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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A lesson from reading the Columbia Spectator

I had a very good read of the student-run newspaper Columbia Spectator yesterday. I found the following two pieces especially interesting: Staff Editor: Free A's for everyone and "the culture of bitching" by Tao Tan.

The first article is about a professor who used an all-A policy in his teaching since he felt that the grading system was a distraction to real teaching and learning. I agree that the grading system IS a distraction. But reducing it to an all-A police will create another distraction, especially to those students who are working hard and care about learning. Sure, we always say the grades are not important, but by the end of the day, they really matter. My teaching philosophy, when comes to grades and exams, is to use exams as reinforcing tools. In other words, I will put the most important things in the exams, things I want the students to remember longer. I found that students remembers better where they have lost a couple points on during an exam.

The second article discussed the culture of complaining, which made me think about a positive attitude towards students' complaints. I can't say I enjoy hearing about complaints. Actually, I think no matter what I do, theoretically, there can always be complaint about everything in my teaching. Then, should we start pay no attention to complaints, or students' comments? Well, maybe if I, the teacher, listen really carefully, the complaints are not just about everything. I found when I spend a little bit more time with every student who asks me a question, I can find out so much more how they think about the lectures, the homework, the project, the exams, the grades, etc. Isn't that what the teacher really needs to know? My colleague, Andrew Gelman once discussed the concept of "aggressive teaching" in his cool blog. I think if we just listen and seek, more aggressively, we can derive much more positive information from students' complaints, even though they are about everything.

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