Revoking the License to Steal

Disclaimer:  The following may or may not include fabrication, exaggeration, or other inaccuracies which, along with the absence of names, are specifically designed to protect the innocent and guilty alike as well as provide comedic effect.  Continue at your own risk.

2nd Disclaimer:  Don’t you hate when you forget to check the little PFP box so it posts to the right place?

Recently, I was having a discussion with two colleagues/classmates who both also aspire to the honored profession of providing higher education.  We started talking about the tenure track and one said simply that he was looking forward to getting tenure so he could go fishing several days a week.  Now he was likely joking, at least in part, but his comment brought to light the murkier concept that there are professors out there whose receipt of tenure is tantamount to receiving a license to steal.  A free pass to cruise until retirement.  I find this incredibly unjust and if given the chance to change one thing about the higher education system, that would be it.  I don’t want to get rid of tenure entirely, but I do want to add a review cycle to that tenure whereby retaining the status is easier than obtaining it to begin with but is by no means a certainty.  The review should be influenced just as much by the ability of a professor to make money for the department through research as the professor’s ability to teach – a responsibility that I personally value far higher than the other research, service, or any other characteristic.  Thus, the review would by necessity involve students, whether in person or through some modified review forms beyond the classic course evaluations currently in widespread use.  I would consider the system fair and just if it weeded out those professors who really don’t have any business being at the university.  I have met a few of those.  A selection includes:

The Dead Wood:  A professor who seems to offer very little to the advancement of knowledge.  Their last publication was within a few months of receiving tenure and their syllabi haven’t changed since the last century.  Float away, sir.  Far down river, please.

The Pompous Ass:  This is the prof who questions your method of solution, which at the root level is exactly correct, just because it isn’t how he would approach the problem.  He goes on further to explain just how errant your ways are, whether you are more comfortable and faster doing it your way or not.  Well, my way wouldn’t be to ask for a resignation.  You can explain to me the error of my way when I fire you loudly and forcefully.

The Incurable Bigot:  This is a world-renowned university with students from various countries and backgrounds.  Yes, some may speak English with a heavy accent, but that in no way gives you the right to pick on them, call them out, or insult their heritage.  You know that course evaluation that said you should be fired immediately?  That was me.  And no, I was not picking on you because of your ethnic last name that you claim no one knows how to pronounce.  But I do know how to pronounce “gone”.

The Cure for Insomnia:  There are those in this world not meant to hold the attention of a classroom full of students for an hour at a time.  That is fine and to be expected.  But then there are those who can put you to sleep despite you having just chugged a 5-hour energy drink with a hot coffee chaser.  I think you need to consider a career change.  I understand the sleep lab at the hospital is hiring.

The Stickler:  Okay, so we have a grading scale that gives a 94 as an A.  And a 93.97 average with a 99 on the cumulative final is not a 94.  But seriously?  You have to give the lower grade?  Technically, you have to round up unless you required a 94.00 for an A.  But I have a better suggestion.  The accounting profession is woefully short on anally retentive types.  I will even write you a reference letter.

With all luck, and hard work, I won’t be the subject of a student’s lampoons at any point in my future career.  But if I am, just make sure you come up with a witty nickname, okay?

Posted in PFP13F, Teaching Philosophy, Uncategorized

American blinders

During the first night of our around-the-world tour of education, I had this overwhelming sense of the arrogance/complacency/stupidity/ignorance/blindness that I have as an American.  I realized somewhere in there just how much I (and I suspect most of us in the States) take for granted.

The first issue was choice.  In some other countries, we have 14-year-olds choosing their future and nearly stuck on that path without the option of changing their minds.  Here, when I was a senior in high school, they told me “you can be whatever you want to be”.  I have a nearly infinite array of choices and even after picking my initial path, switching majors was a piece of cake.  Then choosing a career that really wasn’t in my major.  Then choosing to switch careers a couple times, then choosing to come back to school in a major that was sorta close to all of what I had done before but in an effort to switch careers again into teaching.  I didn’t really realize just what a luxury having all those choices at my fingertips was.  One of the freedoms I have also just taken for granted.

The second issue that struck me was the inherent assumptions that we (and here I have to include at least our instructor) make about our foreign colleagues/classmates.  The session was set up for foreign students to tell the class about the education system in their countries, starting with elementary school.  But did anyone else notice that we never educated those from other countries about what the system is here in the United States?  Do we assume that they already know?  Why would they?  Or, more insidiously, do we truly think this should be a one-way exchange?  I doubt that Dean DePauw set up the session with the intent of being unfair, but don’t our foreign brethren deserve the same opportunity to compare their system to ours that we got by listening to their stories?  It seemed to me that a large portion (20%?) of our class was being short-changed.  As I said, I don’t think it was on purpose, but I do think it is part of the blinders we wear as Americans.  And realizing this, it opened my eyes a bit.  I hope I can work on setting those blinders aside to make me a better professor.

And in the meantime, I want to share a little bit of our system, based on my own experiences both as student and parent.  Others may have a totally different take on our early education system so I hope they take the opportunity to fill us all in with their own experiences.

The first thing to note is that policies on education vary from state to state or even from county to county.  For example, I started my kindergarten year at age 4 in Pennsylvania.  Half way through, we moved to Virginia where they deemed that I had started a year early so they kicked me out and I had to start all over again the following fall.  Of course, back then, kindergarten was a half-day program whose main skill taught was finger painting, so being thrown out wasn’t much of a set back.  Today, kindergarten has more of a curriculum with my kids going a full day and learning to read within that year.  Then I had 6 more years of elementary school to be followed by 2 years in an “intermediate” school.  I was in a county with lots of tax base, so the offerings in 7th grade included lots of languages (I chose Latin), music classes (I chose beginning guitar) and lots of levels of basic classes like math (they pushed me into algebra, a class typically for 8th graders).  Most of the way through my 7th grade year, we moved to a different county that was less wealthy and a lot of my choices went away.  I was then in what that county referred to as a “middle” school, including 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.  That model seems to be the most common in this region now, though I know of schools in more rural areas that go all the way from kindergarten through 8th.  In my case, I had to forget Latin and re-start on French in 8th grade.

High school is 9th through 12th grades, so with the age requirements for kindergarten, the vast majority of students graduate at the age of 18.  State law requires parents to send their kids to school, except in the case of “home schooling”.  Public schools are free to attend and with the mandatory attendance, caters to all levels of academic aptitude.  The curriculum is fairly rigid, or at least it was when I went.  In certain years, you study certain courses with maybe a third of your schedule open for electives.  Each required subject (math, social studies, English, etc.) is taught at various ability levels.  Grades are similar to Virginia Tech though in most cases, a broader range is used for each letter grade.  The letter grades are translated to a number scale (4.0 when I went) and you have a GPA.  Just after I graduated high school, my county went to a 5.0 scale for advanced classes so that basically you take the 4-point scale and add 1.  It was an easier way to distinguish those of us who struggled through classes like calculus or 5th-year French from those who took less grueling subjects.  I am still bummed that they didn’t have that system when I graduated, as I likely would have placed a few spots higher in my class.

The process of getting into college is somewhat variable, depending on the university.  Just about all of them require standardized tests (the SAT’s) with some needing more subject specific tests (ACT or Achievements).  Students take these tests usually in the 11th grade and have the opportunity to re-take them as many times as they want with the composite score being the best individual score from all the attempts.  When I took the SAT, there were only two subjects, Math and English, but now I believe they have split English into two different tests.  My final score for college admission purposes was my English from the first time I took it and my Math from the second time.  My scores were pretty high by the standards of the time, but in talking to various people recently, it seems that scores today are significantly higher than they were then.  If you read Virginia Tech’s info, the median score today is in the mid 1300’s but back when I came here as an undergrad, they were in the 1100’s.

