Course at a Glance: Feedback
Feedback -- How? How much?
Feedback is the reason we have not remained moderately complex organic molecules in a primordial soup, and feedback plus spirited enterprise is a hard combination to beat as a strategy to increase your abilities. You will have a lot of feedback in this course. The spirited enterprise is up to you.
Feedback will take the form of extensive comments on exams, problem sets, and project reports -- anything that you hand in. In addition, for roughly the last third of the semester, Wednesday classes will be canceled. In their place, I will meet weekly with each of you individually, both to help you make progress on your research projects and to deal with whatever other difficulties may arise.
Grading is something different from feedback. It is an attempt to shoehorn into very few categories what is a diverse set of experiences. Individually tailored feedback can address the diversity. Grading cannot. Grades are based on a model of authority. I know the answer and you don't. I know the value of what you have done and you don't.
I will not not quantify that which is unquantifiable nor assign any grade until forced to do so by the powers that be, i.e. at the end of the semester. I find that objectifying humans exacts from me a psychic cost, leaving me with less time and energy to do things for the class that would be more valuable. So I won't do it. However, I will notify you the moment the thought crosses my mind that you are heading for an overall grade below C.
But at the end of the semester, the beast must be fed, and I'll do something. It is against my nature to do any task, even the most trivial, in an arbitrary fashion, so whatever grade emerges will be based somehow on my perceptions gathered over the semester, particularly from my observation of what you became able to do by the end.
What I will look at?
Problem Sets and
No. Problem sets and study questions lie at the heart of this course. Much time will be spent in class on them, and I expect that you'll spend even more time out of class. I encourage you to hand in your responses to problem sets, particularly to those questions you're unsure about. ...but problem sets will not be given letter grades, at least not directly (see discussion of exams). Your work will certainly be looked at, and you'll lots of comments... but no grades. Questionnaires are very valuable to me, and maybe to you, but they will not be graded. Exams Yes. Exams will not be given letter grades, but you will get considerable feedback, anad I'll certainly consider them carefully at the end of the semester. Research Project Definitely. The research project and the final symposium presentation, will count a lot, a whole lot. After all, a major aim of the course is to enable you to conduct a legitimate research project and present its results. Attendance No. Slavery was abolished more than 100 years ago. Come and go as you think best. Class Discussion No. Discussion is important to make this course work, but it isn't graded.
How will I know where I stand in class?
Considering the detailed feedback you will get for every exam and for some other assignments and considering our individual meetings, you should gain a pretty good idea of my views. Your time, like mine, would be better spent worrying less about where you stand on an arbitrary five-level scale and worrying more about how to get to where you would like to stand in your life.