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From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconDec-24 8:43 AM 
To: Ishmael112  (82 of 88) 
 11545.82 in reply to 11545.81 

It is not that easy. Students must finish their studies in time or most will get into extra debt for which they have no payoff plan. The college wants them to graduate so their statistics look good and they can internally compete better for money. Professors fall into two groups, roughly: one, who does not care much, expecting students to be responsible adults; and one, who care and want to keep rigor where it needs to be to avoid falling behind.

Ime academic advising at college is a mixed bag. My university has recently “improved” its freshman advising by hiring professional advisors. That is good for improving student’s non-academic aspects, like study abroad, general university course offerings,  extra-curricular activities and what employers may think of them, but it is not helping academic advising. After all, what does someone with a psychology bachelor’s degree know about math placement for physics courses?

As a consequence of the new system, we get to see our majors later and we bond less with them. They drift through the academic part with less orientation. In times of covid, the new advising has helped for navigating the many non-academic aspects of the experience. There is massive mental health coaching going on, for example. Otoh it has been very bad for academic issues. 

In my three classes I had unique outcomes in each. The graduation stopper Stat Mech course saw two students fail, two students receive a D grade, which is an obstacle for grad school, and one student withdraw. Out of ten students. Still, seven can go on to graduate in May.

The academic performance behind these grades was abysmal across most of the spectrum. Most students consistently cheated on homework, and the final exam showed as much. I made it barely into teaching the last chapter, which is foundational for grad school. I have never covered this little material before in this course. The teaching speed needed to be slowed down too often to carry a reasonable number of students through. The exam showed that the students struggled with the new core material, I did not even test on the last chapter, and the old chapters showed that there had been no sustained learning.

Miguel came out with an A and so did Eidan. West, Jim, and Cy bombed the exam. Wayne did not come and failed the class. Fred did alright, his good time management saw him through, but I doubt that he learned much or that he will retain. Cy’s notoriously good hw, most likely straight from cheating, did not help her this time she ended with a D and only because she handed in post-exam bonus homework, which brought her overall to 57.5%, which I then rounded up to 60; the bonus task was to summarize a later chapter. Only four students did it.

Here is my prediction from the first day of classes:

“If I had to wager a guess to predict final grades before curve, I would probably say that Miguel will be top of the class, with a high B or low A, next Eidan and Silvia with a B, then Jim with a decent C. Low Cs are possible for Fred, Danish and Wayne if they keep focussed. Cy, Jon, and West would most likely work toward a D. After curve, they may all pass with a C or better.“

Not far off, I would say. Silvia was slightly worse than expected although she clinched that predicted B after curve. Miguel and Eidan got their A, Eidan only after the 2% curve. Jon benefitted from the curve too, getting a B after an exam average of 69.5%. Fred came in with a solid C. West’s final grade was a 47%, he handed in only three of eight homework and did poorly on exams. Jim ended up with a D, which humbled him. I am writing letters of recommendation for him for grad school and I pushed him to set it up before final grades, or else I would have to write about this class. He snickered then and he understood when he saw the final exam. His work on it was shockingly uninformed. He had retained nothing and he almost remembered nothing. He got a 49% on the final, but earlier grades made him achieve at least a D overall. From his list of ten grad schools: Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Boulder, Cornell.

My beginner physics one class for STEM majors was a disaster. I ended up failing twelve of forty eight students, but there were also eight withdrawals, bringing the WDF rate to twenty of fifty six, or 36 %. This class included nineteen new majors in my department, and I cut them almost in half with my grades: eleven passed, nine failed and will have to repeat the class. Two of the latter have already changed major, two of the good students are contemplating that too. I am working on them to convince them to stay. Five of the majors got an A and built the top of the class, three got a B. If they all stay in the major and return in spring that is a reasonable size group. Perhaps, with much help two or three more can be finagled to our degree. You can see what the problem is: degrees where fewer than ten graduate on average are seen as borderline not viable majors.

