Sunday, May 6, 2007

College is a Full-Time Job

I remember well hearing a student of mine tell a friend that she figured out that her calculus and physics classes took about 30 hours a week (between class and homework), making them almost a full time job! [I used that conversation as a teachable moment to tell her and her friend that most engineers say that it only gets harder and more expensive in the later years of that major.] She got it. And she got her degree in Chemical Engineering (easily one of the hardest majors out there) last year.

Simple math, really. Five hours in my physics class (including lab) and five hours in calculus, plus 10 hours each for homework. That adds up to 30 hours, as just the minimum expectation for those classes. But that is certainly not what most students think when they see the schedule of classes and think it means they only have to put in two hours per day on school.

That is basically what two recent articles, a Reality Check from RightWing Prof and College is Hard from Joanne were saying. They are right on the money. Sadly, the old CHE article cited by RWP (and something similar I read over on IHE in early April) shows that not everyone on either side of the HS / College divide get this. Several seem to buy into lowered expectations, although I might sympathize with the "public university science professor", since he is probably at a place where they don't intercept students into college preparatory classes. If he is, then he just has to make sure that those classes raise the students from wherever they are intellectually when they leave HS to where they need to be to go to college.

I even know that one of the faculty at my own college is in the same state of Denial as ones quoted in that article. He has lower expectations for his summer calc class because of the time constraints. I say, tell them the first day that when the class meets for 90 minutes a day (in a compressed summer schedule), that means they need to do 3 hours of HW every night. They better not be taking 3 other classes.

Unlike RWP, I endorse the mentor concept. I'm not so cynical as to believe that the problems are solely the domain of educlation colleges, although that is part of the problem. After all, I have a PhD, years of research and teaching experience, but zippo knowledge of what goes on in a 3rd year engineering classroom. Or, I should say, I didn't until I talked to my CC alumni and some engineering faculty. I learned some things that have tweaked my teaching and, more importantly, my testing and homework. It would not hurt for some HS teachers to hear what college writing and math teachers have to say about fluency in those skills.

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