Sunday, January 07, 2007

An Argument My Cell Bio Prof Should Heed

Back in the terrifying academic year that was my sophomore year of college, I had a nemesis: my cellular biology professor. This guy threw everything but the kitchen sink at you in his power point slide lectures (he expected you to know about the kitchen sink by reading the course text book, which was a hefty 1000 pages). The slides were so overloaded that text and images often did not fully fit on them or were so small that, even sitting in the first row or five of the lecutre hall, you had to lean forward, squint, and argue with the guy sitting next to you if that word was "mitosis" or "meiosis." The professor also would not in general refer to the text, but talk tangentially to it, and we were required to know the information contained in his verbal diarrhea as well.

There were two ways you could pass that class: ace the lab portion (which wasn't separated like most other science classes) or track down people from previous years who had literally copied by hand every test after he posted them on his office window and memorize the answers (he never changed his tests; truly stupid in such a dynamic field of science). I didn't know about the latter until the day of the final, so I thought the former was the only way. Becaus I learned after the first test that studying and knowing the material wasn't going to get you far--there was too much of it to retain for the tests--I went with the former option and kicked the stuffing out of the lab portion.

Well, I was trolling Making Light's Particles for something interesting for my Sunday Grab-bag post, and I found something I would've loved to have shoved down that prof's throat. A very detailed and interesting breakdown of how NASA abused power point (not intentionally, but because of the same thinking that led my prof to abuse it similarly) in its discussion of the foam that broke off of Columbia prior to the shuttle's re-entry. Fascinating in that deer-in-headlights way to understand how knowledge dissemination and traditional teaching methodology/understanding can cloud an issue more than clarify it.

I'm crossing my fingers that the Graduate Teaching Program at Boulder wasn't the only one of its kind. It was focused on providing TAs with the tools and training they needed to be effective instructors. Hopefully it's required at Boulder and more universities are catching on. This is how vital such a thing is.

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