Instructor, section, familiarity with subject may affect class experience

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There is a perception amongst K-State students that the coursework and material in certain classes is not consistent between professors.

Chris Gieringer, sophomore in computer science, said he had not been advised to take or avoid certain courses; he had his own notions about the difficulty of classes.

“I took a calculus class last semester,” Gieringer said, who is currently retaking the same course. “We seemed to go through the material a lot faster than now, when I’m retaking it.”

Gieringer said he chose a different instructor on purpose when he was retaking the class.

“I felt that my instructor last time was very fast moving in regards to covering the material,” Gieringer said. “That’s fine if you have an idea of what you are doing, but if are looking at it for the first time then it’s intimidating to take notes and keep up.”

Gieringer said that there is definitely an improvement this time around.

“I feel that we are taking more time on the material when we cover it in class,” Gieringer said.

Others have had the experience of retaking a class and doing better, as well as being given recommendations for certain teachers.

“I have been recommended away from certain teachers,” said Kyle Gilliam, senior in social science. “The ones I normally get recommended away from are teachers with accents that are really thick or classes where the instructor never seems to slow down in the lecture.”

Many students said that the problem seemed to be concentrated in science classes.

“Science-based classes, anything where you would use formulas, you have a situation where you have what you need put on the board but after that the teacher just jumps into it,” Gilliam said. “There have been professors from classes I’ve had being much easier the second time around.”

Gilliam also said that language barriers might be contributing to the disconnect between students and teachers.

“It may be the language barrier, it could be teaching style. I’ve retaken a physics class and a calculus class,” Gilliam said. “In those, I think teaching style is the most important. You can have that lingual disconnect but people can account for that.”

Thomas Muenzenberger, director of undergraduate studies in mathematics, said while he never retook a class, his observations of students, professors and graduate teaching assistants leaves him unsurprised to learn that some students experience a class differently when they do retake a class.

“It should be no surprise if one retakes a class, you will have a different experience,” Muenzenberger said. “You can have one just by changing sections.”

While it could have something to do with the change in the teachers, Muenzenberger said it could also have to do with a change in the students.

“A student that repeats the course should do better with their expanded knowledge base from the first time they took it. They know what they will be seeing,” Muenzenberger said. “You can go to a rock concert and what you hear could just be noise to you. You then discuss it with your friends, maybe ask a few musicians. After going to your next concert you would say that the music is better from your experience, from what you learned.”

In an Austrailian study, John Hattie, of the University of Auckland, looked at what factors in the classroom create a successful learning environment. According to the research, 50 percent of the responsibility for learning falls on the student, while only 30 percent is on the instructor. Home, schools and peer effects make up for the final 20 percent.

Muenzenberger said the university regulates courses for consistency. He said that mathematics faculty all over the world come to a consensus on a list of topics that should be taught in calculus. The difference of how the curriculum is taught is the human aspect, which is often referred to as academic freedom, according to Muenzenberger.

“The university takes great care putting safeguards in to make sure the product is consistent within a degree of reason,” Muenzenberger said.

Each teacher is given the course topics they have to cover, according to Muenzenberger, then they are free to decide what order to present them in and how to stress certain concepts. This is so the graduate teaching assistants can learn for themselves what works for the students.

So while in some cases a small variation that occurs semester to semester might benefit a student retaking a course, a greater change might occur from the student learning something for the second time.

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