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Cornell Cattle

Best comment so far about the yawn heard ’round the world (background here) comes from an Inside Higher Ed comment thread:

Treated like cattle, students will occasionally respond inappropriately.

Margaret Soltan, November 18, 2010 6:36AM
Posted in: STUDENTS

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9 Responses to “Cornell Cattle”

  1. Clarissa Says:

    I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to blame the professor. Students nowadays, especially students at Cornell (and I know because I used to teach there), are babied by their helicopter parents and over-protective college administrators into a state of extreme childishness. Getting them to behave like reasponsible adults, or as any sort of adults, is weary work.

    I have never flipped out in public like this professor did. However, I realize that after being badgered by concerned parents over every B one dares to give to their bright little baby, after being constantly threatened and disrespected by the administration, a teacher might lose his cool momentarily.

  2. jim Says:

    appropriately … inappropriately … appropriately … inappropriately …

    I can’t decide.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Clarissa: All good points. But look at the classroom set-up here. What’s more infantilizing than that? Maybe the babies are beginning to rebel against their little tvs and little clicker toys.

  4. In the provinces Says:

    As someone who went to Cornell when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I remember some very large lecture courses–Walter La Feber’s history of US foreign relations, 600 students, Dominick LaCapra’s European intellectual history, 300 students–in dreary old classrooms, far less pleasant than the one shown in the video. But the students followed the lectures with rapt attention, and kept their yawning to themselves.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    In the provinces: I assume that’s because the lecturers really lectured; and because they lectured well.

  6. david foster Says:

    This kind of thing strikes me as a systemic problem, involving a positive feedback loop, aka vicious circle…

    Triggering factors: too many students who are there only because they feel they have to be, too many professors who don’t view teaching as a core responsibility, too many administrators who don’t think straight about how to leverage the very expensive asset of a physical campus.

    The feedback loop: Professor doesn’t develop good lecturing skills, students don’t pay attention, professor is pissed off and lets his skills decline even further, students are bored and pay even less attention, professor is even more demotivated to do a good job teaching the class, etc etc

  7. DM Says:

    @Margaret: What would you consider an ideal class size?

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Depends. Taught properly, a lower-level survey sort of course could be pretty big — 80? But as an earlier commenter pointed out, it would have to be taught. Taught. As in – there’s one person, a good lecturer, who stands up in front of all the students each class day and talks to them directly about the subject. And while there can’t really be discussion, there can certainly be questions that the lecturer will answer. By all means have discussion sessions; but the primary lecturer should be the real brains and inspiration behind the course. If the course is unable to ride on that person’s enthusiasm and erudition, find another person.

    At whatever size, a course presided over by some person who hides behind PowerPoints, reading them, not looking up, occasionally asking students to register some shit or other via their trusty clickers — forget it.

  9. Bill Gleason Says:

    I watched the video.

    I have always been puzzled why people operate that way in a class of that size and configuration, having taught some classes of that size and horrible classroom configuration.

    First, it is a very bad idea to give a class in dim light. It is possible to use power point in such a way that one can project visible images without having the light turned down so much.

    It is also possible to get a laser-pointer/remote switch for your computer so that you can change your power point slides from “out there in the studio audience.”

    This allows you to go up the right/left/center aisles and engage students directly, asking for questions or discussion. Somehow having the prof stick his face in yours seems to be keep the yawning down. It also helps a little in keeping, shall we say, irrelevant stuff from appearing on student laptops.

    You can fight technology with technology. PLUS you don’t get the neck strain that this guy suffered, if you are up a few stairs in the classroom.

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