I also taught the follow-up class physics two this term. It was a positive surprise. I still ended up failing six of fifty and had three withdrawals (17% failure rate) and one incomplete. Overall though, not bad. Nine A and twenty one B grades. Few majors though. One passed with a B, one had a D, another an F (for the third time, so I think it is game over; she’s an African American and I have tried everything I know to help her. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.). The last one is the incomplete. We’ll have to see about him.


  • Edited December 24, 2021 9:41 am  by  YoungGandalf
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From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconDec-24 10:11 AM 
To: All  (83 of 88) 
 11545.83 in reply to 11545.82 

Apart from my course work there were many developments in my little department. We are being reorganized and our proud A&S college will be slaughtered. The physical sciences will fuse with Engineering in 2023, the biological sciences with Agriculture. The rest will make a mini college with much lessened impact.

In 2020 our most promising physics colleague had left, a month ago we got notice from an astronomer that she is moving on. And last Monday my colleague, who teaches together with me most major classes, told us very last minute that he retires by end of the month.

None of them seem to be replaced, which puts us below critical mass for our two grad programs. It is a catastrophe, given that we are one of the five most productive departments on campus by just about any metric. It brings our load of grad student supervision to five per faculty. Campus average among the few departments that run graduate programs (just about twenty, and about half of them run only masters programs) is two.

For me, what matters is the undergrad side. My retiring colleague has been teaching four undergrad classes a year, and three are scheduled to start on the 18th. I ended up taking on two of them, both upper level classes: Classical Mechanics and Math & Comp Methods. I have never taught either before. Normally, it takes me about a term to develop a new upper level course. This time, I have twenty three days for two …

I told my department head “no”, unless he bribes me with money; which he did. So here we are. What a mess.

  • Edited December 25, 2021 12:07 am  by  YoungGandalf

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From: Ishmael112Dec-27 7:35 PM 
To: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member Icon  (84 of 88) 
 11545.84 in reply to 11545.83 

I wanted to give these two posts some thought before responding.  

My first thought is to wonder about the impact of Covid at your institution.  Here in the east a lot of educational institutions moved to distance learning and suspended classroom instruction.  While obvious arguments can be made for that I think learning suffered; in my opinion learning requires students to face a teacher and computers just don't do it as well.  In that situation you are like other similar 4 year institutions.  

At the same time the reorganization of your university has been accomplished even it they have not yet happened.  "Fusing" physical science with engineering can only dilute the effectiveness of both former departments.  Moving biology to the College of Agriculture where it will be isolated further diminishes it.  

The retirements and transfers also diminish physical sciences.  However, they do accomplish an administrative goal as they diminish faculty costs for the university without the difficulties of a reduction in force.  

The new counselors, who specialize in counseling rather than in the academic field of students being counseled, probably are an added expense.  Even if existing social science are given counseling duties outside of their departments a stipend will have to be included to recognize the added work.  Of course you and your colleagues can still counsel students informally but to do that you must find the time and since you have additional new teaching duties time is probably scarce.  

One question is what a new counselor will say when dealing with a physics student in or near academic difficulties.  He may well point out the option of changing a major.  And with the fusing of physical science and engineering a change of major will be easier; possibly it will mean on a change of courses to less demanding ones.  

As I read your posts the changes have been made but are not yet effective.  The issue before you is dealing with these changes; it is too late to prevent them.  



From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconDec-27 8:44 PM 
To: Ishmael112  (85 of 88) 
 11545.85 in reply to 11545.84 

I can certainly confirm anecdotally that learning has suffered through the covid crisis; it is less clear why. A clue comes from the large number of mental distress cases among students. Is the online teaching a cause of poor performance or is it a side issue?

I found that most students simply did not focus on school, made it a secondary obligation, grossly misjudging their own capacity to deal with two major duties. In addition, they were hugely stressed, being on edge most waking hours. Nobody does their best in those circumstances.

The persisting problem is that the damage has been done. Can they bounce back through, for example, an extra year? Something makes me doubt it.

I do not think that our university’s reorganization is a done deal. If we proceed, I agree with you, every unit will be damaged, although some people see advantages. It is the process itself that makes me question the success chance. That and the related impact on hiring. Academic departments are organic units with life cycles in performance, like grant money (which roughly follows age distribution), publication record (which roughly follows money), and creative development (which happens around the peak). These things cannot just be bought back. One can hire a new batch of enthusiastic young professors, and in seven to fourteen years one has a thriving department if no unexpected disasters happen. But one won’t have it in a year or two.

