Friday, September 04, 2009

Linear Annoyance

I don't really understand why I am finding my linear algebra class so annoying this semester. The professor is pretty nice, I understand the material relatively well, and it's not like the other kids are beating me up and taking my lunch money. But I find myself really annoyed in that class.

First, I guess, it's the kind of classroom I hate - jam packed with desks that are a little too small for me to feel comfortable in, and fairly full of students. Last night the guy to one side of me kept resting his feet on one part of my desk, and the girl behind me (I think it was her) was lightly tapping my desk with her feet. I wanted to kill them both. The time before that, someone directly behind me was eating a bag of chips. There is no way to get any personal space in there, even in the basic ways.

My other class (advanced calculus, aka real analysis) is taught in a really straightforward fashion - the professor comes to class with an agenda, and he pushes us through it, showing us whatever axioms, theorems, lemmas, corollaries, proofs, and so on he has prepared. People ask questions and those questions are answered, but for the most part, it's a straight-up lecture, and it proceeds at a pace I can barely keep up with. I am usually exhausted by the end of the class (which also occurs at 8:50 PM, about 11 1/2 hours after I leave home in the morning), but I keep wanting to go back.

My linear algebra professor is much less planful. She will typically put our textbook under the overhead projector thing and show us some problem she wants us to work through, and then she'll collaboratively work through it with us on the board. People contribute their ideas, thoughts, questions, challenges, etc., continually, and eventually she takes us through the problem.

Perhaps partly because I've had the first half of this course before, the pace is really excruciating. Last night the first 45 minutes were spent reviewing what a function (or mapping) is, and those terms like "onto" and "one-to-one" that I have learned in several other classes already in my college career but that my classmates apparently had a lot of confusion over.

Eventually I tuned out and started working on some advanced calculus homework. I was able to get a fair amount of that done during the remainder of the class, but it was an annoying time, listening to people talk and ask questions and make [often wrong] assertions.

I've had classes that were more collaborative like this before, and that I enjoyed, like my discrete math class a couple of semesters ago. But discrete math only had about 12 students, and this class has about 25, which seems to make a difference for me.

I basically sound, even to myself, like a horrible person who has no tolerance for the learning processes of others. But I just find it very frustrating to sit in a room, as a student, and "get" things in 1/10th the time that is spent on them. It's like being in grade school again, listening to some kid try to read out loud, hearing him pause at the end of every line, trying to force myself to read along with him. I quickly give up and just read. (No wonder I was zoned out in classes so much as a kid.)

I also hate the way she (the prof) does homework. She assigns fairly hard problems, and when I do the homework I have to spend substantial time figuring them out and writing them up. I appreciate that. But then the class session before the homework is due, she encourages people to spend the first entire hour of class asking questions about the homework problems. And that makes me feel like either there wasn't much point to my doing the homework, or there isn't much point to my being in class now. (I admit I am ignorant of educational best practices, but I basically completely disagree with this use of class time. Homework help is what your fellow students and/or office hours are for.)

Did I mention she also takes attendance, and that "class participation" is 10% of our grade?


Sally said...

It's bad when something makes you feel like there wasn't any point in doing the homework (especially when it's challenging problems), given that the real reason for doing the homework is so you will learn the material... and do well on exams, of course. But I think I am likely to feel the same way (at least to a certain extent) in that situation.

Perhaps she believes that confusion is so pervasive that she might as well help everyone at the same time in class with their problem with Q26 than deal with 15 students showing up at her office/wanting to make arrangements to see her when her office hours don't match up with their own availability/schedule? I don't know.

Tam said...

She may even be right. I'm just not sure how to deal with my own boredom and peevishness.