How’m I Doing? It’s Hard to Tell
Week 5 has begun, and I honestly can’t tell whether it’s coming together or the wheels are coming off.
I have a math test coming up in a couple of days (it’s on Wednesday evening for a Tuesday/Thursday morning class, for no reason I can ascertain), and while I’m pretty solid on the stuff we covered in the first couple of weeks, the last week’s worth of material is… nebulous. I mean, I can get the homework problems right if I keep plugging, and I think I know why the right answers are right once I have them, but it isn’t as automatic as I’d prefer these things to be when I’m going into an exam situation – particularly since the exam is an Old-Fashioned Paper Test, calculators/notes/textbook not allowed, just like in the olden days. Clearly I need to study more. The problem is, I’m not sure I know how.
On the plus side, tomorrow’s lecture period will be devoted to test review, so hopefully we’ll be able to get some tips from Prof. Zoroya on things like the exam format itself as well as the material it’s covering. I expect there will be a significant discontinuity between online coursework and old-school proctored examinations, and that structuring a course to switch from one to the other at an evaluationally critical moment may prove slightly… less than optimal.
For example: Doing a sort of math that involves a lot of graphing (as the area of precalculus we’re in right now does) is a bit odd in an online context, as "graph this function" type problems inevitably become more of a multiple choice "which of these graphs is the one for this function" questions – which is not the same thing at all and can often be intuited without resorting to the techniques that would be needed to produce an actual graph. And I suspect the latter will be what we have to do on the Old-Fashioned Exam, regardless of what the online homework system has trained us for. This will be an interesting exploration of the junction of old and new teaching methods – I just wish my GPA wasn’t in the mix.
In other news, I have an appointment to meet with my EE instructor tomorrow afternoon to go over some stuff on this week’s homework and, in all likelihood, do a postmortem on last week’s homework (discussed in the previous post). I’m ambivalent about this, because while Andy clearly knows his stuff, his teaching style often rubs me up the wrong way a bit. He reminds me of something someone said about GweepCo back in the old days: "You guys are a tough crowd." He comes across as a very brisk, sink-or-swim kind of guy, one of the People Who Know What They’re Doing, and he gives a definite sense that if you fall overboard, the boat ain’t stoppin’. That kind of kein Mitleid für die Mehrheit attitude was fun when I was also one of the cool kids, but now that I’m not sure I am, it’s nervous-making.
(Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – "If this guy has that kind of attitude, why have they got him teaching ECE 101? The class for people who don’t know what they’re doing?" I’m not really sure myself, unless their idea was basically, "Let’s give these kids a taste of what the engineering profession will do to them if they show any weakness." Which, if that is the case, and is anything like accurate, reinforces my growing misgivings about the field I’ve chosen.)
First exam in that course is a week from Friday. The day before, I’m scheduled to be in Scarborough meeting with my neurologist’s officemate for a third opinion. Hmm.
As an aside, I was eating a (really rather good) giant pretzel in the Memorial Union caf today when I happened to notice a big banner on the wall proudly declaring that the University of Maine is committed to stamping out discrimination on any grounds. To drive that point home, the banner’s background image was a mosaic of some grounds on which they won’t discriminate, in various typefaces and colors. I can’t say I’m on board with the art design – it’s very post-Wired – but one of the words did catch my eye: "Ability". I’m not sure I follow. The university can’t discriminate on the basis of ability now? Does that mean that being crap at math is not going to be an obstacle to a degree in engineering or science? Because if so, maybe all this self-doubt is needless.
Anyway. No astronomy this week; the overcast socked in yesterday afternoon and looks like it might – might – break on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the only time of year when you can really count on that not happening is in the summer, when the class isn’t offered. I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be one of those semesters when the observatory’s only open once in a whole semester of Mondays. It won’t hurt my grade – the grading system in AST 110 has been calibrated to take the possibility into account – but it will make me a bit sad.