan-09 New York Times (p. A12); it’s worth sharing again here. Here’s an excerpt.

“The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.”

Such a change was hastened by a $10M donation. Food for thought.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Mendicant Preachers

At the end of the fall semester, I received this e-mail from a student in my MSC 1003 class who had recently earned a D grade:

i am on academic probation. if my G.P.A. doesnt reach 2.0 by the end of next semester, im kicked out of baruch. i mathematically cant make 2.0 if i have a D on top of a F. please, im begging u. i need to retake music or i will end up in community college.

This was just one of several e-mails from this fellow who begged for me to reward him for his D-work with an F. His agony was based on the shame of having to tell his parents that he’d be transferring to Kingsborough Community College because a mere music class beat him down. I told him that community college is no shame and reported on two close friends who started at QCC (one now a CPA who works for the AICPA and the other the chair of an art department at a Maryland college), and I sent him the Wikipedia link to former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona who started at BxCC. I spared him my usual spiel about how I’d bet music was not the only subject giving him trouble.

I find these requests more troubling than the can-you-raise-my-grade ones. Maybe it’s because the student should have had a good sense that he was running a D with 80% of the grade completed by early December, and he easily could have bailed on the last quiz, had he done the math; so this bespoke a kind of detachment from his own academic progress. Maybe because he failed the course once, in ostensibly an easier version of the course, only to stumble into my CIC version with all its extra writing-based requirements. Maybe it’s because, if he had attended only seven of the hour-long workshops that accompany the course, he would have received extra credit enough to raise his D to a C. Maybe because it is ultimately educationally sound for a D-student to re-take a course when he finally has become mature enough to pass it. Anyway you slice it, he could have either gotten his F or his C with very little effort. Yet the flurry of e-mails that his D engendered showed that he was eager work the art of the deal with me, to spend time arguing in favor of his F, and, of course, to preach to me about what it is really like to be a student.

Is it better–educationally sound–to give D students the retroactive F, if requested? Is it fair to others? Is it even legal?

Posted in Classroom Rules, Communicating and Managing Expectations, Grading | 8 Comments

Web-based Homework?

Have you noticed that textbook publishers are promoting web-based homework systems such as Prentice Hall’s Grade Assist (PHGA), McGraw-Hill’s Homework Manager and Wiley’s eGrade?

All 20 sections of Finance 3000 are using the McGraw-Hill product. Students do homework online and receive instantaneous feedback (with solutions), professors enjoy automated grading, and the coordinator appreciates bolstered grading fairness across sections. No two students get the same question due to randomized seed numbers (e.g., student 1: “solve X + 219 = 567”; student 2: “solve X + 98 = 673”). If a student doesn’t like his/her score, the entire problem set may be redone, with new seed numbers, and the professor’s grade report includes the score of every attempt.

I trialed PHGA with 80 MGT 3121 students, spring 2008. Students complained that they often reasoned correctly, but made errors inputting numeric answers in the software, and thus redid entire assignments (with new seed numbers) to get the points they felt they deserved. In some cases I had to agree with the students—the software is not perfect. My larger concern is that none of the types of questions that promote deep learning are available in the software. Rather, standard “textbook” questions—questions with a single correct answer such as “determine the reorder point and reorder quantity” or “forecast demand on day 150″—lulled students into deep comas. It’s about as exciting as the computerized SAT test.

Worried that web-based homework trades richness of student thinking for my convenience, I stopped using the software.


Posted in Grading, Teaching Large Classes, Using Technology | 4 Comments


In the early 80s, I lived in Brooklyn and taught MSC 1003 at 8:00 a.m. (at least three-versions-of-the-grid ago). One fall morning, as I was walking down President Street towards the F train station, I passed a three-man Sanitation truck performing its semi-weekly pick-up. One of the workers was standing in front of a brownstone, looking in the gated front yard filled with piles of magazines and old wooden planks. The fellow was furious. “What the hell kind of bleep is this?” He yelled at his buddies as he gestured with outstretched arms in the direction of the junk, “Who does this guy think he is putting out his bleeping garbage like that? I ain’t gonna pick this bleep up unless he ties it into neat bleeping bundles!” I passed the worker and muttered through my clenched smile, “Dude, you’re a garbage man. This is garbage. It’s your job to pick it up twice a week. If there were no garbage, you’d be unemployed.” I thought this all very humorous. I then descended into the subway.

About 10 minutes later, while straphanging and staring beyond the passing tunnel lights, I began to meditate on my few semesters teaching multiple sections of MSC 1003. Most of my students were first-year students with paltry skills and little college preparation. Many were foreign born. I couldn’t figure out why every semester, in every section, I found myself reciting the same endless stream of facts and admonitions, “Rhythm is the flow of music in time,” “Remember: The word ‘rhythm’ has two Hs,” “Write this as a complete sentence,” and all the other things I found myself repeating semester after semester. Would these kids ever get it? How many times did I have to bleeping tell them the simplest things?

It then occurred to me that my job is education–exposing people to something that they don’t know, getting adolescents to think in new ways, introducing students to the beginnings of a college-style of learning–in effect, making my semi-annual pick-up. If there were not this continuous flow of fresh, 18-year-old high school grads who needed to be taught those same lessons, I’d be out of a job.

It’s therefore incumbent upon us instructors never to lose patience but instead to dole out the familiar facts and stale admonitions in new ways–as if it’s the very first time we’re stating them–because for the students it is the very first time we’re stating them. Without negating the importance of content, we must always be thinking about our classroom techniques. I think it’s good to remind young faculty that, although the teacher might learn a few tricks over the years and get smarter, the students never seem to.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment