# Other Frustrated with My Education

1. Feb 28, 2016

### cpburris

I was working tonight on a Lab Report for an upper level Undergraduate Physics course. My friend who took the class last year gave me the report he did and received a grade of 95%. I go into my work session with a set of goals for my report based on what he wrote, but as I am writing and thinking about the experiment I am coming up with new questions, learning more, realizing important things he failed to mention. And for each goal I check off I've created a new one.

Here's an example:
1) For the lab we are given the relevant equations used in the lab. For the report we are expected to expand on their derivation. For the lab we are determining the electron charge to mass ratio. My friend went through the derivation of the final equation used to get a value for e/m, fairly simple given the hints in the lab instructions and final equations. It's all well and dandy to know how to use the equations and how to derive them, but isn't it more important to know how the person who came up with the experiment went from "How can I measure the electron charge to mass ration?" to designing the experiment?

So I challenged myself to think like an experimentalist (granted I was given some direction from the hints). I knew that the Lorentz Force Law is the basis of the experiment so I tried to think how someone could have came to the conclusion that it should be used. Here is an excerpt from my lab report (with some additions in italics and parentheses):

Getting a ratio of the charge to mass of a subatomic particle via direct measurement of charge and mass is difficult if not impossible. It would instead be better to relate the charge to mass ratio to parameters that can be easily measured. Force Laws, which can always include one of the variables of interest, mass, are a good place to start. (Newton's Second Law and Conservation Laws are always a great place to start. Generalizing Newton's Second Law to all Force Laws isn't a stretch. Previously I had learned that the initial motivation for this experiment was the quest to explain the nature of cathode rays which had led to observations of them being affected by magnetic fields which led to theorizing they were made of charged particles which led to wanting to know what the charged particles were. The Lorentz Force as a starting point would make sense. So next would be thinking about the what the physical meaning and consequences of the Lorentz Force law and see where that gets you.) The Lorentz Force in particular is central to this experiment for two reasons. Firstly, a consequence of the Lorentz Force is that a uniform magnetic field will cause charges will follow circular paths of motion without effecting their speed. Secondly, the Lorentz Force equation gives a relation between the force on a particle and it’s charge. For these two reasons, for an electron with circular motion due to the Lorentz Force, the equation for centripetal force from classical mechanics which involves electron mass can be set equal to the Lorentz Force equation from electrodynamics which involves electron charge to give an expression involving both of the variables of interest.​

That was just the beginning of my quest for learning, but I think it makes my point. As a result of my quest for learning I'm really no closer to completion of the assignment, but I've learned far more.

But here's the problem. I've got other assignments to do. I can't afford to spend any more time on this one. With only so much time till the deadline for the assignment my options are
1) ignore the deadline, really learn from the assignment, and lose points for turning in the assignment late.
2) settle for learning what I have so far, hastily finish the assignment, and lose points for mistakes due to having to rush.

Now I'm going to lose a large portion of credit regardless what I learn or the quality of work I eventually turn in. Grade wise, I would have been better off completing the assignment like my friend, learning nothing, but getting it in on time with proper formatting and such.

The trade off is learn less and get a better grade, or learn more and get a worse grade. Surely the goal of education is to learn, so why am I being penalized for learning more? You could say that my greater understanding and knowledge will benefit me in a career someday, but the careers I want require I go to grad school, which I may not get into because I am passed up for the people who have opted for the "learn less and get better grade" option.

It's frustrating because I've dealt with this my entire educational career. Not just in one class, one department, or even one institution.

2. Feb 29, 2016

### cpburris

Also this, from my friends lab report which he received a high A on:

For the sake of this experiment, the electric field is
trivial because it's contribution to the motion of the electron
is minimal.
That's just straight up wrong, and bad science. There is (effectively) NO electric field affecting the electrons because the chamber is filled with mercury vapor, a conductive substance, thus there is no electric field because electric fields won't penetrate a good conductor (not completely true, one could still penetrate, but with the skin depth and where the electrons actually are in the experiment, it would have to be a pretty massive electric field).

3. Feb 29, 2016

### Student100

I don't understand the argument you're trying to make. Does learning end when you turn in the assignment?

The point of the assignment, or really any undergraduate assignment is to learn the core of what's being discussed. It isn't so you suddenly become an expert on the subject matter.

Turn in the assignment meeting the core of the criteria to earn the best grade possible-no one's stopping you from exploring the topic further when you have time.

4. Feb 29, 2016

### chiro

Hey cpburris.

I think you actually have a valid point concerning a trade-off between deep learning and just learning - but the thing is that there is only so much one can do in a finite time period.

Usually people get deep learning over the course of a career - or at the very least by having mental processes doing their thing in the background.

The thing is that in many educational institutions - you don't decide the actual outcomes: the people that make and teach the courses do.

Whenever anything is finite - be it time, energy or anything else - there will always be a trade-off.

If I were you I'd try and find out what is trying to be taught versus what is not and get a sense of why. You may not like it (just like many others in your situation) but least you will be able to make sense of it and think about its validity (or lack thereof).

5. Feb 29, 2016

### micromass

Using the lab report from somebody else who received an A, that is called cheating. Which means your conduct is dishonest and immoral.

