This is a follow-up to the challenging student post, though it’s not primarily about the student. We met and discussed what he hoped to get of the course. I offered to give him a more advanced textbook, one designed for intermediate macroeconomics. He accepted saying that was a good idea. We agreed that he would take the course exams, but his homework and class participation would be based on his reading and our discussion of the alternative text.
While I think this may be a good solution for the current situation, I’m not so sure it’s something I could do if more students requested this option. I’m already supervising five independent studies. That would be my limit, but for the fact that all five are excellent, highly motivated students. I would be hard pressed to supervise more well, given that I’m also teaching a full load—four courses. I feel somewhat hypocritical here. I’ve criticized the industrial model of higher education and I believe that every student should have an individualized course of study. Yet at the same time, scale is a genuine concern. I haven’t figured out completely what that alternative higher education would look like, but I’m pretty sure it involves greater responsibility on the part of the student to manage his or her curriculum. It’s not simply replacing a class meeting with 30 one-on-one meetings.
But there’s another issue here. The challenging student asked me if there was any point in his continuing to attend class. Given that he had been coming but spending the entire period reading a paper back book, I said, “probably not.” I’m having second thoughts about this. My class sessions are not merely lectures, nor are they all defining of terms and framing the context for the course as was common in the first weeks. If he doesn’t come to class he will miss a number of hands-on exercises as well as discussions of specific real world applications of economics. In other words, he’ll be missing a substantial part of the course experience. Some of that material will show up on the exams, which presumably he will have a harder time getting right, especially since much of this material isn’t in the text. But it’s not his potential poor grade that bothers me, but rather his lost learning. A teacher can’t make a student learn, but am I enabling what may be poor choices on his part? What obligation does an instructor have to provide a customized but equivalent learning experience for a student who doesn’t like the standard option?