In addition to test scores and grades, different colleges look for different things.  Like extra-curricular activities, admission essay, etc.  And different programs within colleges have different requirements.  For example, I know a girl who is making 4 college trips in October and November to audition for their dance programs.  Her sister is dance major with a math minor and intends to go to medical school after graduation.  Certainly not the typical path but indicative of all the opportunities and choices we have in the system.

And then there is the undergrad experience.  Some universities require you to pick a major before you arrive while others assume that all freshmen are “undeclared” giving them a chance to adjust to college before picking a major.  A large percentage of students change their minds on their major at least once during their academic careers and thus, 4 years is only an estimate on how long you will be in school.  In my case, I switched once and slacked off a lot so spent 6 years getting a 4-year degree.  Because of my financial need, I got some assistance from the federal government, but wound up borrowing thousands and thousands of dollars to finish.

So hopefully with this brief introduction, students from the more “rigid” countries can see there is a very large difference in how we do things in the United States.  And, you can get a feel for just how variable and flexible our system is.  As for my fellow Americans, if you read this far, maybe like me, you got a sense of just how fortunate we are to have what we have.

Posted in PFP13F, Teaching Philosophy

1940?? Really??

I have recently gone through the 1940 document on Academic Freedom and Tenure and found the magic 7 year tenure track number.  This dates back over 70 years?  Wow.  It may be time for an update.

Let’s assume that a big part of obtaining tenure is research and publication.  Think about how that was accomplished in 1940.  Let’s say I wanted to study the behavior of widgets.  I get a bunch of them, test them, write down my results in a notebook, fire up my pencil and paper and spend months crunching data.  Then I pull out my manual typewriter and start typing away, maybe stopping from time to time to spend a few hours hand-drawing the figures that would accompany my article.  So in 7 years, how many studies can I finish and publish?  2?  3?

Now think about today.  I get my widgets and run the tests.  Given modern equipment, depending on the tests, they probably run a lot faster.  I record my data into my spreadsheet and almost instantly have my analysis.  I copy and paste that into my word processor, re-format, put out a pdf and and ship it via email to my reviewers and eventually, the publication.  How many of those can I do in 7 years?

I am not saying that the system is flawed.  In fact, I would think that the 7 years is likely a good amount of time to gain the academic mindset that one would likely need to be an effective professor.  But, the standards for performance have certainly changed in the 70+ years since the 7-year timeline was created.  Should it be re-visited?  What do you think?

Posted in PFP13F, Teaching Philosophy

A story of professional ethics

As I have mentioned in class, I have been around a while, working as a professional engineer for many years between my B.S. and M.S./PhD studies.  During that time in the “real world”, I have had the opportunity to serve as an expert witness on several cases.  One in particular stands out as appropriate to our discussion of ethics.

For those not really familiar with the civil suit in the construction industry, the basic summary is that two sides disagree on what a particular construction problem is, where it came from, who is to blame, and/or who should fix it.  Each side typically hires experts who sometimes can agree on basic technical points but invariably disagree on the major aspects of responsibility.  On one such case, I was acting on behalf of one of the defendants, essentially saying that though the product turned out badly, and ultimately failed (resulting eventually in a death), my client built in accordance with industry standards and per the structural design which was flawed.  I reached my conclusions based on my personal experience, research, and calculations and was pretty comfortable with what I put in my report.

On the other side of the case was an engineer who blamed my client quite extensively and he backed up his opinion with what I considered inappropriate leaps of engineering logic.  In my opinion, he wasn’t qualified to discuss the specific technical issues.  Without going into the specifics, he had a lot of expertise with things the size of tractor trailers and was trying to use that knowledge on things the size of matchbox cars.  It just doesn’t translate (in this instance).  So, I turned to my profession’s code of ethics for guidance.

