Daniel Lemire's blog

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Reinventing university education? Practical ideas…

5 thoughts on “Reinventing university education? Practical ideas…”

  1. Ragib Hasan says:

    “Automated personalized teaching is probably underutilized. For teaching technical skills, such as computing derivatives or programming in Java, I think that a human instructor is wasted. Automated tests can provide faster feedback, and allow for more ambitious courses through personalization.”

    I disagree slightly … I think we human beings are programmed to learn from a person rather than an automated tool. During my undergrad days, I tutored about 150 students on C/C++/Java, and it felt that they are more comfortable in getting the info from a person, rather than a book or a tool.

    Sure, teaching tools are probably more efficient in providing the information. But you’ve got to factor in the human nature … do we learn / remember better when a person teaches the info?

    My bet is on a human tutor, rather than a tool.

  2. @Julian I think that being passionate and being told exactly what to do are incompatible.

    Also, I don’t think that being passionate is a “personality trait” altogether. Some people are more prone to it, but everyone can grow to love something.

    Finally, if you take courses with me, then you have to understand that I will push you, sometimes in directions where you’d rather not go. I feel that it is my job… My job is not to give you what you want… I am not here to spoon-feed you with data and “knowledge”. I am here to challenge students, to push them beyond their limits… up to the point where they feel uncomfortable.

    Sure. I’m crazy. But I am not kidding about the good reviews I get from students. I have been told by some students that my courses are the only “university-level” courses they have taken in their entire degree. Many students are very happy to have been challenged.

  3. “that’s precisely what I want: students who dislike being told what to do”

    Yes, that’s the students you want, but is that the students you’ll get?

    You might argue that you want to shape them into people that don’t want to be told things. But is that possible if they’re already at least 20 years old when you meet them?

    And is it even your job to change their personalities?

  4. Ben Babcock says:

    My favourite courses are the ones where I’m challenged. This year I took ring theory and group theory and loved doing proofs.

    I’d like to see assignments move away from lots of tiny questions to a small number of larger questions. My vector calculus class last year was no fun because our prof had to assign about twenty questions to cover all the concepts he had taught that week, each question usually requiring lengthy computation. On the other hand, my group theory assignments were shorter–they usually took me about the same amount of time, but they were more enjoyable because I felt like I had accomplished something at the end.

    I’m fine with project-based teaching as long as that doesn’t necessarily mean “group projects.” I abhor group projects with every asocial bone in my body (which is every bone–except maybe my left femur, that traitor). I understand that group projects are often necessary evils and that in the “real world” (which I will avoid as much as possible upon graduation) we often have to work in groups. But my marks always seem to go down in a group, not up.

  5. Ben Babcock says:

    Sorry for the double comment, but as I submitted the last comment I realized I’d forgotten to ask a question….

    While I have burning passion for my field of study (math), I’m well aware that most of my peers don’t share this passion. They’re more interested in getting through university and getting a job with their degree. I know this was particularly a problem in that group theory course I mentioned in the previous comment–I and a few others enjoyed doing proofs, but everyone else just wanted the class to be over.

    So as a future teacher, I worry about trying to make courses interesting for students who approach them with the attitude of “well, I’m taking it because it’s required, but I’m not going to like it.” I know a teacher’s attitude alone can make a great difference. My first year discrete math prof was very enthusiastic and amicable. He’d use pop culture examples and was a terrible artist (much to our amusement). As a result, most of us enjoyed the class immensely (and missed him this year while he was on sabbatical). Have you any additional words of wisdom? 😀