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Should I take biology from this teacher?

  1. Jan 10, 2006 #1

    Math Is Hard

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    Here’s my dilemma. I am enrolled in a “hybrid” class (half online/half on campus) for my biology lab starting this spring. The nice thing about it is that I only have to be on campus one night a week. The rest of the course is online. Pretty convenient for me because I have a full time job and I might like to squeeze in another course or two in spring quarter.

    However, the professor for the class does not get very good reviews overall. You can read some of them here:

    I could change my class to one that meets two nights a week. But for this class, no professor has been assigned. I might just be trading the devil I do know for the one that I don’t know. It’s a real crapshoot. And it’s definitely less convenient.

    So I am torn. Sometimes in my classes I end up loving the professor that the other students dislike. Maybe I will really like this teacher. There seems to be a handful of students that really love him. OTOH, what if it’s a terrible experience and I end up kicking myself for not changing the class when I had the chance?

    What should I do? Time is running out to make my decision, and I've been stressing over it a little.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2006 #2
    That really sucks, I don't know what I would do. This semester I had two profs who didn't have very good reviews on rate my professors and ended up loving them. One for organic chemistry that seemed an even split between people who liked and hated her, and one for math that everyone ended up loving. On the other hand, I had one that has good reviews that I personally hated. A lot of times the people who don't try and get bad marks just go on there and give them bad ratings. I don't know what to tell you, sorry.
  4. Jan 11, 2006 #3
    I can't give you much advice either, but I'll reinforce what scorpa said. Especially with introductory-level courses (which this is, I think?), there are a lot of very lazy freshmen who don't put much effort into studying and blame their professors. I hear a lot of this in the hallways of the physics departments.
  5. Jan 11, 2006 #4


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    When I read student evaluations of someone's teaching, I look at a few different things. First, are there concrete examples of problems that show up consistently in all the evaluations, or does every student just express their own pet peeves? Second, does the student writing the evaluation sound like they actually put in effort in the class, or are they just complaining because it wasn't an easy A? Third, do any strange things jump out that are atypical to see in a teaching evaluation that indicate a serious problem.

    In these examples, I see a mixture of those. The majority sound like typical below average students whining because they are expected to know more material than just what is spoon-fed to them in lectures. That is typical for college level biology courses to need to learn a lot of the details on your own by reading the textbook, and only highlights and broad concepts are covered in class. Those complaints are also coming from the students who can't write a single sentence without egregious spelling and grammar errors. They're the whiners who are going to gripe on every medium they can find.

    A positive thing I see in the evaluations is that it has come across to at least some of the students that this professor does love his subject and that if you are confused about something, you can just ask, which means he's approachable. The downside is it sounds like a lot of students are confused...there are consistent comments that he strays from the lecture outline frequently. This certainly can lead to confusion, although if you're learning mostly online, there will naturally be more structure from that format. If you find he does stray from the outline often, as long as you're an attentive student and good at taking notes, that really shouldn't present too much of a problem. It might require staying after class once in a while to get clarification of how topics are related if he went off on tangents that distracted from making those connections. It sounds like it would also be wise to ask if material presented during those tangential discussions is part of the required learning for the class, or just supplemental material for your own edification. Likewise, I'd directly ask if the material that he does not get around to covering is still something he expects you to learn on your own for the tests.

    The only strange thing I'm seeing in those evaluations are the comments from those who seem to have gotten A's in the class who are saying you can think you've failed every test, but if you see him in office hours and look like you're putting in effort, you'll still get an A. This can mean one of two things. Either, he really wants to push the students, so grades harshly to get them to work harder, but in the end is an old softy who bumps all those grades up so he's not really failing half the class. Given the remarks that he should retire, I'm assuming he's an older professor, so this type of attitude is not uncommon...sadly, I hear from many older faculty members that they actually used to get many more students who DID work much harder and were much more motivated by those approaches than current students are. The alternative is that there is something horribly wrong with the way he grades...either giving favoritism to students who show up at his office, or the feedback they get on their exams just doesn't give them a clear indication of where they stand. Of course, it's also possible that he just gets annoyed with the students who are perpetually asking about their grades rather than learning for the sake of learning, so tells them all they're failing to get them to stop focusing on grades instead of learning.