6. Feb 29, 2016

### cpburris

Part of my argument is how messed up it is that all that a good grade in a senior level undergraduate course requires is simple instruction following and not actual thought. Should be training people to think not follow instructions. The other part that frustrates me is I have ADD and it isn't so easy for me to just ignore burning questions I have and come back to them later. Even medicated, the effort I put into trying to push them to the back of my mind doesn't allow me to focus at best and gives me a screaming migraine at worst. Wouldn't be such a problem if they were irrelevant questions, but when then are the things I believe should actually be important but aren't because educational goals are messed up, then it bothers me.

7. Feb 29, 2016

### cpburris

Not copying his lab report at all. Helpful to know teacher expectations though and such.

8. Feb 29, 2016

### micromass

I don't care whether you copy it. You're using his lab report to see teacher expectations. That's cheating. Other students do not have this opportunity and hence will do worse.

9. Feb 29, 2016

### cpburris

Outside resources are allowed as long as proper citation is given. No different than looking at examples of good articles in publications. If I asked my friend to look over mine and give me his opinions would it be any different? If I did that and he told me I forgot to include an Abstract is that any different than looking at his and seeing he included an Abstract and I forgot to include one?

We can agree to disagree, but I'd prefer not clutter the thread with arguments over Academic Dishonesty

10. Feb 29, 2016

### Student100

It seems relevant to the thread, in one breath you're complaining about assignments in which you don't need to think deeply to do well, in the other you're saying "I'm using my friends lab from last year so I don't have to think." Which is it?

How have you made it through your other classes with these issues? Why is this a problem now?

I don't know why a senior level lab course would have cookie cutter type labs, but it sounds like you're projecting personal issues onto your classes and then blaming them for somehow failing you personally- when the course wasn't made for you specifically but scores of other students as well.

What I said above is the way undergraduate courses are typically structured, you need to let some things go and realize there isn't enough time in a four year degree to turn students into masters of every subject in x. Digging deeper into a subject is fine, with proper time management - something I suspect you lack.

11. Feb 29, 2016

### cpburris

First of all, let me clarify my use of my friends lab report. Primary use: identification of genre conventions. i.e. Figure captions, Abstract, italicizing variables, inclusion of explanation of methods, uncertainty analysis. These things do not need citation. They are common to all examples of the particular writing genre. Authors don't cite the first person to title a book because they used a title. Any use beyond that is properly cited and credit given.

Secondly, yes this is my personal issue. Is there something wrong with sharing personal issue with peers? Is that not a healthy way to deal and cope with them?

Thirdly, yes I have made it through other classes with these issues, but my grades have suffered. Not unjustly based on current criteria, but I do believe that the grading and assessment structure, and hence the criteria of the vast majority of higher education centers in the United States is flawed and I am suffering for it. I think there is too much teaching people what to think and not how to think, and that rote memorizing and regurgitating facts and algorithms for solving specific problems is the best way to succeed. You are free to disagree.

12. Feb 29, 2016

### Student100

It becomes unhealthy when you expect criteria to modified to accommodate you. How's this going to affect you in graduate school, or as a working professional. Deadlines will follow you to the grave. If you refuse to meet them because you don't feel like you've explored everything possible, to the most finite detail, you aren't going to make it very far. Will you always want processes to be changed to adapt to you personally? If it's a bad as you say it is now, it's only going to get worse.

Again, the processes in place weren't made for you, they were made to gauge the understanding of many different personalities of students and set some kind standard for learning. They aren't flawed, they do what they set out to do relatively better than any other system.

Undergraduate studies aren't the place where students gain a deep knowledge of anything, but a broad, if shallow, one in many different areas. Your grades are suffering because you refuse to adapt to the criteria, and can't manage your time properly. You need to figure out how to live in the system.

13. Feb 29, 2016

### cpburris

I don't expect criteria to be modified to accommodate me. I accept that the criteria is what it is and try to adapt. I don't just blatantly refuse to adapt. As to wether things are flawed or not, thats an opinion and I have no problem with disagreeing with you or anyone else on it. And while I agree to a certain point about what you are saying about figuring out how to live in the system, history is full of examples of many great things that were not accomplished until people challenged the established way of doing things, and I think shows that a certain level of questioning the system is healthy and necessary for advancement.

14. Feb 29, 2016

### Staff: Mentor

Edit; reopened after removal of several off topic posts.

Last edited by a moderator: Feb 29, 2016
15. Mar 1, 2016

### Orodruin

Staff Emeritus
The goal of education is not learning in general, it is learning the specific curriculum in the courses you take. If you start going deeper into something, you will have less time to spend on doing other things - things which are included in the curriculum - and so your grades suffer. You are being penalised for learning the wrong things.

It should also be mentioned that it is not only factual knowledge which is important. Secondary skills, such as being able to focus on the relevant parts and handing in before deadline, are often just as important, if not more.

16. Mar 1, 2016

Staff Emeritus
Um, no. The chamber is surely at a near-vacuum with only a small bit of mercury vapor in it. At these pressures, mercury is not a conductor. (Indeed, a mercury vapor lamp has negative resistance, which is why a ballast needs to be added so that the tube doesn't blow itself up) The fact that liquid or solid mercury conducts doesn't mean that a low-pressure vapor is conductive.

It sure doesn't sound like you are willing to adapt. It sounds like the class curriculum is X, Y and Z, but you want to do 3X, 0 and 0. Which is your choice, but you shouldn't expect in that case to get a certification that you have in fact learned X, Y and Z.

All those people you are talking about accepted the consequences of their actions and decisions.

Last edited: Mar 1, 2016
17. Mar 1, 2016