Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stretching the Metaphor: Semester Transition State

I drew this diagram this morning in a conversation about how "tight" all of our students are these days.

If we think of the semester as a reaction with an initial state and a final state then the difference between the states must be the retained knowledge. The progress from the initial state to the final state requires input of existing knowledge, money and time, up to the transition state. I think some would put the time axis so that the transition state is the day of the final exam but I disagree. I think that the transition state is defined as the first moment after you are sure that the last student has dropped the course.
We are now past our official course drop deadline but some students are producing medical notes that they are flashing like some sort of get-out-of-jail-free coupon. So whoever is still on the ride at this point will probably ride this roller coaster to the end. Between now and the end there will be some screaming, some crying and in some cases there will be loss of bodily functions ... and then there are the students ... ba-dum-bum. But in any case we must hope that the money, time and effort results in an endoknowic transition where the student ends up knowing more than what they did initially. I mean this isn't some fool post-modern humanities course where doubt gets you an A. We all know students that were exoknowic in our courses (and you spent a lot of time with them so they could "fail ugly").

So here we are folks at the "high point" of the semester. Gird your loins, sharpen Big Red and buy a box of Kleenex 'cause the next 30 days are going to go fast.


Chemgeek said...

That's fantastic and really quite an accurate portrayal.

I feel like my students and I are approaching the transition state. The energy is getting higher as judged by the stress levels.

I sure hope my students end up in the endoknowic state.

Ψ*Ψ said...

I can only name one class that turned out exoknowic. It was a very badly taught rendition of phys org. We were supposed to learn the mechanistic side of things, but instead we spent most of a semester on MO theory (read: watching the prof screw up basic algebra). I thoroughly unlearned the Diels-Alder reaction that semester...

(also, it's nice to see that your blog is still around)

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.