In civil engineering, there isn’t necessarily a single pledge you take when you get your degree or your registration, but generally, you can rely on the American Society for Civil Engineers and their code to assist.  In a “rebuttal” report, I pointed to the Fundamental Canon item 2, that an engineer should practice only in areas of competence and suggested that my adversary may not be in line with the code of ethics.  It wasn’t a flat out accusation but was intended to raise the question and cast his work in doubt.

So, fast forward to my deposition.  The attorney for the other side latched onto my statement and started quizzing me.  “Do you have a degree in ethics?”  No.  “Have you taken course in ethics?”  No.  “Do you have any special training in ethics?”  No.  “Then, by pointing out someone else’s failure to practice within their competence, aren’t you guilty of the same thing?”  This is where I stumbled a little.  Luckily, he stumbled through the question and I had him repeat it a couple times to make sure I understood.  It gave me time to think.  I was proud of my answer at the time, but it certainly has made me think a lot since and in the current discussion, maybe it will make you think.  It was something along the lines of:

“No.  By expecting me to adhere to the Code of Ethics, the State of [pick one] has judged me capable and competent in deciding ethical behavior.  Applying that competence should be the same for my own behavior as it is for the behavior of any other practicing engineer.”

A little cocky?  Probably.  But, the bigger issue is that we as professionals (or professors) are going to be put in the position to decide what is and what is not ethical behavior, not only for ourselves, but as we see in case studies, the behavior of our colleagues, mentors, students, and others in our field.  Our reading, contemplation, consideration, and other studying may not seem all that important or even applicable today, but there will come a time when we will need to make the judgment call and we need to be prepared to do so.

Posted in Forensic Engineering, PFP13F

It just makes me sad

In preparation for tonight’s class, I have been reading through materials on research integrity and have to say, the whole topic saddens me.  I like to consider myself a pretty honest guy and like to think that I have the integrity to weather my future career without these types of problems, but…  Based on my reading, there will be challenges.

I considered three categories of reading.  First, the case studies of who did what and what happened to them.  It was interesting (and dovetailed with the recent conflict of interest course I took as part of my own grant) but I was somewhat disappointed in the results of the cases.  In a number of instances, the punishment from the government merely limited the ability of a particular researcher to do additional research for the government.  Now, they don’t discuss what other steps were taken by the institutions involved, so I am sure that a number of careers were wrecked in these cases, but the government seems a little lenient to my naive and not-yet-in-the-grind-of-research-academe eyes.

The second category were the case studies that did not result in action taken by the government.  The majority essentially said “the institution handled it and we stayed out of it”.  I can stand behind institutions having a responsibility to self-police their researchers, but in those instances where misconduct was found, shouldn’t the government have taken action?  There was one particular case I liked that was very different than the falsifying data majority where a grant proposer mis-represented his doctoral degree as an M.D. rather than the PhD he actually had.  The conclusion was that though the letters were different, his qualifications were appropriate so there was no misconduct.  Hmmm… I guess we can just make up any letters we want?

So, given those readings, I was getting a pretty bleak picture of research institutions.  The pressure to produce, and publish, was driving intelligent researchers to cheat.  I thought about how I would blog on this subject and really wanted to focus less on the cheaters and more on the heroes.  People like the engineer who pro-actively pointed out a design flaw on the Citibank building in New York that, though did not violate building codes, did have the potential to cause major problems.  So I searched for case studies on whistleblowers.  You know, the people who stand up for what’s right.  I came up with a news article from Kentucky:

For those who don’t want to read it, the summary is that a researcher found his boss to have falsified grant proposals, claiming to have used resources the university didn’t actually have.  The fallout seemed to be a lot of “he said he said” back and forth and the result is that the “cheater” is now employed as a high school teacher (with a recommendation letter from someone higher up at the university) and the “hero” was dismissed from the institution and can’t get a job.

So I want to enter a profession, where at least in some cases, the pressure to produce is so high that people cheat and in some of those cases, the cheater prospers (to an extent) and the person who did the right thing loses all.  That, my colleagues, is just sad.

