William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Sunday, 14, November, 2010

But What Should We Know???

Filed under: Teaching,WTF? — williamthecoroner @ 22:38

One of the best ways to irritate a professor is to ask the question “Do we need to know this?” or, worse, “Will you only post the slides that are important?” Like everything else I’m doing is unimportant, and your question is bringing that home to me loud and clear.

And then you get e-mails like this:

Some of us in the class were concerned about your questions for the exam. How detailed will they be? Is knowing just the stuff on the slides sufficient or should we also know material that you mentioned during lecture. Also you mentioned treatments for a lot of the diseases that weren’t on the slides do we have to know treatments? Do we have to know symptoms of diseases? We understand you said to focus on things you repeated but we’re still a little nervous because material was covered so fast and we didn’t always have the slides during the presentations. Thanks so much for taking out the time to answer our questions.

After taking several deep breaths, I also smothered the temptation to say “everything on the slides is fair game”–because to be fair, there was some material more appropos for medical students than dental students. But about a dozen people in the class of seventy-five or so have asked me to limit the amount of material that will be on the exam. This is not a good way to get on your professor’s good side. I have said the material I repeated was important. Now, when I was told that as a student, I counted the number of slides/pages devoted to a topic and was able to weight its importance that way. (I know, I know, they don’t want to work, they want spoon-feeding.)

My response started out by asking where they want to go, do they wish to be lazy and just get by or do they wish to be a competent health care provider. The strategies are different. I then gave them this:

There are three ways to get information, from the book, from the slides, and from the verbal material in the lecture. The lecture slides cover the bare bones, my exposition was to add depth and information, and a competent medical professional reads the literature on a regular basis throughout that person’s career. One way to determine relative importance is by determining how much time (or how many slides were devoted to each disease. For the lung lectures, for example, more time was devoted to TB and lung cancers than was to pulmonary effusions and atelectasis. That information should guide your studies. If the material was seen on multiple slides, that is obviously more important than stuff that was only mentioned once. If it was mentioned in the book often and on the slides often, well, that is also a clue. I will have the slides in front of me when I write the questions

.It’s really amazing how many people will ask in hopes that I will quote questions, or tell them just what they need to know, and no more. I’m happy to tell them what they need to know, but the “don’t teach us too much”. really does annoy me.



  1. that would annoy me too and would have a very negative (for them) impact on how i wrote the exam!

    Comment by julie — Monday, 15, November, 2010 @ 04:27 | Reply

  2. I once used an elaborate example of an analytical technique during class to illustrate what I wanted to see from them during the exam, and could have allowed one particular student to ace a significant portion of the midterm. But I also knew that this student hadn’t been writing much during class, and probably wasn’t paying close attention when I was giving the example. Sadly I was right — that student and several others failed to perform well on that section of the exam.

    Comment by rethoryke — Monday, 15, November, 2010 @ 11:14 | Reply

  3. I have found that if I listen to the lecturer, they will give “hints” as to important topics. Common sense seems to be lacking in some of my fellow classmates. On the other hand, I get very irritated when there are questions on the exam that have nothing to do with what has been covered thus far in the semester, have not even been mentioned at all in any context, and according to the syllabus won’t be covered until later in the semester. I had an essay question like that on my last exam, and no, no one in the class did well on that exam.

    Comment by Byrd — Monday, 15, November, 2010 @ 21:44 | Reply

  4. Invariably, while tutoring, I get the question, “So, on the exam, will this…? -or- ..will you guys ask (topic)? My usual response is, “I don’t know,” even though I have helped make several questions on many exams at an unnamed medical school for the past 3 years. My next comment is, “Remember why you’re here. You might be interested in this stuff. And you’re going to be a doctor some day, so yes, you need to know it.”

    Comment by Anatomy Tutor — Tuesday, 16, November, 2010 @ 01:41 | Reply

  5. Several years ago I gave my students a set of 50 questions and told them that 25 would be on the test. It was their job to find the answers to all the questions. I was worried that most of the students would ace the test, but in the end only a few did better than normal. Most scored on the low side. I don’t think they would have done any better if I had supplied them with the answers too.

    Comment by Gerald — Wednesday, 24, November, 2010 @ 11:01 | Reply

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