What could stop us from following the new plan would be a change in administration. The current president has been in office for eighteen months. Our average reign of presidents has been closer to fifteen months in the past decade. So, it is not unlikely that we will see a change in upper admin before July ‘23.

  • Edited December 27, 2021 8:48 pm  by  YoungGandalf

From: Ishmael112Dec-28 3:11 PM 
To: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member Icon  (86 of 88) 
 11545.86 in reply to 11545.85 

Focus on studies:  The issue here is degree of focus.  If student focus has diminished that is a behavior which is caused.  To make a scientific statement about the cause we would need a sample of 4 year institutions where there was no Covid issue but such a sample is impossible so we must make a judgement based on what we know.  I think it is reasonable to conclude that diminution of student focus is related to Covid.  

There is also an issue of teacher focus.  Almost all teachers are older than students and susceptible to Covid.  They come to their classrooms each day not knowing if any students carry the infection.  A fair number of teachers are at an age where, if they get the disease, they will soon be on a ventilator or worse.  How can any teacher maintain focus under such a threat?  

To my mind, the extra year solution makes sense.  In the best of times some students take 5 years or more to get their degree and these are anything but the best of times.  But as you point out, higher education is organized around a 4 year cycle.  And extra year means more debt and many students have debt at the end of 4 years.  So we need a Federal Government flexible enough to fund that extra year.  Now we do not have that government.  We also need administrations which are flexible enough to make that extra year possible; I doubt we have that.  And we need students flexible enough to accept it.  I'm not sure we have enough of them either.  So in theory an extra year could be a big part of the solution but we need to make that theory work and as a society we are not. 

I will defer to your opinion on the reorganization issue.  After all you are at the university and I am not. 

However, you do not foresee any immediate change in administration.  It may well be that the current President was hired to make the changes you disagree with.  That should be considered. 

One bright spot is that if these changes are made they provide for a continuation of the physics department even if it is a slimmed down department.  Somewhat smaller physics department or other natural science departments  are much better than no departments at all.  



From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconDec-28 3:28 PM 
To: Ishmael112  (87 of 88) 
 11545.87 in reply to 11545.86 

I agree that teachers bring an extra dimension to this problem. And families, too. Can a student really focus on exams when a relative is on a ventilator or has to undergo surgery with ICUs flooded with covid cases that, if transferred would dramatically change the outcome chances?

In one way the extra year makes sense. In another it would face the education system with irresolvable problems. Imagine it done in high school, where the problems are easier to see: instead of graduating, seniors stay on for year 13. This will continue until the current pipeline has been cleared. We will need extra classrooms, extra teachers, a new curriculum. In addition, our situation will depend on whether middle schools will take the same measure. In that case, we may have enough teachers and classrooms, but the wrong kinds. XL seniors will need, say, a science classroom, not whatever room freshmen do not fill. If we hire people with the needed qualification, what will we do with them after four years when the pipeline clears? How does one transition back?

In college, the situation is similar, except that there is the added problem of covid attrition and covid year-off. Both, school and college, will also have lost teachers.


From: Ishmael112Dec-28 7:18 PM 
To: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member Icon  (88 of 88) 
 11545.88 in reply to 11545.87 

You point out that Covid problems are not just for the person who gets the disease but also for a person with close family members who get the disease.  That is true for both students and faculty.  

At the same time we don't expect Covid will go on forever.  We need to ask ourselves if we really want to make permanent changes because of a long term but still temporary problem.  Perhaps we want to defer changes until after Covid.  Then again we may see more permanent problems and decide that Covid offers an opportunity to address them.  

You comment about adding an extra year to high school.  This could be done as it is already being done in Canada and Britain; they have grade 13 which is equivalent to the first year of higher education for people who want it.  Of course space must be found but in the northeast we have had declining enrollments with schools being closed.  Perhaps there is more space available that we think.  


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