Posted in PFP13F

The Part-Time Trend

Okay, so I thought more about this on the way home and decided a blog post was in order.  There is something about the statistics on part-time faculty members that just doesn’t sit right with me.  Now, it could be that I was still reeling from hearing for the first time that my nearly 2 decades of professional experience will count for nearly zero when it comes to obtaining tenure.  So, feel free to read on with a grain of salt.

Numbers don’t lie.  We engineers like that for the most part.  So I fully believe the numbers and that there are more faculty members by percentage who are part-time than full-time and that the numbers have trended up since at least 1975.  But I am not sure I can buy into the reason for that trend that we discussed, namely that it was a financial decision.  I was reminded of an example I heard in a grad-level statistics class I took some years ago.  Did you know that smokers are more likely to have car accidents than non-smokers?  Is it because they are distracted while lighting up?  No.  The study cited showed a direct correlation between smoking and drinking.  And we all know there is a direct correlation between drinking and car accidents.  So, indirectly, there is a correlation between smoking and car accidents.  But, does that mean that smoking causes the accidents?  No.

So, why do we have so many part-timers these days?  I put forth this hypothesis.  Consider how many majors were available at Virginia Tech in 1975.  A quick Google search didn’t give me that information but I did learn that was the first year we had a female cadet.  Interesting.  Since that time, it is my guess that we have developed a number of additional majors and departments as knowledge becomes more and more diversified.  I would also guess that as our reputation and quality has increased, we (VT) have made an effort to get more and more expertise in our teachers and researchers.  If I were looking to have expertise in 100 diverse subjects, it seems to me that hiring 100 different experts rather than 20 jack-of-all-trades would make sense.  Yes, it is likely cheaper, but it also better serves the academic mission of the university.

Or how about this hypothesis.  In 1975, how many study at home programs were there?  How many extension campuses, virtual campuses, or other institutions set up specifically to cater to part-time students?  With on-demand learning opportunities for professional development, rather than the more traditional on-campus models, how did the teaching approach change?  How many of those courses are taught by part-time faculty members?

Obviously, I ask more questions than I answer, as I really don’t know.  My intent isn’t to answer them at the moment, but perhaps to start a dialog.  And, in the spirit of tonight’s discussion, I am open to co-authoring or other acknowledgement should any of you wish to turn these hypotheses into a scholarly essay.  *chuckle*

Posted in PFP13F

The Pre-Prof Grad School Experience

For any familiar with my personal blog, you know that I often come up with seemingly random thoughts that somehow I think warrant blog attention.  For example, what is up with the yoga pants craze?  But it seems that today’s thought is more in line with the purpose of my GRAD blog than it is concerned with my personal observations of campus life as a non-traditional grad student.

This morning after my class (8 am classes should be undergrad level only, by the way), I spent some time catching up with a classmate.  We were neighbors for quite a while, but since I moved this summer, we haven’t seen much of each other.  The conversation turned toward discussing various professors including their knowledge base, attitudes, teaching styles, and compatibility with our individual personalities.  You see, he and I are on similar tracks.  We both have kids, both gave up a somewhat lucrative professional practice to come to grad school, and both intend to teach in the future.  And though discussing professors is quite common amongst my classmates, it occurred to me this morning that it is much different for those of us on the professor track.

When I first got here, I knew what I wanted to do afterwards and that has flavored everything I do.  I sit in classes and not only attempt to absorb the material but also think about whether I would want to teach the class and if so, how would I teach it?  Would I use the same examples?  Would I want to use PowerPoint or chalkboard or some of each?  How would I grade that bear of an assignment that takes students a month and a half to complete and a lifetime to truly understand?  I would hazard the guess that many in the PFP and Pedagogy classes have similar thoughts during their education.  In fact, Pedagogy made us consider a single class syllabus, forcing us to consider these types of thoughts, even if we hadn’t previously.

