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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Thursday, January 19, 2006

new form of weed out

when first entering college, I remember hearing about "weed out" courses - courses that caused lots of people who weren't really committed to drop the course and/or change their major. for CS at my undergrad, that course was discrete structures; the cut off for a passing C grade was 60%, and the class average was 40%. for lot's of people, it's something more like O-chem. at any rate, the idea is that these classes "weed out" the people who aren't actually committed to doing the necessary work.

I recently came across this article that seems to present a new form of weeding out. everyone who has attended university has had the experience of sitting somewhere in the middle of a 500+ person lecture and being talked at by some tiny professor. apparently, lots of people are taking advantage of lecture notes and video streams of lectures posted on time in order to skip such classes. both the author of the article and the professors interviewed think this is bad; absenteeism is already so high, students don't need anymore reason to cut class. with video taped lectures and slides available online, there's no purpose to actually coming to class.

I argue against their position for three reasons. one, as cited in the article, some people are often physically incapable of making it to a lecture. rather than copying a friend's notes, which may be unclear, they can devote the time to see the lecture and read the notes. two, there may be situations in which a class is too fast or two slow for an individual. if the class is too fast, the student may go rewatch the lecture and review the professor's slides; many students already audiotape their classes for later review. if the class is too slow, the student may optimize by spending one hour a week learning on his or her own what would take three hours of lecture per week to learn.

the third reason, however, is the main point here. the main argument against this practice is that it increases absenteeism. I argue that absenteeism is a case for this practice. the people who will skip class in favor of getting the lecture and slides online are likely not as committed to learning the material as those who attend every class. that means that in these large 500+ person classes, we can get much fewer people in the actual class, maybe as few as 50 or 30, leading to the possibility for questions or discussion that are just not feasible with 500+ people. besides, the people who aren't there likely aren't interested in asking questions, anyway, versus the people who show up, who likely will ask questions. I see this absenteeism as not a problem of devaluing education, but of an oppurtunity to increase the value education for those who actually care.

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