    On the other hand, if the other class does not have someone assigned to teach it yet, this late in the game, you're likely to get someone who was just stuck with the assignment last minute who may have never taught the course before or who is unhappy about having to teach (sometimes those last minute assignments go to the people who are not teaching faculty, but are the research faculty in a slump on their grants, so the department assigns them to fill in any teaching gaps to make up for the funding they aren't bringing in at the time). Or, you might get the same person teaching both classes. You just never know.

    Knowing your work ethic and how well you learned the material in your last bio class, I'd lean toward saying you're probably going to be better off with the class that better fits your schedule and taking your chances on the older prof who enjoys his subject. Forewarned is forearmed...if he starts to go off on crazy tangents during the lecture, you'll know to expect it. You'll also know that he is not going to just test on what is presented in lecture, but material likely found in textbooks or other supplemental reading material. If you're conscientious and study the textbook plus pay careful attention in lectures and find that material is still showing up on the exam that has nothing to do with anything covered for any part of the course requirements, I'd suggest planning to meet with him right after the first exam and ask where that material came from. This should either give you insight into where he's drawing those additional questions from (I used to hear this complaint all the time from students who read all the text in the textbook, but never bothered to look at the figures, so couldn't answer the test questions based on information provided in the figure legend), or alert him that there are questions on the exam that perhaps should be excluded from the grading.
  6. Jan 11, 2006 #5
    If you are a hard worker, then I would take the class with the current professor you have. I think that as long as you do the work, almost every class will be easy. I agree with the previous posts in that ratemyprofessor seems to grade professors worse than they actually are (due to, most likely, students that are lazy). However, the guy does have a 0 on the hotness total :smile:
  7. Jan 11, 2006 #6

    Math Is Hard

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    Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it. Scorpa, I agree - there are probably more people coming to that website to complain than to praise, so I try to keep that in mind.

    Rachmaninoff - I hear you. There are a lot of students who are not very serious about their studies and seem to think they should have everything handed to them on a silver platter. I think that about half of the students at my community college are there just as a social activity, or because their parents told them they would have to go to work if they didn't take some classes. In our lab classes, the rules are very strict. No gum chewing, no eating or drinking of any kind. This is school policy - the labs are brand new so they want to keep them nice. In my last class my teacher had to tell the same group of students over and over and over to stop doing these things. I couldn't figure out if they were disrespectful or just stupid. :grumpy:

    Moonbear - thanks! I really appreciate hearing your take on the evaluations. I was thinking the same thing about those comments. There does seem to be a correlation between bad spelling/grammar and bad reviews. I know that this prof asks "short answer" questions on his tests, so if the student can't clearly communicate a response, of course he won't do well. Naturally, I also associate (gross amounts of) poor spelling and grammar with academic laziness in general. Writing reflects character.

    I have a membership to that site so I read all the reviews of this teacher. There were several complaints that he mumbled and was hard to understand. But recently, it seems he has started wearing a microphone for his lectures so it sounds like he does care about being an effective teacher, and wants to correct anything that's a problem. And I like the reviews that said "he loves to teach his subject". That's very encouraging. As for learning the material, I can probably learn pretty well from the book if necessary, and of course there is always PF! :smile: I guess my only worries are those comments about "flunking every test". I think that might be very difficult for me to handle psychologically. But surely he's not giving everyone in the class an F on the exams??!! If I were teaching a class and most students couldn't pass the exam, that would be a big red flag to me that something was very, very wrong - especially if it's a class that has no pre-requisites. I will go with your advice about meeting with him as soon as possible after the tests.

    matt - ok, I think I will take your advice then and stick with the current prof. I have a pretty strong work ethic and I enjoy biology so I don't mind spending time reading and learning about it. Who knows? Maybe I'll like this prof so much that I'll end up giving him a "chili pepper" on ratemyprofs!:wink:
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