More Bitching

I have this unfortunate tendency to concentrate on minor setbacks and obsess about them and I have no energy to resist it, so here is more bitching.

How is it possible that students at the same university, with the same prof, in the same course achieve such disparate results on the same final exam? I glanced at the second section’s exams and most of them are bizarrely poor. Compared to what the first section produced, they look like they were written by semi-literate first-graders.

If the first section rocked the course and the exam, I know the problem can’t be me, right? Is it really as simple as people getting too tempted by the idea of leaving early in a late afternoon section?

Mind you, this is not an elective. The people who major and minor in the program don’t graduate without this course that is only given once every two years.

I put so much work into this, and now I have to finish off the semester by reading a bunch of crappy final exams where half the people wrote in huge letters to take up more space and mask their indifference and lack of knowledge in this way.

What a major letdown after last night’s beautiful experience of grading the other section.

12 comments on “More Bitching

  1. The herd instinct plays a major role. In a class that begins to disintegrate at the margin because of time of day, weather, or whatever feeble excuse, other students follow the dissonance. Soon almost everyone is skipping class or skipping contributions. That is why i always gave marks for attendance (in undergraduate classes).

    The solution is to fail them all out. I guarantee that there will be no repeat of such behavior if you refuse to grade to the curve. That is why I never ever graded to the curve. If you bend your standards, you deservedly build up future problems of a similar kind. You are not a nursemaid.

  2. In my experience micro cultures seem to form in various sections of the same class. This semester I had to switch out of a section a week into the semester due to a scheduling conflict, and WOW what a difference. In my first section, everyone was engaged and listened when the others were speaking, and everyone made a strong effort to use correct pronunciation. In my second section, the students looked visibly bored all through class, made 0 effort to use correct pronunciation to the point that they would be incomprehensible to the professor at times, and just made class a painful experience overall. It shocked me that there could be such a world of difference.
    What I think happens in a strong class, is that there are a few strong students who clearly express their enthusiasm and this ends up pulling the kind of mediocre students up and gets them excited about learning, whereas in bad classes there are a few bad apples who make it very apparent they don’t give a shit and that this material isn’t worth learning and influence the middle of the road students again. Attitudes are infectious, and students who may not have strong feelings about whether a class is going to be bad or good can get their opinions swayed by those who do.

    • I know, this had to be an issue of group dynamic. Even students who are normally very very good and responsible slackened their standards in this section under the influence of a bunch of popular kids who made a show of not caring about the class. It is sad to see people sabotage themselves for something as silly as this.

  3. Next year do a controlled experiment. Get half the students to do the two sections in the opposite order to the other half. I am sure N will analyse the results for you. Perhaps you can find out what the issue is and react accordingly.

  4. I suspect that different groups of students tend to take courses at different times. Some who have had a certain course will take one section, while those who need to take that particular course will take a different section that does not conflict with it. Those who have had the course in question are much better prepared, and so the grades are skewed. I have seen this a lot over the years.

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