But today went beyond that.  Today prompted thoughts of what kind of professor I want to be outside the classroom.  Do I want to be the professor who plays favorites and isn’t afraid to show it?  Do I want to be on many different grad students’ committees or none? Do I want to invite students to meet at my house just because I dislike coming to campus on non-teaching days?  What kind of respect would I show to a 22-year old with a chip on their shoulder instilled at some elitist undergrad school?  Would I encourage the use of Mathematica or Mathcad or Matlab, Windows or Mac, Paper or Plastic?  A thousand questions whose answers are slowly evolving with each experience and each conversation with professors, classmates, or even near strangers who happen to enroll in the same PFP class as I have.

And in the asking and answering of these questions, I realize that the grad school experience is very different for those of us aspiring to be professors.  We may do the same research, may write the same papers, may attend the same football games (and tailgates), but we think differently.  We look to the future with a different gaze.  And at least for me, it is fulfilling to share these thoughts, in part or in total, with others in the same situation.  I look forward to my next hallway discussion and the round of questions it brings to mind.

Posted in PFP13F, Teaching Philosophy

A Man on a Mission

Once upon a time, there was a practicing engineer who decided to come back to school on a mission.  To become an engineering professor.  Now along the way, he encountered various adventures, obstacles, rewards, and some really great people.  But as his time has neared the end (okay, so maybe it is still like 21 months, but that is closer than the 5 years I started with), it is time to start considering the next phase.  Where would he want to teach?

In my time here at Tech, I have run across engineering students from around the world who have studied at universities so diverse, it would bust the blog server for me to discuss them all.  But from that rather long list, there are a couple universities that have popped out at me for various reasons.  Clemson, with its proud alumni always willing to spell the word T-I-G-E-R-S for us, just in case we forgot.  And Marshall, perhaps the original “We Are” school.  In my way of thinking, both would offer some advantages, so when asked to pick two schools to learn more about, in the form of examining their Mission Statements, I chose those.  By which I mean that I did a Google search for the university name and “mission statement”.  The top result for Clemson was from their police department.  They have their own mission statement and based on their placement in the Google listing universe, you have to wonder why exactly they are so important.  Maybe South Carolina isn’t the place for me afterall.  But, eventually, I found what I was looking for.

The two statements are as different as the school colors, though strangely compatible (unlike the combination of purple, orange and green).  Clemson offers a very concise paragraph in which it attributes its core to Thomas Green Clemson himself.  Marshall starts that way, points out that it was approved by the Board of Visitors, and then gives very specific bullet points of how the mission applies to the activities of the University, faculty, staff, students, and administration, in that order.  I wondered how administration got put last, but it was likely a lively and lengthy debate by the BoV that came up with the order, so who am I to question?  They likely debated even longer on each bullet point, but my favorite was “enhance the quality of health care in the region”.  It struck me as very odd compared to other things, but then I researched and found out they have a Medical School, so it made sense.

There was a pair of phrases used that I want to quote, because to me, they are the core essence of a mission that I embarked on over 3 years ago when I came back to school.

ClemsonThe foundation of this mission is the generation, preservation, communication, and application of knowledge.

MarshallThe University actively facilitates learning through the preservation, discovery, synthesis, and dissemination of knowledge.

Okay, so, they both want to preserve.  One says communicate while the other says disseminate.  Symantics.  One says generate while the other says synthesize.  Hmmm… are those different?  In fact, along with synthesizing, Marshall wants to discover.  As if knowledge exists in some raw form under the West Virginia mountains.  That seems strange to me.  Generating knowledge seems more comfortable, as a lot of us know what it is like to play off of a colleague and together generate energy toward a goal, learning along the way, increasing our individual knowledge bases.  But, I suppose that could be seen as discovery and maybe synthesis is just another way of describing it.  I am not an English major, so I will assume those are roughly the same.

But, the last word remaining is near and dear to my heart.  At Clemson, a land-grant university, they want to apply knowledge.  If you read the rest of the statements, it makes a lot of sense.  Clemson is more integrated into the community by design, applying the knowledge generated to the community.  Engineers like the word “application”.  It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy that what we are learning in theoretical terms promises to  have actual use to someone.

Of course, there are lots of other similarities and differences between the schools and their missions.  And I will likely spend a good bit of time researching more about them, should they have an opening advertised in the next couple years.  But for the moment, it was an interesting first look at how two different schools see and portray themselves.

Posted in PFP13F, Teaching Philosophy

A Learner-Centered Spring Break

Here it is the 4th day of Spring Break and I am finally getting around to doing something productive.  True, it consisted of looking at things to grade and setting them aside realizing that the key was on campus and I am not, but still.  That was productive.  Now I know that when I go to campus tomorrow I have to pick things up.

But, as this future teacher, I have to wonder if professors take a spring break.  I know that grad students tend not to.  Or at least those in my department.  A week without classes or homework is a week to play catch up on research or projects or a myriad of other things that is waiting in the wings.  As one who has no research or projects, it is a week for me to devote to some of my extra-curricular activities.  Or that was the plan.  Instead, my inner learner told me to slow down, enjoy some off-time and approach next week with a fresh mind ready to receive new knowledge.  Or create new knowledge.  Or whatever the right phrase is that means to learn more good stuff.

But back to the teaching part.  What do professors do when the students are off skiing or sunbathing or catching up on other activities?  Do they get the same down time to re-boot and approach next week with a fresh vigor?  Or are they also playing catch up, trying to finish off papers or proposals or other things that may need blocks of time not interrupted by the pesky business of teaching a class or grading tests?  Can they truly be at their best next week after a lazy break or will they be just as worn down by day-to-day academic life?  I suppose we will all find out come Monday.  But in the meantime, at least take a few hours to bask in the Blacksburg sun (ignore the last remnants of snow) and clear your mind.  Your inner learner will thank you.

{sorry for the code spam.  It was a lovely Spring Break graphic that I guess the system didn’t like}


Posted in Uncategorized

Another Failure, Another Lesson Learned

It’s Midterm season.  The time of the semester when stresses spike and schedules get busier and Red Bull records record profits.  As a grad student, this is not a favorite season.  In fact, given the option, I would skip it altogether.  But, my efforts to convince the world that tests are not the true measure of a student have gone unnoticed, so I show up with the rest and wrack my brain trying to prove that I know what I am talking about.

Yesterday, I failed.  Now, the actual grade may not be an “F”, but I know that I totally blew one problem.  I know exactly the idiotic mistake I made and spent most of the afternoon kicking myself for it.  I hate making stupid mistakes.  I am an engineer, dammit, and have been for a lot of years.  I should be above such things.  I should have the material so ingrained by now that it is automatic.  But, no, in the test environment, though I had it right, I second-guessed myself and changed my train of thought into a more flawed path.  And in so doing, I totally blew the problem.  It will cost me a lot, grade-wise, as a similar total brain fart did in my first semester here.

Yet… the mistake I made over a year ago is one that I will never make again.  It is still a sore spot, as it cost me a perfectly good grade in the course.  I have a feeling that the one I made yesterday I will never make again, though I don’t know its ultimate cost yet.  In every failure, we have the opportunity to learn.  We can channel these negative consequences into a lesson that will always be remembered.

As a professor, I will be in the position to decide the consequence of my students making mistakes.  Were I to comfort them and tell them it won’t hurt them, I would be doing them a disservice.  Were I to make them pay a high price for a momentary lapse in engineering judgement, they certainly would learn more in the long run.  But as I feel my own kicking, can I come to grips with knowing that my own students will be doing the same in their scholastic careers?  It is tough to think about right now.  But, in the end, I stand by my basic mantra:  Failure is Good.

Posted in Failure, Teaching Philosophy